It’s most often around Christmas when we hear spiritual reflections about immigrants: a couple of strangers come to town, and nobody seems to have any room in their homes or their hearts to welcome them.
Yet, in this season of Lent, we are to be preparing ourselves, clearing out the clutter in our hearts, making a space for God to fill. With our hearts emptied, do you think there will be room for the immigrant and the refugee?
I would like to tell you about a childhood friend of mine. Everyone has probably heard of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” – the thousands of boys of all ages displaced during their country’s civil war that spanned from the early 80s to the early 2000s. Well, to my friend and his family, these boys were not just a sad story on the news. They are family. When some of these young adults were resettled in Nashville, my friend’s family took them in. Until they had jobs and homes of their own, until they could finally make some sense of the strange new country that they were in, my friend’s family hosted them and cared for them. Though they have all moved out, started families, and founded successful lives here in the States, they still come home to my friend’s house around the holiday season to celebrate with friends and family.
I could go on and on about my friend’s family and the work that they do to help settle refugees in my hometown. They, though not alone, are a minority in the United States. It is one thing to say that immigrants and refugees are welcome in our country, but how many people do you know that have actually welcomed them? Opened their homes to them? Treated them like family?
Can you imagine being in a country where you don’t know anyone? You maybe don’t speak their language. You may not have chosen to be there, and if you did, it was out of necessity – to provide for your family, perhaps. You may have risked your life trying to get there, losing friends along the way. And then when you finally begin to feel safe and settled, you find that none of your new neighbors like you or want you. They tell you to go home; they call you names. Don’t they realize that you too would like to go home? To be with your family? To find success in your own country?
This is the reality of the immigrant and the refugee in all parts of the world. But, what are we to do about it?
Honestly, we have more than just a few options, but here is a sampling:
- Encourage our lawmakers to support immigration reform, making it easier for resettlement in the United States and allowing currently immigrants, especially those with family here, a path to citizenship.
- Work towards global economic justice and an end to war so that dire economic situations and threats of violence no longer force people to leave their home countries just to ensure their families’ survival.
- Welcome our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, letting them know that they are not alone in their struggles and their joys.
Here we are with another save the world spiel. It seems a little idealistic, right? But what if we took this idealism seriously during this Lenten season? We in the United States are blessed to live in a country based on a democratic system – we can make change by raising our voices and speaking out against injustices in our own country and around the world. How often do we remember that?
We are also able to (and called to) change our hearts. Take time over these 40 days or so to consider how your heart is to be refilled. Will there be room for the immigrant and the refugee?
*There are many wonderful organizations that work for immigrant and refugee rights. One particularly awesome one is the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. You can visit their website here: http://www.nnirr.org/drupal/
Abby Anderson is a senior Theology and Spanish double major from Nashville, who is known to spend her summers in the hills of Appalachia working with the Appalachia Service Project. She is known for her genuine smile and willingness to listen. One her favorite snacks is munching on carrots, which as a child was taken to an extreme as her skin quickly became tented orange.