While coming home from the Stratford Festival this summer, David and I crossed from Canada into the United States at the bridge that spans the shores from Windsor to Detroit. These years, we are prepared for tighter security—everyone, grandchildren and friends, held their passports at the ready—but we were not prepared to watch the Chinese family in the SUV ahead of us be taken into custody. Before our eyes, a fiftyish father and mother, a grey-haired grandmother and their two children, one college-age son and a high school-age daughter, were ordered from their car and handcuffed like common criminals.
I cannot express to you the rage I felt. I wanted to shout at the immigration officer, kick the booth, holler, "My son works with immigrants!" (as though that would provide any leverage to do any good), and demand a full explanation.
"Well they must have done something wrong," you may be thinking. Perhaps, but probably not. There might have been some visa irregularity, but certainly not the kind deserving the shameful and humiliating actions the border officers chose to take. I'm still infuriated about it. In my eyes, the actions of U.S. Immigration was way out of line; I am certain that this bewildered family was not of the hardened terrorist ilk. And if you had been a witness with me, you would have felt the same.
Marlene Molewyk, a member of the Hungry Souls writers' mentoring group, writes about growing up as a child of Chinese immigrants.
"I'm the fourth of five children born to Chinese immigrants. Like my siblings, I was born in Michigan and thus have been a U.S. citizen from birth. But despite this fact, I grew up feeling unwelcome in this country.
How do I know the Chinese family at the U.S./Canada border were not dangerous drug smugglers? Well, I do have a son who works with immigrants. His newly established office shares the Mainstay Ministries suite with us. His business card reads,
"Dynamis Immigrant Aid
Let's just say, having heard hundreds of horror stories about the treatments of immigrants (legal, with papers), not to mention illegal immigrants, I, because of Jeremy Mains, have a unique, and perhaps privileged, exposure to the drama of the immigrants among us. And because of the years of teaching and writing I have done on Christian hospitality, this unique and privileged insight on immigrants is colored by a passionate insistence about church people's responsibility toward the strangers who come to our country.
We should be the ones insisting upon, lobbying for, marching with, and raising our voices (as wisely as possible) about the need for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform (which both presidential candidates support, by the way). Sadly, I am often ashamed at the way fellow and sister Christians demonstrate the old stereotypical xenophobic (fear of stranger) mentality, demonize the alien among us, and as far as I can see, disregard the Scriptures that teach over and over, "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19: 34, NRSV).
Frankly, when I look at this kind of treatment through the eyes of other nationals, I am embarrassed for my country.
In the September/October 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Jorge G. Castañeda, the Global Distinguished Professor at New York University, who was the Foreign Minister of Mexico from 2000 to 2003, writes, "These (Central American) countries are deeply affected by the current immigration climate in the United States, and they would benefit greatly from the type of comprehensive immigration reform that both McCain and Obama have supported. The Bush administration's regrettable decision to build fences along the U.S.-Mexican border, raid workplaces and housing sites, detain and deport foreigners without papers, and more recently and more tragically, launch criminal proceedings against workers with false or stolen papers and subsequently sentence them to several months in jail before deportation is seen in Latin American as a hypocritical and vicious offense against societies and governments that harbor some of the most favorable feelings toward the United States in the world. These actions are accurately perceived as futile, nasty, and unfair, and, worst of all, they are conducive to growing anti-American sentiment in many countries. They play right into the hands of the 'anti-imperialist' faction of the Latin American left."
So. What does all this have to do with our inner journey? Isn't Soulish Food supposed to emphasize the inner pilgrimage?
Our attitude toward the stranger among us has everything to do with our inner disposition, because the soul is the center out of which godliness rises. If we are racist in our souls, we will be racist in our actions. If we are terrified within ourselves of any neighbor of another culture, we will outwardly withhold those beautiful actions of gracious friendliness. The state of our interior selves frames the quality of our exterior behavior. We must begin with an interior journey if we are to extend hospitality outside ourselves.
Hospitality, welcoming the stranger, is one of the hallmarks of mature spirituality. Indeed, here is a dramatic litmus-test question: Am I hospitable to the stranger? If not, if inwardly I clutch, feel fearful or judgmental toward that person of another race or culture, that is a pretty good indicator I am not filled with the nature of Christ. I have some inner growing to do. I need to re-examine Scripture and discover God's heart of love for the whole world (not just my country, ethnic group, or people of my skin color!). If I have not as yet found a way to be hospitable to that Iraqi (or Indian or Mexican) neighbor next door, it is a pretty good indicator that I have not as yet grappled with God's world-embracing love. Nor have I made His love my own.
This internal wrestling match with our private disposition toward the stranger is crucial in our times. Quoting António Gutierres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, "The twenty-first century will be characterized by the mass movement of people being pushed and pulled within and beyond their borders by conflict, calamity, or opportunity. War and human rights violations are already scattering millions across the world in search of safety. Globalization, with its attributes of economic expansion, unresolved poverty, and enduring insecurity, is prompting many people to leave their homes in search of better lives. Climate change and environmental degradation will further exacerbate such trends. At few times in history have so many people been on the move."
Let the words of Augustine, who wrote to the church in the fifth century, have impact in our lives today: "On this occasion of the concourse of so many strangers, and needy and suffering people, let your hospitality and your good works abound."
What will it take for my home, my neighborhood, my community, and my nation to welcome the often confused, bewildered, traumatized and haunted migrant to our shores? What one small adjustment can I make in my inner attitude that will help me accept the alien as my neighbor?
Let me give a few practical suggestions. Several recent movies highlight the illegal- immigrant experience. Under the Same Moon is one, and The Visitor is another. I recommend both. Then the documentary Wetback is a must-see. This deals with the arduous and treacherous journey of illegal immigrants from Central America. We need to know what impels their life-threatening actions before we turn stone hearts toward them.
David Mains has also created a remarkable 5-sermon Advent series titled From Another World to Ours. It is a powerful and practical introduction to the foreign-born among us set against the Christmas story. This would be good for a church or Sunday School class. PowerPoints and videos are available. You can order by going to Sermon-Coach.com.
Bag Ladies Project shopping bags
"Our attitude toward the stranger among us has everything to do with our inner disposition, because the soul is the center out of which godliness rises."