Growing up in a multiethnic, evangelical family, conversations around immigration were confusing to say the least. I can vividly recall sitting at the kitchen table listening to family members debate the morality of immigration laws. Some family members pointed to the importance of supporting those in authority, while others like my abuelita, recounted the hardships of her journey to United States with sadness in her eyes. Without any real urgency or relationship with anyone undocumented, my life continued without forming an opinion of my own. During my teens, I experienced the life-altering love of Jesus, and I felt freedom for the first time! Upon entering college at UCLA, I was determined to know this liberator God. InterVarsity leadership became an incubator for the Holy Spirit to lead me into risk and invite me to know His heart. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit would invite me into a lifelong journey of advocacy.
During a History of Chinese Immigration course, I began to realize there was far more to our country’s immigration story than I had been taught to believe. I was one of two Latinas in the course, and Keila and I became fast friends. We bonded over our academic drive and countless meals with friends. As we learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and classmates recounted horrific stories of what their relatives had endured, our hearts broke. All the while, I noticed a growing heaviness in my friend Keila. I felt the Lord nudging me to step out in risk by inviting her to explore Jesus at our chapter’s Mark Camp. Keila quickly resonated with the story of the bleeding woman (Mark 5). Who was this God who would stop to listen and dignify this woman’s experience? Late one night, Keila gathered the courage to share what had been heavily weighing on her heart for so long. “I’m undocumented,” Keila shared through tears. Like the woman in the story, Keila beautifully, vulnerably, and courageously shared her whole truth. She shared how her family had desperately tried everything to fix their situation; how they were scammed by people claiming to help. She shared the frustration of not having access to a driver's license or a work permit to help her family. Most of all, she described the constant fear looming over her head, of immigration enforcement tearing her family apart. Together, we wept. Later that week, Keila began a life-long relationship with the God who gives dignity.
It was through learning from the real trauma and courage of undocumented pillars in our community, and holding sacred space through tears, that Jesus transformed my life. Over the course of the next few years on campus, Keila and I marveled as we saw scripture coming alive before our very eyes. In Luke 10, Jesus tells a story that subverts the narrative of the empire by making the marginal Samaritan the hero of the story! One by one, beautiful Filipino, Mexican, Honduran, and Chinese friends began to boldly emerge from the shadows to invite the campus into holy action. One week before DACA was issued, our liberator God invited our community into another risk. We organized an event called “Jesus and Immigration” and were amazed to see over one hundred students and faculty show up to engage! My heart swelled as I saw my undocumented friends beautifully, vulnerably, and courageously, share their whole truth; it was a holy moment. I remember dancing wildy and crying tears of joy as I heard the news of DACA! In that moment, I realized that the God who subverts narratives had been mysteriously tying my liberation to the liberation of a community that I had once been so indifferent towards.
Today I recognize these friends are present day prophets, crying out in the wilderness of our immigration crisis, and leading the church to Jesus. Through each sacred story shared at that event back in 2012, the Lord used undocumented prophets to call an entire community into a lifelong journey of advocacy. Over the course of the next seven years, the Lord would call me onto InterVarsity staff and into my current position as Justice and Reconciliation Specialist. Some of these present day prophets have gone on to: advocate for undocumented Asian Pacific Islanders, create programs for refugee children, and launch their own non-profits. Keila went on to pursue medicine and has been an integral voice in helping her colleagues understand the needs of undocumented community. But with the recent revocation of DACA, Keila got a taste of what many will soon face. She lost her job in the medical field, had her driver’s license revoked, and lost access to in-state financial aid. Keila was able to re-apply, but knows this is only a temporary solution. Her dreams of becoming a doctor have been put on hold. Even so, Keila finds herself on her knees, remembering and crying out to Jesus with prophetic boldness:
It wasn’t just the events we put together, but it was the sacredness of seeing God move in the day to day. It was seeing a community committed to one another’s well being. I just hope and pray that the church truly enters in and tries to understand how the brokenness of the immigration system affects us; that our hearts would be stirred into holy action!
In the midst of the immigration crisis in our nation, what does it look like for our hearts to be moved into holy action?
The word compassion, used to describe the actions of the Samaritan in Luke 10, derives from the greek word splagchnizomai, meaning to be moved in our deepest, inmost parts. This is the type of compassion that pierces the heart and necessitates action. Wherever you are on the journey, my prayer is that as the body of Christ, the Spirit of God would draw us deeper into relationship and further in compassion. Soon Keila and 800,000 others will have their dreams put on hold and be vulnerable to deportation. Keila was able to renew her application, but she knows this is only a temporary fix. May we not only be consumers these sacred stories, but allow them to call us into holy sacrificial action! Would you take a risk and consider engaging in holy action on behalf of immigrants?
Allow prayer to lead you: Consider a communal fast or a prayer vigil. Pray for the protection of 800,000 DACA recipients and for legislation that honors them. Ask God what action step He’s inviting you to take.
Get involved: Learn about immigration laws and how they affected undocumented community. Hold decision makers accountable to just legislation by making a phone call to your representative. Organize a phone bank with your community or get involved with organizations that are proactively pursuing change (like the The Matthew 25 Movement).
Listen to the stories of undocumented prophets: Enter into the stories of undocumented classmates, church family, and neighbors. Engage in a biblical study of immigration with your community. Some resources:
Spread the word: Share this blog and tag 5 friends using the hashtags: #HolyAction #IStandwithImmigrants