Matthew 25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Miriam is from Honduras, with two American children. She arrived in our country fifteen years ago. She fled her home and made that dangerous journey north, because of violence that she endured and fear of her future if she stayed. She hopes to become a citizen. In the midst of her legal pursuit of asylum status, she was given a notice of deportation. Instead of reporting to be deported, she moved into offices at First English Church with her children while she continues her appeals for asylum. First English has informed law enforcement of her location while she fights to stay. Past administrations have not entered a church to arrest and deport people and our current administration has not yet, either.
Miriam’s story engenders compassion within me. I cannot condone that she came into this country illegally but the fear that led her to that decision breaks my heart. Once here, I cannot fathom building a life in a place knowing that it can all be taken away with a deportation notice. What kind of constant worry and pressure must that bring a person? When faced with deportation, she had the impossible choice of either leaving her American children behind in foster care, or return them to a country they have never known, a place of violence so bad that she uprooted her entire life to flee. We need borders and laws, but there are stories behind the children of God who break our laws at the border.
Central to my understanding of who God is and who God calls us to be is welcoming. As the church, the body of Christ in this broken world, we welcome whomever knocks on our door. This is easy to do most of the time when the people who knock have stories that are morally unambiguous. However, the longer I am in ministry the more I believe that none of our stories are truly morally unambiguous. Which is why I believe Jesus’ command in Matthew 25 is so simple. Hear the knock. Open the door. Listen to the need. Provide mercy and care. No one has done anything to deserve our care. No one has done anything that would warrant a denial of care.
First English twenty years ago was a dying congregation with members who drove in from the suburbs to worship at the church they grew up. The neighborhood around First English frightened her members as inner city poverty increased the crime rate. First English’s doors were unlocked only one day a week, Sunday. God resurrected First English and gave her a new heart for the neighborhood and wonderful ministry followed. This started when they flung their doors open and said welcome. The majority of the worshippers now on Sunday live in the neighborhood. Seven days a week the church is abuzz with activity, including two weekly meals for the community, free children’s programming and more. Messiah with other congregations supports their ministry with a small monthly contribution of $150. Plus, we serve a meal from their kitchen every other month.
I have heard from parishioners about this new ministry for Miriam and her family that First English has begun. Most are excited about the work First English has chosen to do, while several parishioners have told me they do not support it. Their objections have been a concern for the Church helping someone break the law. I hear this. I understand the concern. Helping First English help Miriam, even in just the small ways we have been asked so far, while not illegal might be the wrong decision. However, it is an error made on the side of grace not judgment. This seems the spirit of Matthew 25.
I hope all will have compassion for Miriam and her family. Even if one firmly believes she should be deported, this does not negate their call to show mercy and recognize her hardship. Once, when I was troubled, a child of God opened the door when I knocked and people of faith took care of me. No one asked what did I do. They simply asked me what can I do. May we open the door and welcome the child of God on the other side who needs our care. God bless all involved as we struggle in this broken world to be people of grace, mercy and love. Peace, Pastor Karl