The Tale of 2 Sisters

Tired of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father, Sister #1 ran away from home when she was 14. Vulnerable, she was  kidnapped by a 36-year-old man who brought her to the United States, though initially she thought she was still in her home country of Mexico. Soon after her arrival in the U.S., she experienced abuse by her kidnapper. Despite her undocumented status and having 4 children under the age of 18, she ultimately found courage to leave her abusive situation.

However, she was also concerned about her younger sister, Sister #2, whom she suspected was being abused by their father in Mexico.  Unwilling to see her sister suffer, she did whatever she could to bring her sister to the United States.  Unfortunately, her younger sister also became a victim of domestic violence when she arrived.  She too found the courage to leave the abuse despite being an undocumented mother of 3.

Both sisters find work where they can cleaning homes or in factories. In order to survive, they share an apartment with their seven children and do whatever they can to provide for their children. In October 2016, they found new resources and new hope through Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON) legal clinic.

Due to the current climate and the uptick in deportations, they live with fear every day, worried about what would happen to their children, their belongings and their future if they were to be detained by ICE and sent back to Mexico.

There are many women who come to the U.S. to escape physical and sexual abuse.  Some are brought against their will, others cross the border with hopes for an end to the violence and a better future.  But without documentation, they are vulnerable to more violence and abuse, to oppression in the work place, and to limited options.  Many end up as sex workers or domestic slaves.

Today, pray for these 2 sisters and the many other women and mothers who are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of partners and at the hands of ICE.

The details of this story were submitted by Rev. Paula Cripps-Vallejo, Pastor of Humboldt Park United Methodist Church

Day 16 – Stranger Love

Numbers 20:14-21

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors; and when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”

But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.

Amos 1:11-12

Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; he maintained his anger perpetually, and kept his wrath forever. So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.

There’s a long history of mistrust behind this passage from the book of Numbers.  Edomites are the descendants of Esau, and the Israelites are the descendants of Jacob.  Jacob and Esau were competitive fraternal twins.  You may recall how Jacob connived to get the birthright and blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau as the older of the two.  Fast forward a few generations.  The descendants of Jacob show up at the border of Edom, seeking passage through Edomite territory on their way to a new home in Canaan.  Even though the Israelites give their word that they will not take advantage of their distant cousins, the Edomites refuse to welcome the Israelites and militarize the border to ensure that no one crosses.

But Edom’s lack of “welcome” has serious consequences.  For generations following, Israel and Edom are bitter enemies.  The prophet Amos references the incident and announces God’s judgment on Edom.

Questions for Reflection

What parallels (if any) do you see between the story of Edom and the history of U.S. immigration policy?

If a prophet of God were to review the “pity” of  the U.S. toward immigrants, what might (s)he say?

Day 15 – Stranger Love

Today, everyone is Irish! St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicago where the river is dyed green and people enjoy not one, but two parades.  The Irish are loud and proud, and those who are not Irish wish they were.

But when the Irish first arrived in the U.S. as immigrants, they weren’t so welcome.  They were viewed as an “inferior race” who by nature were violent alcoholics, and they were regularly blamed for all of society’s ills.  Many suggested mass deportation to deal with the “Irish problem.”  Many employers refused to hire Irish–especially in predominantly English cities like Boston.  “No Irish Need Apply”  was found on many job postings.  The “NINA” addendum gave birth to a number of folk songs in the late 1800’s.  HERE is Pete Seeger’s version.

Today, the U.S. has absorbed St. Patrick’s Day into the mainstream and we don’t hear about the “Irish Problem” anymore.  However, the narrative of immigrants as the cause of social ills remains, and new immigrants still face discrimination and mistrust.

Questions for Reflection

Who are are identified as the “Problem” immigrants today?  Why do you think we identify some immigrants a problem and not others?

We often pride ourselves in being able to incorporate elements of immigrant cultures (food, music, language) into the American mainstream.  How has your life been enriched by immigrant culture?


Day 14 – Stranger Love

Genesis 18:1-8

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Hebrews 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

“Southern Hospitality” is legendary.  People go out of their way to meet the needs of their guests and make them feel welcome. One of the first things hosts do upon the arrival of a guest is to offer her/him a cool drink, and guests never leave without having something to eat.

