My Immigrant Family

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Last night our church family held one of its members’ meetings. We began by hearing the baptism testimony of a Rwandan woman who as a young girl survived that country’s genocide and refugee camps to eventually be adopted by an aunt living in the United States. Jesus used the faith of her mother to keep her through the arrest, torture, and murder of her father and grandfather until that faith would become her own.

We followed the baptism with a report from our first short-term mission team, sent to minister to the largely Muslim population of Mombasa, Kenya. They shared with us the transformative work of the gospel in their lives and in the lives of Kenyans literally living in smoking, fly-infested trash heaps.

As I think about the faces I saw in the room last night, I’m transported around the world. There’s the regal older Nigerian couple sitting directly in front of me. He immigrated to the States first and for more than a decade they lived apart, keeping covenant with one another, until they could be together in their new home building a new life. They are older representatives of a growing part of our church family with connections to Nigeria.

There’s the young Hispanic man, Mexican, I think, who loves the Chicago of his birth as fiercely as any American loves any city. He sits with his wife and their precocious 4-year-old daughter.

Behind them is an African-American woman. She’s married to a Zimbabwean man, a Rhodes scholar, whose intelligence is far surpassed by his humility, gentleness, and genuine affection for people. They have three sons learning to embrace the two heritages their parents represent.

At one point we attempted a presentation on our new church membership software. A young Nigerian man partnered with a young Ethiopian woman to make the presentation.

I’m reminded of our deacon of budget, an accomplished educator and “policy guy” whose parents are Japanese and Hispanic immigrants. His parents worked hard to send him to Stanford, then graduate school at Oxford or Cambridge, where he heard the gospel and believed. He’s married to a second-generation Haitian woman, and together they have two sons younger than 5. Her mother, a first-generation Haitian immigrant, also belongs to our family.

A Guyanese man leans into his African-American wife as they listen to the reports and updates. His mother, also a member, is away celebrating her birthday but would normally be right there with us. She’s growing like a weed and has become a real mother to the entire church.

A young mother sits near the rear taking care of her infant son. They’ve come to brave the long meeting, ruining sleep routines I’m sure. She comes from a Jewish family. She loves the nations.

One member of our short-term mission team to Kenya hails from Cameroon. She’s 28 and thinking of leaving her career to serve the Lord full-time on the mission field.

We prayed for one of our former elders. I asked the wife of another elder to lead in prayer. Soft-spoken, spiritual, zealous yet soothing, she is Hmong. Her people have no country to call their own.

During the meeting we welcomed some new members. In addition to the Rwandan woman was another woman, an attorney, whose family immigrated from Dominica when she was young. There was also the young aspiring politician completing a graduate program at Georgetown University whose family is from an African country that escapes me right now. Weber must be a German name; he joins the membership too.

This is my immigrant family, my true brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We have been a diverse family from the start, from the time we were sent from a larger diverse congregation of brothers and sisters. I look out on embodied, relational evidence of the reconciling power and reality of Jesus Christ.

On the drive home from our family meeting last night, I learned that in the Oval Office, that hallowed ground of American political power and aspiration, President Trump reportedly made racist and troublesome comments regarding immigrants and their countries of origin. My family.

I’m a pastor, not a politician. But I am a pastor of particular people with diverse and rich backgrounds. They contribute to our church family in indescribable ways. They are our church family. My job is to shepherd them, which means I am to feed them, lead them, and protect them.

As a shepherd, I cannot abide the comments our President makes regarding immigrant peoples and their countries of origin. I cannot leave them alone to hear racist barbs, evil speech, incendiary comment, and blasphemous slander against the image and likeness of God in which they are made.

I am at a loss for how much I can tangibly do to change the situation. But at least I can speak up to say, “This is unacceptable. It is wrong. It is evil. It denigrates our citizens and our country. It does not make us great. It cannot be tolerated in our church and should not be tolerated in our society.” It is a leader’s responsibility to:

Open your mouth for the mute,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Open your mouth, judge righteously,

defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)

I find it not only irresponsible but dangerous to leave the President’s comments unchallenged and to pretend the resulting policy direction is free from racist bias. I find it unconscionable and unloving to carry on the important immigration debate of our country as if the decisions made at the policy level will not have dramatic life-altering and, in some cases, life-destroying consequences for those affected. It is necessary that we heed our God’s command to never wrong or oppress but to protect the aliens and sojourners in our midst—in the midst of our families called “churches.”

At least today, in some meager measure, this pastor’s obedience to the Father means saying something as a pastor about the continued sin, bigotry, animus, and prejudice espoused by the highest office-holder in our land. I hope Americans of every political persuasion and every ethnic background will resolutely reject the President’s comments, oppose the same kinds of comments in our families and social spaces, and commit again to being “a nation of immigrants” who welcome “the huddled masses.” And I pray that if Americans cannot do that en masse, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ will.

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