I always laugh inside (maybe sneer
is a better word) when I encounter Christians who consider the theology
of hospitality to be a “woman’s issue.” (What do they know?) Rather,
practicing hospitality is the expression of a radical life view that
often pierces to the heart of justice issues and demands of its
practitioners a stance of either civil disobedience or some kind of
This is so important. Let me repeat: Hospitality
is the expression of a radical life-view that often pierces to the
heart of justice issues and demands of its practitioners a stance
either of civil disobedience or of some kind of cultural radicalism.
pastor once told me he couldn’t think of four sermons that he could
preach on hospitality! I was amazed. I could spend a whole year
sermonizing about this topic.
Let me illustrate. Scriptural
hospitality should be the basis of the church’s position on the knotty
immigration issues that now face our nation. Instead, we are caught in
debates that have nothing to do with Christian conversations but
everything to do with personal opinions. For Christians, the dialogue
(or shouting matches) should begin with, “What does the Scripture have
to say about this issue?” This may be due to the fact that our premises
are faulty—we assume the Bible has nothing
to say about this contemporary issue (according to statistics, some 200
million people are on the move globally!) In fact, the truth is
diametrically opposite—Scripture has everything
to say about the immigration issue, and the sheer volume of passages
alone should inform our thinking about how we treat the immigrants
(legal and illegal) among us.
Our son, Jeremy Mains, in
addition to teaching Spanish as an adjunct professor at Wheaton College
(and teaching citizenship at the local community college), is building
an immigration counseling service in our small suite of offices—Dynamis
Immigrant Aid. My desk faces away from the door to his office, so I
catch snatches of conversation; immigration over my shoulder, so to
speak. The stories are overwhelmingly poignant. We are thrilled when
Dynamis is able to help folk who’ve been caught in immigration
perplexities, often not of their own making. I have become convinced
that most of the difficulty we face in the immigration system is due to
the fact that our system is often inhuman, inappropriate and badly
broken. (Remember, 200 million people are on the move globally.) This
is not just an American dilemma.
A quote from the
Immigration Policy Center, which provides factual information about
immigration and immigrants in America (www.immigrationpolicy.org),
gives this succinct review:
immigration laws are some of the most complex and archaic provisions
that can be found in the U.S. statutes. The Immigration and Nationality
Act of 1952 (INA) rivals the tax code in the level of detail,
confusion, and absurd consequences produced by years of layering on
provisions without systematically reviewing their results. Since the
1960s, Congress has periodically overhauled the INA, but has tended to
focus on one hot-button issue at a time, resulting in a patchwork of
outdated laws that fail to reflect the realities of the 21st-century
America. The necessity of comprehensive immigration reform stems from
years of neglect and failure to respond to incompatible interactions
between different parts of the system, resulting in breakdowns that
have crippled our ability to regulate immigration adequately, protect
our borders, reunite families, and foster economic opportunity.
frequently I ask my son, the immigration specialist, about one of his
clients. “Can you help them?” Immigrants are often ill-advised by
lawyers (to whom they pay outrageous fees, many of whom are not
familiar with the Byzantine INA immigration rulings and actually have
no business taking on the woes of these complex needs). Or, worst of
all, eager opportunists from their own nationality groups defraud them
and prey upon the bewilderment that results in the immigrant. I often
hear stories from my son of his clients moving their residences. Mail
from Immigration Services, giving pertinent instructions with
timelines, is not forwarded. Sometimes, the complexities (in addition
to the perplexities of acculturation) are so overwhelming that, like
other humans, the immigrant just closes down. He/she doesn’t know where
to go, what to do, whom to ask; they are all too often informed by the
immigrant grapevine which may or may not convey correct advice.
how confused you are, if you have traveled in a foreign country, where
you do not know the language, can’t read the street signs, have no
friends or advisors, are unfamiliar with the local customs—then
multiply this 100 times over for the foreign-born who come to our
shores and must navigate grocery stores, housing, schooling for
children, medical care, social networks, then face an often hostile
dialogue about your presence going on in the broader culture. How
wonderful it is when someone asks, “Can I help you?” This is a basic
act of hospitality—extending ourselves to strangers in need.
turn to a story from a “immigration over my shoulder” experience. One
morning Jeremy came into my office with a file about an inch thick.
