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A Lament for Immigration: Celebration

A year and a half ago, a small faith community in central New Jersey found themselves in the midst of despair, with little hope of relief. The Reformed Church of Highland Park is a modest worshipping community comprised of young families, students, and a burgeoning group of undocumented Indonesian refugees. For years, the church had walked alongside its undocumented brothers and sisters--offering legal assistance, advocating with Congress, and even offering sanctuary when deportation orders were issued. And what did they have to show for their efforts? Legislative paralysis, persistent deportation orders, and a growing list of sanctuary seekers. This was a community waiting for justice.

On December 4, 2012, they decided to mark the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the life of their community with...a celebration. That’s right, a celebration. A celebration to mark the victories that had been achieved by their advocacy, and to joyfully remind themselves that the work was not yet finished. In the face of fatigue, long odds, and bitter disappointment--the very moment when they had every right to throw their hands up in despair and throw in the towel--they rejoiced. I had the privilege of addressing them at this celebration, not in person, but by letter. It was read to the group as they huddled together against the bitter December cold and the encroaching darkness of night. They listened, and they celebrated.

And all of this has me thinking about our current immigration situation. Some would say that it’s time to give up; to lick our wounds and move on. That the political will to reform our broken immigration system is dead. But every time someone tells me I’m a fool for continuing to believe that immigration reform will happen, I think of my friends in New Jersey that night—huddled against the bitter winds of improbability and the encroaching darkness of despair—celebrating.

I’m not exactly sure what it was that enabled them to have such hope in the midst of such deep discouragement. What I do know for sure is that it had something to do with their Christian identity. As Christians, we operate on a different timetable and have different strategies than simply the political. As Christians, we are people who live now in anticipation of the Kingdom, and by so doing are formed into the people of God. This means that we refuse to take circumstances at face value, we insist that the powers that be do better, and we live as people marked by the values of the Kingdom of God. We do this by offering our time, our support, and our voices because, as people of the light in a world so full of darkness, we can’t imagine doing anything else.

Our brothers and sisters at Highland Park were waiting (and continue to wait)—and we join them as we wait for a just and humane immigration system—but we are not without hope. We are waiting because there is something coming worth waiting for. We are waiting, but we are not passive. We are waiting with hope and we are waiting with action. Today may seem dark, but take heart—whole families, dignified workers, and a workable immigration system is coming.

Indeed, the kingdom itself is coming.

Praise be to God.

(Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of reflections this week about immigration. Previous reflections can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Stay tuned for a Canadian perspective tomorrow!)

[Image: Flickr user Kim]

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