Who is Your Neighbor?—From a Black, Christian, Female Immigrant in "Your" Country
Because Jesus was a brown baby refugee fleeing from persecution with his refugee parents.
Gracious God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar:
Forgive me for the moments when I am too weak to speak truth, and forgive me for the moments I tremble when I do.
Like this one:
Let it always be right with my heart, as I address your Church — to bring true reconciliation found in Christ crucified. Amen.
Dear White Christians
As soon as I began to write, I thought about who I was writing to. People I’ve been in church with, time and time again. People I’ve met in various denominational settings.
People who looked in my eye and didn’t see me unles I was the mission they were heading to on another continent. People who asked me “where I was from?” Because my blackness was always “other” and foreign. People who — when I responded with “Haiti” — threw back their heads knowingly “I went on a mission trip there once.”
People who, if I continued to stand their, allowing myself to hear what they would say next, would inevitably follow up with one or two microaggressions after a series of poorly pronounced Haitian Creole words left their mouths. We would stand in this uncomfortable exchange for too many breaths as they would ask me if I spoke French, how long I’ve lived here (since I was 3 — I’m 26 now) trying to piece together reasons to explain why I was “accentless.”
People I loved, despite how many blows I took to my ego because I thought “their heart was in the right place” and “they just didn’t know quite how to articulate their thoughts without sounding racist.” People who I believed—or wanted to believe—were trying.
Those people became the same people who turned their backs on Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Ferguson on fire, Philandro Castile, and Sandra Bland. Those same people cringed whenever you mentioned the phrase “Black lives matter” and would quickly find scriptural references to affirm that “all lives matter” was somehow more biblical.
Those same people were always eager to share their selfies from their last missions trip…..
…with black children.
(Disclaimer: I’ve been on one or two of those “missions” trips: that’s a story for another day but for now I’ll say this: I’d never felt more and more of a chasm between how I experienced my experiences abroad than the white people I traveled with.)
The dissonance hits the hearts of many of my friends, brothers and sisters of color into deep resounding waves. They strike my heart the way a bad note rings on a bass guitar. We want to see our POC outside the United States getting access to clean water, new infrastructures, and better education. In fact, we want to see the black Diaspora — and people of color worldwide — prosper to levels of equity everywhere:
But we know it will not happen if we continue to witness mission in dehumanizing ways — foreign and abroad.
Please cancel your mission trip and go to the border instead
Unfortunately, a request this bold will probably disappear in the vacuum where all good, well-intentional and progressive tweets go to die. Doesn’t make it any less thought-provoking though.
What if the groups of white privileged Evangelical Christians who have access to travel funds and money for go-pros could funnel their resources to either going to or sending trained lawyers and advocacy personnel to the U.S. border? What if that money was funneled into a bail fund to help release people who are being held by ICE….it is really so important that someone sees your face next to a minority of color on foreign soil? Is that what it takes to feel like you’ve checked off your Matthew 28:16–20?
An Immigrant Christian in Your Country
I ask these questions, not as someone who understands the full weight of how immigration law works. But as someone who’s been on the other side of fear of returning to a place I don’t even remember.
I know what it’s like to have your college journey delayed for a lack of proper documentation. I had to work full time to go to community college to pay out of state tuition fees because of it. I took two classes — which I paid for like they were four classes — while I was in an endless limbo about my immigration status.
I’ve had people outright ask me if I was an “illegal immigrant” before. Someone has actually asked if they can see my green card.
The very card that it felt like I’d been holding my breath my whole life to receive. The card that would validate some semblance of humanity for me, help me gain access to a better life and fulfill my dream of going to college.
Yes, I have a green card. No, you cannot see it.
Why? Because even though I know I shouldn’t keep it on me, it’s in my wallet. I look at it from time to time and remember the process of being carefully vetted — guilty until proven innocent — kept in stressful waiting. I also remember the very thing that made it green, the money spent on lawyer fees and biometrics (which had to be renewed every time your case was pending).
I remember walking with shame in certain circles, afraid to say where I was born so no one would ask me if I deserved to be here — I remember.
