In a recent trip to the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez border, I had the opportunity to sit with a lovely indigenous woman who has been a doctor serving faithfully in the Anapra region of Mexico for decades.
Doctora Mendoza is not only caring for people in a very poor town but is now also caring for the migrants who are gathering there. She said, “I’m aware that what we are doing is small in the face of such great need, but we cannot continue to be indifferent. What is done to you is done to me.”
One of the most beautiful opportunities that the bride of Christ has in the world today is to occupy the space that bridges divides. And, wow, there sure are lots of divides separating us from each other these days: race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economics, politics, religion and even denominations. Sadly, the list could go on and on. The invitation from Jesus to Christ followers is counter to what we see around us. We are invited to be a people who are known by our love — a love that sees all people made in the “Imago Dei” (image of God) and worthy of respect, value and dignity.
Because we have been loved so well by our Heavenly Father, this love should translate into a supernatural ability for us to respond to the “us vs. them mentality” that runs rampant around us. God calls us to live in a space that is safe, loving and respectful as we seek to erase “us vs. them.” I can’t help but get excited about the potential of churches being the “we space” that people run to when they need to work out difficult issues, need an advocate or just want someone to love them.
The issues around immigration provide a great test case of our ability to occupy a space that hits on several key divides. We in the evangelical community are struggling to find our way together through this landscape in a unified way. Yet I believe there are some practices that the church could engage in, which are aligned with God’s heart — practices that illustrate a loving witness to a world that watches our responses. Here are four invitations to consider:
Study Scripture and what it says about loving others, even those who are different. Study your community. Study resources such as The Wesleyan Church’s View on Immigration or items from the Evangelical Immigration Table.
Ask questions. From where do the immigrants in your community come? What is their story? How could your community provide a place of welcome in the name of Jesus to “the stranger” coming from another land?
Talk to God but, in doing so, also listen to the invitation of Holy Spirit. Prayer not only changes circumstances around us, but also changes our view of what is happening around us. Pray with a soft heart and open hand that God would guide you into a loving response to those who are desperately seeking refuge in the United States.
Our nation needs immigration reform for the sake of all involved. Our immigration system has not been changed significantly in over 40 years. The migrants arriving in the U.S. need a clear process to navigate. Those migrants who are already here but have been unable to engage with the process, need to have a path forward clearly defined — one that is fair and equitable, but also has accountability. Those of us who are U.S. citizens need to live in a country that has an immigration system that is regularly evaluated and can be easily shifted to accommodate the needs of our country and the needs of the world around us.
Call your elected officials and let them know that you want immigration reform. For more information to engage in conversation, visit the National Immigration Forum and download fact sheets.
Meet practical needs
Donate to churches and faith organizations providing shelter and travel assistance to migrant families. Sponsor a family. You can do this even if you do not live near the border.
Consider becoming an Immigrant Connection site or supporting one near you. The Wesleyan Church has partnered with World Relief to offer low-cost legal services to immigrants seeking to walk a path toward citizenship.
Doctora Mendoza’s compassionate actions beautifully illustrate how Christ followers are invited to walk with the vulnerable, to grow our capacity for empathy and to demonstrate extravagant love that recognizes the Imago Dei in each person regardless of ethnicity, culture, language, gender or religion. As Doctora Mendoza said, “ … we cannot continue to be indifferent.” It is my prayer that we would rise to this challenge.
Immigrant Connection is a grassroots network of legal service offices providing low cost legal services to immigrants and refugees in local communities across the country.
The Evangelical Immigration Table provides resources for an approach to immigrants and to immigration policy, guided first and foremost by the Bible.
Rev. Beth Cossin has lived overseas and all over the United States. She served in the U.S. Army as a captain in the Military Intelligence Corps and has served in The Wesleyan Church for almost 20 years. She served as the director of the Wesleyan Justice Network from 2013 – 2016, and currently serves as the network pastor for Heritage Church and the site director for the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center in the Quad Cities, Illinois.
Photo credit: Ashley Jennings