Our God is Undocumented

I recently finished a book with this provocative title. I enjoyed the book, and it provided good challenge to followers of Jesus to love and care for immigrants.

Here are some sample quotes from the book,

“Tragically, most of our churches exhibit little proximity to the immigrant poor, though they are everywhere in our midst.” (page 7)

“However, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are here as part of a struggle to survive having been involuntarily pushed from their homelands and/or livelihoods by military, political and economic forces beyond their control.” (page 11)

“Unity through the Spirit does not man monoculture, but the celebration of human variety.” (page 35)

“The local cultures around the world that are carried by today’s immigrant poor have been eroded by centuries of colonialism and are in danger of being extinguished by the onslaught of global capitalism’s drive for commodified homogeneity. The church must reassert the Genesis wisdom of a “scattered” human family by nurturing diversity, and must reaffirm the Pentecostal vocation of native-language empowerment. For in the great narrative of the Bible, God’s intervention is always subversive of the centralizing project of empire and always on the side of the excluded and outcast, the refugee and immigrant. The Spirit has busted out and busted up business as usual many times since Babel and Jerusalem, and she is waiting to do the same in our own time – if our tongues would dare to loosen.” (pages 35-36)

In the course of reading the book, I learned about a very cool organization called Detention Watch Network that we are excited to support.

A few years ago as part of a short trip with some leaders from our church to the Mexican border with two guides from World Relief (another organization that we feel privileged to support), we walked across the border to check out what was happening with immigrants. We were able to visit a Mexican church that converted most of its building to housing for immigrants from other countries who were waiting at the border trying to get asylum in the U.S. We visited the border walls. We met with a group of about 40 refugees from Cameroon and one of our guides explained to them the rules regarding acceptable asylum claims. One of the other things we did was observe the process at the border in which people looking for asylum in the U.S. were waiting for their names to be called out so their asylum claim could be considered. During this process, I had the privilege of meeting Jhonaikel from Venezuela.

Jhonaikel was only 25 years old, but he had been a refugee from Venezuela living and traveling through in a variety of Central American countries after he was beat up by government thugs as a punishment for belonging to a student organization at his university that opposed the current regime of Maduro. It’s a long story, but his number was called that day (after waiting at the border for a few months). He had to wait for more months at the border and his asylum claim was denied. I learned from an immigration specialist that his claim was legitimate and would have been approved under any other administration besides Trump’s.

After his claim was denied, they threw him into a detention center in San Diego for four months. I tried to visit him, but would not be allowed to see him in person. He was miraculously released from the center during the pandemic and eventually has been able to obtain a temporary two year asylum and a work permit.

My friendship with Jhonaikel has continued. We talk and text regularly, and I pray for him often. I’m so blessed to know him. My friendship with him has also made much of the discrimination against immigrants and interest in the U.S. immigration policies and practices quite personal for me.

Here’s a quote from Obama to end on that I like, “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”

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