Abraham must have been from the south. Upon seeing the three travelers, he immediately arranges for water and a dinner of veal parmesan, milk and Sarah’s special cakes.  And this for people he didn’t even know.  (However, note that he never invited them into his tent, and they ate the meal al fresco.)

Though the writer of Hebrews never mentions Abraham by name, he reminds his readers to show strangers hospitality–after all, they just might be divine messengers.

Questions for Reflection: 

There is an old saying (attributed to the Irish) that goes, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.”  But there’s another saying, “Stranger rhymes with danger for a reason.”  Which saying do you tend to practice?  Do you get excited about meeting new people, or are you suspicious?

If you tend lean toward “Stranger Danger”, what might motivate you to practice “Stranger Love?”  The possibility of angels?  Something else?

What if God was one of us?  Alanis Morissette asked us to consider the possibility.

Day 13 – Stranger Love

Following the Paris attacks in 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner joined over 25 other governors and announced that he would halt accepting Syrian refugees into the state. In December 2016, an interfaith group demanded that he publicly reverse his stand and allocate additional resources to help resettle refugees in Illinois.  Catherine Kelly, a spokesperson for the Governor’s office issued the following statement:  “Governor Rauner will continue making Illinois a welcoming and inclusive place to live while insisting that the federal government provide basic security information on refugees from ISIS-controlled areas to ensure the safety of all Americans.”  In other words, his original position stands.

Following the January 2017 Executive Order that permanently banned Syrian refugees, Governor Rauner avoided taking a stand.  His office again issued a statement. “The governor has been supportive of tightening the vetting process for Syrian refugees because of ISIS attempts to infiltrate refugee flows — but he’s opposed to immigration bans that target any specific religion.”  In other words, his original position stands.

Today, busloads of people will travel to the Illinois Capital in Springfield, to demand that Illinois be a welcoming state and to lobby legislators to strengthen protections for immigrants and refugees.  The trip is sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Action Step

If you live in Illinois, contact your state representative and/or senator and ask them to support and pass the Immigrant Safe Zone Act which will ensure that ICE and cooperating state and local law enforcement will not be able to target schools, churches or health care centers for raids.

If you live in another state, contact your state representative and/or senator to find out if there are any proposed laws related to immigration or refugees coming before the legislature.  Find out if they support protection for immigrants and refugees.  Tell them you support immigrant and refugee rights and you want them to support immigrants too.

Day 12 – Stranger Love

Ched Myers in his book, Our God Is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice, writes, “our perspectives on marginalized people are determined by our proximity to them.”

According to analysis of statistics from the 2000 census compiled by Barry Chiswick and Paul W. Miller in their discussion paper, “Where Immigrants Settle In the United States”,  immigrants are likely to live in major metropolitan areas in six states–California (LA/San Diego/Bay Area), New York (NYC), Texas (Houston/San Antonio), Florida (Miami), New Jersey (Newark/Camden) and Illinois (Chicago).  But immigrants are now settling in non-traditional places.  Between 2000 and 2013, Kentucky saw it’s immigrant population grow by 97%,  Wisconsin experienced 73% growth in immigrants, and North Carolina had an influx of over 700,000 immigrants. (Pew Research)

Questions for Reflection

Do you live in close proximity to immigrant families?  How you do think your proximity (or lack of proximity) to immigrants influences your perspective about immigration?

Proximity is necessary for personal relationships.  However, personal relationships only happen intentionally.  Do you personally know immigrants?  How has your personal knowledge influenced your perspective on immigration?

HERE is a fascinating interactive map of immigrant settlement patterns from 1880 to 2000.


Day 11 – Stranger Love

Deuteronomy 10:18-19

[The Lord your God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Leviticus 23:22

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

God loves the immigrant and the refugee.  God provides food for the immigrant and the refugee.  God commands God’s people to love the immigrant and the refugee.  God commands God’s people to provide food for the immigrant and the refugee.  It is that clear.  Tithing and gleaning are Biblical public policies intended to provide for those who either have no land (the Levites) or who are most likely to be landless and poor (foreigners, fatherless and widows.).

