Last year I had the unique pleasure of coming on staff for my dream job with the CCDA, a national association of Christian Community Development practitioners, to work on a grant for immigration reform. CCDA is a table partner for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a broad coalition of evangelical leaders and organizations advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values.
It was an amazing, challenging, and eye-opening experience for the 10 months that I was on staff as a church mobilizer. My job was to mobilize churches in Georgia by showing them what the Bible has to say regarding immigrants (quite a lot actually!), garner media attention for positive immigration related activities, and sway Congressional representatives in favor of reform that:
Protects the unity of the immediate family
Guarantees secure national borders
Ensures fairness to taxpayers
Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
Additionally, we named and de-bunked common myths about immigrants (They’re stealing our jobs! They don’t pay taxes! etc.) and provided an alternative, compassionate narrative that offered accountability and a way by which to become right with the law.
Actually, I had never done any of these things. In fact, here’s me literally reading the manual, feeling more scared and inadequate with every page. I’m fairly certain that I put it down at one point protesting, “I could never meet with my member of Congress!” But I had a love for the Church and my immigrant neighbors and some pretty amazing teachers!
Matthew Soerens, author of Welcoming the Stranger, and Michelle Warren, a tenured mobilizer in the Mountain West, were my immediate supervisors and mentors. They, along with a staff in Chicago and DC, provided the weekly intel that translated Washington-ese into normal speak and organized a nation-wide team committed to mobilizing churches to #Pray4Reform. Michelle provided coaching and encouragement at every turn and was a fierce advocate on the Hill. My cohort on the ground was Tim Isaacson. Tim was a blessing beyond words! Tim, currently the director of Immigrant Hope Atlanta, brought his years of professional and personal experience to the table, guiding team GA through often unplowed soil. His patience and determination never wavered, and I learned a lot about prayer and faithfulness through Tim’s commitment.
We took multiple trips to Washington and attended local meetings with House representatives. When possible we took pastors with us to tell their elected officials about troubles faced by undocumented members of their congregations. These were sincere and brave statements, made by ordinary men and women whose lives had been forever changed by the relationships they’d formed with immigrant brothers and sisters in Christ.
In July the grant ended, and many of us were promoted to volunteer mobilizers. While our commitment remained strong, the job was unfinished, and we all felt the weight of the work left to do. Tomorrow, however, an important piece of the puzzle will come into play. President Obama will reveal his plans for executive action, in the wake of a long and brutal inaction from Congress. It will not provide the permanent solution that only legislative action can, but it is something and will offer much-needed relief to the 11 million people living in fear.
I am more convinced than ever, that even in the face of obstinate opposition, a single voice matters. Taking this job has given me a lot of opportunities to talk to my children about the realities of undocumented immigrants. We sing “If I had a Hammer” regularly as our anthem. They are fully convinced that our laws need to change. Easy crowd? Maybe…but maybe it’s because their young lives would be much emptier without the love they have known from people born outside our borders. Relationships change everything.
Let us continue to #pray4reform, and may it begin in me.
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors.
(adapted Franciscan benediction)