Listen To Article
(This is part 2. The earlier posting can be found here.)
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” was part of the response one was to make (Deuteronomy 26:5) when bringing the first fruit of the harvest to the priest before the altar of the Lord. An act of both thanksgiving and remembrance, claiming the identity of one who has been redeemed by God becomes a ritual grounding the community in gratitude describing who they are but also instructing them as to whom they ought to be. “No, you did not do this on your own,” one could hear God saying, “and remember that as you encounter others who are experiencing less fortunate realities in their lives…” My ancestors came from some place else and were saved and blessed by God becomes, we were saved and blessed by God, with further implications that we are to bless God and others.
Obviously, our Christian rituals and practices are different, but is not the Lord’s table similar in the way that we gather to remember and give thanks around something that we did not do ourselves but has been done for us, while also feeding and nurturing us to go and do likewise? Within the gathered community of the local congregation we can sometimes experience the immigrant story as alive and true and part of the Church’s story for today, and just as importantly, the call it places upon us as Christ’s followers.
The story of immigration, our story as the church however, also calls us to respond to the injustice within our midst that immigrants so often face. As the report of the Christian Action Committee to the General Synod of 2007 reminded the church, Immigration and the RCA:
Concern for the welfare of the sojourner, the alien, the uprooted, and those seeking a better homeland, is a pervasive theme of Scripture…The Christian church has traditionally been a major agent in ministry to the needs of immigrants and refugees and in shaping national response to these newcomers. Current debate on immigration policy must be informed by our highest religious and social principles (MGS 1982, p. 83).
The above mentioned report went on to mention the particular experience of one congregation in central New Jersey:
RCA churches have been impacted by the persecution of illegal immigrants as well. In May 2006 federal agents performed a raid on an apartment complex in Avenel, New Jersey. Thirty-five Indonesian immigrants were taken into custody. The residents of this building were terrified as federal agents filled their homes and trained weapons on them during the raid. The Reformed Church of Highland Park responded by gathering forty Indonesians from Avenel for prayer. This church was their home, with about eighty to one hundred people attending the weekly Sunday evening Indonesian service. The church opened its doors in this time of crisis and embodied the radical hospitality of Christ by housing for a week in its basement twenty-five people who were afraid to return to their homes. Nearly every family that attends this Reformed church was impacted by the raid and is now even more acutely aware of the ways U.S. immigration laws affect their life together and the life of the church.
Opening their doors and hearts, Highland Park’s own story was affected and their people’s story became the church’s which you can read more of in this New York Times piece.
Sadly, under the current Obama administration, Homeland Security has increased deportations, including those directed at the Christian Indonesian immigrant community in central Jersey who face considerable persecution should they be forced to go back to Indonesia. Journeying with their immigrant members, Highland Park found itself once again forced by their Christian conscience and witness to open their doors and provide hospitality even to the degree of sanctuary to those faced with imminent deportation. Of significance here is not only the life threatening situation of sending certain individuals back to where they face immense persecution but also tearing families and households who have settled down here apart.
To read more about the current situation and ministry taking place in Highland Park go here.
The reality is that the immigrant story is not just that which takes place someplace else, but it is our story, and our call to respond. You may find these resources helpful:
Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice
especially this Commitment to My Immigrant Neighbor
Reformed Church in America Immigration Position Papers
Presbyterian Church USA Office of Immigration Issues