Jesus the Sojourner, the Foreigner and the Refugee
I don’t have any memories of being lost, but I have more memories of my parents thinking they lost me. The one time it was the most terrible was because of a mix up when I was about five or six. I was the oldest and me and my two brothers were told to stay with some Haitian neighbor-family-friends while my parents went out.
When we were on the way to the apartment building where they lived, another Haitian man told me the family wasn’t home. I almost spiraled into confusion and nervousness. Keep in mind this was before cellphones were a thing. My parents had already left — there was no way to call them to let them know about the mix up. Then I remembered we knew another Haitian family in another building nearby. So my brothers and I went there, only to discover they were getting ready for church. They decided to bring us along.
It was honestly the best time I’d ever had in church as a kid — without my parents, the kids in that family, my brothers I talked the whole time. We laughed and laughed and laughed.
Until service ended.
And my mother approached the pews where we sat.
The rest is history but let’s just say…she’s a Haitian mom and she was PISSED.
But it makes me remember now of the time where Mary and Joseph searching desperately for Jesus only to find him in the temple. (Certainly Jesus was exploring the depths of his call and the scriptures — I was goofing off with my friends.) I can only imagine that Mary and Joseph — who had risked their lives to take him out of the country to avoid his death once were going out of their minds: Just read the story.
It’s plain and simple, yet somehow evading the minds of those who support Jeff Sessions:
Jesus was a brown baby refugee under the care of his sojourning parents, crossing into a land for safety.
Furthermore, Jesus’s later years of life are lived as a sojourner, describing himself as having no place to lay his head.
I find my stomach turning into knots thinking about what white supremacy has done to Christianity in America — so much so that I would rather be known as a “follower of Jesus” than to self-identify with a label that is now used to reinforce the forceful taking of children from their parents.
While I struggle with what it means to be labeled “Christian” I will not stand idly by and let the Bible be misread — it is clear
from Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael…
…to Jacob and his sons and daughters…
…to Moses, Aaron, Miriam and Zipporah
…from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
…to Rahab, Ruth and Esther
…from Cornelius, Lydia and the Ethiopian.
…to the very right hand of the throne of God,
The word of God and the story of our salvation is not only riddled with the tales of those with dusty feet,
We have experienced salvation from Christ, who shares his status as God’s beloved in suffering with those who not only have dusty feet from their long walks,
those who are raped literally and figuratively while silence buys them no redemption (Hagar)
those stowed away in the house of the Pharaoh because revealing their identity would lead to their death (Moses)
those who have no inheritance on this earth yet still make it into the family of Christ (Ruth)
with those who have no place to lay their head (Jesus),
so that he might lay down his own body for them to find rest.
America: Land of Sojourners and Conquerors
The reality is this world is not my home — America, Haiti and all that is in between and around that create a chasm for my identity.
But I know that there’s blood on this ground that screams out for redemption. This nation, this place that I love and have grown up hoping to belong to — has given me access to its rights in ways many have been denied. I know other nations stood here long before this one.
And the stories of the people who walked this land are many and the injustices that are happening around his hurt the heart of God:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
As parents weep for their children who have been taking their voices magnify their laments, being sent up as prayers to the great sojourner.
As I read Psalm 146 today in church and remembered who Jesus was, who Jesus is and who he will be — I fear for the rain that will come to end the reign of tyranny that is already here. I pray for those who will be found among Herod’s team, scouring the country for children to take from their parents.
And I pray that the God of Abraham — father of many nations — complicit in suggestion and act of nonconsensual sex —
Sarah — mother of many nations — a woman caught between privilege and possible disenfranchisement in a tangled web of power and abuse —
and Hagar — the slave woman from Egypt — who goes from powerless to powerful then powerless again according to the will of the patriarch/matriarch who own her —
all sojourners, all with complicated stories, backgrounds and lives, all worthy of finding a place to lay their head — all moving forward with their lives with their eyes set on the freedom and prosperity of their descendants.
I pray that that God implicates and convicts the hearts of the True Church and helps us to truly follow Him — here and abroad.