This was a case he had been working on for months. Andres (not his real
name), now a naturalized citizen, had been born in Mexico, but raised
in the U.S., where he went to middle school and high school and entered
the job market. He married a gal, Carla, some years older than himself,
who in my son’s opinion had “kind of made a man out of him—challenging
him to grow up and get his act together.” She was not legal and had a
daughter (also undocumented) by another man and now two granddaughters,
who because they were born in the States are citizens.
couple owned a house in a nearby town and had also invested in a
condominium. Obviously, these were hardworking members of society,
paying taxes, and contributing to the GDP. (Are you aware that a mass
deportation of undocumented workers, as lobbied for by some, would
reduce the U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent, amounting to a cumulative
$2.6-trillion loss in GDP over 10 years? In addition, the Center for
American Progress has estimated that mass deportation would cost our
government between $206 billion and $230 billion over five years.
There’s gotta be a better solution, folks.)
They came to
Dynamis Immigrant Aid to apply for legal permanent resident status for
Carla. There are three ways this can happen: (1) if the applicant is
here legally; (2) if an immediate relative is a U.S. citizen and can
apply for them and if there is proof that the applicant entered the
States legally; and (3) leave the States, go back to a consulate of the
country of origin (in this case, Juarez, Mexico) and file a request for
a waiver against the ban that prohibits an illegal from re-entering the
country for 10 years. This request must prove that extreme hardship to
a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse or parent would occur
if the applicant was deported from the U.S.
Carla fell into
the last category, obviously. Her daughter, having come to the States
with her mother as a child, was also illegal. An undocumented immigrant
who had a petition filed for them prior to April 30, 2001 could pay a
$1000 fine to begin a process that would erase their illegal status and
allow them to file in the United States. But for any undocumented
immigrant without a petition filed by that deadline the granting of a
waiver for extreme hardship is the only hope of receiving legal status
in the U.S.
Jeremy says that the consulate in Juarez used to
publish the names of Mexicans who had been granted waivers. Some 98-99%
of the applicants were granted waivers. However, when a new director
took over the immigration proceedings in Juarez, the percentage of
those receiving waivers ceased to be published. Through the immigration
grapevine, under a stricter regime, it was estimated that only around
50% received what they requested. So Jeremy warned Carla and Andres
that he could not guarantee that a waiver would be granted, but they
insisted on proceeding.
The thick file was filled with pleas
from Carla’s granddaughters to grant a waiver. Andres built a case for
the separation of wife from husband, the loss of her income (which also
supported her parents in Puebla), etc., etc. They traveled to Juarez
where Andres was kept out of the interview process. Her file was
plunked on a stack of other files. In an hour (they estimated the
immigration officer took about five minutes to look over their file),
Carla was told her request had been denied and that she could not
reenter the United States. This couple had not proved that a ban
against her would cause extreme hardship.
She is now living
with her parents on a small ranch outside of Puebla and cannot reenter the
United States. The income she provided for them is no more. Andres has
lost their house because of the loss of her income and of course, he
does not have enough money to go see her on a regular basis (neither
can her grandchildren). Nor can he go back to Mexico to work. He is a
United States citizen who can earn more in one day here than he could
in a week there. During this, after the application for a waiver was
entered, Carla developed adult-onset diabetes and lives far from
Who in heaven’s name defines extreme hardship?