According to the Almanac of American Philanthropy, Americans are the most generous people on the planet–giving an average of $2600 per year to charity.  Seven out of 10 household give to at least one cause.  But $2,600 is not even close to 10% of the national median income of $56,516 (2015).  Imagine what would happen if Americans tithed (gave 10%) their income to provide for the poor!

Questions for Reflection

Does your charitable giving include help for immigrants and refugees?  If not, why not?

Action Step

Kimball Avenue Church has decided to support the Bethany/Pilgrim Project.  Bethany United Church of Christ and Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Chicago have partnered to sponsor a refugee family through RefugeeOne, a not-for-profit that resettles approximately 1000 refugees in the Chicago area. At the end of Lent (Easter) we will take an offering that will go toward the project.  We encourage you to start setting aside funds (your loose change, a $1 each day of Lent, a percentage of your income during Lent, etc).  Remember, God commands us to take care of immigrants and refugees.

Rana Goes to Cairo

Rana (not her real name) was born in the U.S. to Egyptian parents, making her a U.S. Citizen.  She is Muslim, but her faith is not obvious as she chooses not to wear a hijab, the traditional head covering.  She has many relatives in Egypt and grew up spending summer vacation with them. She continues to travel to Egypt regularly, but since 9/11, her experience has become nightmarish.

No matter where she is in the line at the airport security checkpoint, Rana is “randomly” selected by TSA and Homeland Security officers for closer scrutiny.  She is questioned about her travel.  Her bags are thoroughly searched.  She is patted down multiple times.  On several occasions, she has even been strip-searched.  Rana is convinced she is targeted, not randomly selected, because of her middle and last names–names associated with Islam–and because of her regular travel to Cairo.

Rana is never at ease arriving into or departing from the U.S.  Despite having a U.S. passport, she is treated as if the U.S. is not her home.  Rana recently married and would like to introduce her husband to her extended Egyptian family.  While Egypt is not listed in the Executive Order limiting travel from majority Muslim nations, Rana isn’t sure she wants to take the risk in these times of heightened suspicion and fear.

On this Sunday, feast on love of neighbor that refuses to presume malevolence or assign guilt and that instead delivers from fear.

Day 10 – Stranger Love

Genesis 46:26-34

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all. The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.

Israel [Jacob] sent Judah ahead to Joseph to lead the way before him into Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors’—in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.”

Did you catch that last line?  “Shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.”  Beneath that phrase are long-standing and long-accepted beliefs about class and ethnicity.  Egyptians are superior.  Even though Jacob’s family was welcomed by Pharaoh, the immigrants were viewed as inferior by the general public due to their occupation and they were physically segregated. An undercurrent of suspicion and mistrust of the ethnic outsider existed within the culture that the next Pharaoh was able to exploit to oppress and enslave Jacob’s descendants.

White supremacy is REAL!  For at least the past 500+ years, white Western Europeans have assumed their superiority over all other people.  The results have been the genocide of indigenous tribes, the enslavement of Africans, the subjugation of people groups through expansionist foreign policy, and ethnic cleansing.  Not surprisingly then, white supremacy has also shaped immigration and naturalization policy in the U.S. over the past 225+ years.  Here are some highlights that reflect the white supremacy narrative:

The 1790 Naturalization Act allowed only free white persons of moral character who had resided in the U.S. for 2 years to become citizens.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first law that was specifically designed to ban immigration by a specific ethnic group.  Passage was motivated in part around concerns for maintaining white racial purity. It was not repealed until 1943.

The Immigration Act of 1917 was overwhelmingly approved despite the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.  Playing to nativist sentiments, the law expanded the immigration ban to include people within a specified longitudinal/latitudinal grid that included Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Polynesian Islands.

The Immigration Act of 1924 drastically cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country annually, curtailed immigration from southern and Eastern Europe and specifically prohibited anarchists, pacifists, members of “radical” labor unions, and homosexuals.

Maybe denying access to the United States is more “American” than we would like to believe.

Follow the entire history of immigration law HERE.

Questions for Reflection

What do you think motivates the creation of a narrative of superiority or inferiority?

Often feelings of superiority based on race or ethnicity are so engrained in us that we do not recognize it in our actions.  If you are white, how could you become more aware of your attitudes and actions based in supremacy or so you can change them?   If you are a person of color, how does the narrative of white supremacy shape your self-understanding and behavior?