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Where We Begins Matters: Theresa

1. Tell us a little about your family's immigration story.

The journey of my life began in 1985 when I left the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I woke up one morning and my parents said: we found a husband for you and you are going to get married. I was very young. Unwillingly, we moved to Burundi where my husband served at the embassy. When I left the Congo there was great political unrest and injustices occurring. People were being shot and killed.

Just a few years later in 1994 the Rwandan genocide began. We witnessed extreme violence during this time. Atrocities were committed against innocent children and adults. We lost family members. We were traumatized during this time. We witnessed children being killed and cut into pieces. Hutu were killing Tutsi and Tutsi were killing Hutu as well. It was a very difficult situation. It was the World War of Africa. I was afraid that my family would be next.

In 1995, my then husband, four children, and I were given refugee status. We were resettled in Sioux Fall, SD where we’ve lived since. We were all happy to come but continued to live in fear. We would have flashbacks on everything that happened. Despite this, I learned the language and achieved my dream of becoming a teacher. However, I still wanted to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help children who have been victims of abuse and who have lost parents. I appealed to the people of Sioux Falls for donations and I eventually was able to start a shelter for children in need. I came to this country with just my family, without knowing any English, and a dream of being a teacher. By the grace of God I am now working on my PhD.  

2. How does the immigration conversation need to change?

There is great division on how we approach the immigration conversation. Conversations about immigrants among Christians too often sound the same as they do in the secular arena. But we know that God has something to say about this issue.

The tone we have while talking about illegal immigration or refugees is often determined by the starting point of the conversation. If we start with national security of the border, we will end up with a different conversation and tone than one that starts with compassion for children. Where should Christians begin this conversation? I believe there is a place where Christians should be starting if we are seeking a true understanding of immigration in general. Christians must seek this understanding if we want to contribute meaningfully to this conversation.

I often talk about this topic with my son in seminary. There are two central verses in the Bible that people relate to immigration. When one begins to talk about immigration in the context of national security and borders they typically start quoting Romans 13, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” This tends to end with a closed approach and too often Christians end here. We can have a discussion about how to secure the border. We all recognize that this is important because there are criminals. However, we need to have a conversation about security for everyone, not just Americans. Are American Christians only concerned about themselves? What about a fruitful life for everyone?

However, we need to have a conversation about security for everyone, not just Americans. Are American Christians only concerned about themselves? What about a fruitful life for everyone?

Others begin with Leviticus 19:33- “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God”. These are two very different starting points and they are both right. The trouble comes when as humans when we add to what God is not saying or we just stop at one or the other.

I often wonder, what about Genesis? God created heaven and earth and called us to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth. We are made in the image of God-- each of us. My concern is that Christians are talking about undocumented workers or family as something other than precious human being made in the image of God. They are called illegal aliens like they are less than human. Does their legal status really define them as a person? This talk and attitude is inconsistent with the biblical understanding of what is a human being. I am certain that if we began with Genesis 1, declaring that all humans are created in God’s image, the debate would be quite different today. If we focused on the person and their gifts and contributions to the common good, we’d have a different conversation.

My concern is that Christians are talking about undocumented workers or family as something other than precious human being made in the image of God.

We are all immigrants in this world. God has not given us permanent residence cards. We are citizens of heaven and our primary allegiance is to God’s Kingdom, not the United States. I can grasp this because I live outside of the dominant powerful culture. I have this privilege of understanding this because I am living as though I am alien in America. There is much we can learn from each other, whether we are here legally or not. That is a conversation that American Christians need to understand instead of protectionism. Christians are missing the opportunity to learn from immigrants amd tp teach the Gospel of Jesus.

If we spend all our time on policy discussion and never bring our faith or relationships with immigrants we are missing on the extraordinary opportunity that God has placed in front of us.

If we spend all our time on policy discussion and never bring our faith or relationships with immigrants we are missing on the extraordinary opportunity that God has placed in front of us. My pastor helped my family by showing deep care and God’s love. I was able to heal faster because of my church community. I went through the trauma of genocide but I was able to recover and go back to school and learn english. I’m so passionate about this. Christians, where are we?

 

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