This is not extreme hardship?—a family severed in two for 10 years,
losing crucial survival income, having four generations negatively
impacted by a casual five-minute decision (some kind of arbitrary quota
like policemen who need to give out so many parking tickets?), and now
a middle-aged woman dealing with separation, deportation, poverty and
This is a cruel system, far from the
American ideal of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free…” I’m ashamed we can’t compassionately fix
this. If it were one case, that would be bad enough, but it is
thousands of cases; lives carelessly and wantonly impaired. Yes, let’s
make our borders safe. Yes, let’s exercise caution toward criminals and
terrorists. But please, let’s find a way to charitably forgive the
mistakes of ordinary people who simply want a better life—a better
life, by the way, that we are all privileged to enjoy because some
ancestors of ours crossed the waters, risked everything, left country
and language and family behind for a dream and a promise and a better
Lord, Oh Lord, help the church to begin to be no longer silent. Let us stand together and cry out against an unjust system that has evolved monstrously. Let us pray for people with the courage to enact compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.
Next Soulish Foods will cover some of these topics: A Biblical Theology of Immigration What Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform? What Is Myth and What Is Fact? What Can We Do?
Wannabe (Better) Writers Telementoring Program Is FULL!
If you are interested in joining this course on memoir writing
(or personal story-telling), we will offer another cycle as soon as
enough people register their interest with the Hungry Souls office by e-mailing:
“Listen to My Life” Listening Group Is FULL
The "Listen to My Life" Listening Group is now full. More information about the life-mapping process can be found at www.OneLifeMaps.com.
Three-Day Retreat of Silence
We have quickly filled the April 3-Day Retreat of
Silence. There is room now only for a waiting list. If you
want to be added to our waiting list, contact Susan Hands at
For details about the Retreat, visit the "Retreats of Silence" page on the Hungry Souls Web site.
Recovering Your Inner Child
This course is an exercise in guided
self-reflection—one of the hallmarks of spiritual and psychological
maturity. We still have room for a few participants. We will begin
Thursday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. Meeting place is the Mainses’ home. We
will be using the workbook by Dr. Lucia Capacchione, Recovery of Your Inner Child: The Highly Acclaimed Method of Liberating Your Inner Self.
Susan Garrison, LCSW, will co-lead with Karen Mains. This will take 2
hours and will continue weekly through the months of March and April.
The fee for the course is $75, which includes the price of the
workbook. We need to know if you are interested ASAP since we will have
to order the workbooks. Capacchione employs the technique of
dominant/non-dominant hand communication. Register or make inquiries at
Play for the Play-Deprived
Guess what? We’ve just discovered we can do some
of this play work using our teleconference line. If you live outside of
the Chicago area, and would like to be part of the following, you will
not be excluded!
Some of us, sorry to say, just
don’t play very well. We either never learned to play or we’ve
forgotten how! And yet, scientists are discovering that play is an
essential part of well-being, reaping huge benefits spiritually,
physically and relationally when we practice it.
Sue Higgins, spiritual director, and Karen Mains will be experimenting
with play (some of it outrageous) in the days ahead. We will be using
the book Play: How It
Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
by Stuart Brown, M.D. As soon as you are interested, let Karen know.
When we have four to five at a minimum ready to read the book, mark
passages for discussion, take the “play history” provided, and
determine your play type, then we will gather. Let Karen Mains know at
or Sue Higgins at
Our initial thinking is to design a once-a-month Play Date out of these
discussions. We are embarking on a journey of discovery with one
another and with God, for the sake of improving our own play capacities
certainly, but also of coming closer to the Almighty, who it seems, has
genetically designed humans, more than any other of His creatures, for
The Soulish Food e-mails are
posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web
site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to
register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might
want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
"This is a cruel
system, far from the American ideal of 'Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…' I’m ashamed we can’t
compassionately fix this. If it were one case, that would be bad
enough, but it is thousands of cases; lives carelessly and wantonly
Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate By Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang
Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible By M. Daniel Carroll R.
two books give the best developed theologies for developing a
“Christian conversation” around the dilemma of the immigrants in our
American society that we have read so far. Matthew Soerens and Jenny
Hwang work with World Relief and Dr. M. Daniel Carroll is a professor
at Denver Seminary. Both books cover different angles on the topic and
consequently, I would recommend both books for those sincerely
interested in wrestling with this social dilemma and its implications
for the church and society.