Bienvenidos mat

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!

Bienvenidos matSunday morning after worship, I sat with Lidia*, trying desperately to hold back my tears as she occasionally wiped hers away, hiding them from her children. Lidia and her family are an integral part of our community of faith. They became members after Lidia and the previous pastor met in classes while they were both pregnant. As they got to know each other, the family started worshiping with our community of faith. In turn, our community of faith started including more Spanish in our worship service.

Lidia and her family are among the many migrant and immigrant residents of our rural Midwestern town who have come from Mexico to work on the local farms. Last year, our community of faith had been excited and energized by the relationships we’d been developing with the farmworkers and their families. The banner outside our church building, made for our annual picnic welcoming our friends back from their homes in Mexico, reads, “¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!” Each year, an extended family spends five to six months in our town, working for a local organic farm during their main growing season. And each year for the last few years, we have welcomed them with a picnic filled with food, games, and maps that allow all of us to point to the places we each come from.

We also pushed our School District Community Education Program to offer free English as a Second Language classes in the community. At the end of the harvest, we send the family back to Mexico with cookies, well-wishes, and cries of “¡Hasta la primavera! ¡Nos vemos en junio!”

Our members take seriously the love of God they encounter in communion—a love that means each person has a place at the table and each person should be fed and nourished. I wish the story could end there, with us all sharing in joyful welcome of each other at God’s Table, but when we form meaningful relationships with people, we also get to know the problems they face in a new way. This is especially true for problems that are rooted in systemic sins.

In 2016, we were in the middle of the eighth year of President Obama’s presidency—a year which touted a record number of deportations for any United States president. It was only a matter of time before the tragedy of deportation hit us personally as well. In November and December of last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) showed up at two area farms. Eight men were taken from their jobs to a detention center over an hour away.

One of the men detained had a relative who had been in the ESL classes where we volunteered, so one of our members began to dive into the deep and murky waters of the United States immigration system to see what she could find for her friend. She ran up against a few walls, and though she ultimately figured out where the man was, she couldn’t help him. There was no chance for bail. He was deported before we could even figure out what an alternative process would be for him.

The economies here in the heartland–especially on dairy farms–rely on workers from other countries because farmers can pay them less to do the job. Plus, the workers are generally reliable… unless ICE shows up in its usual sneaky way. The immigration system is broken in part because we need more workers in this country than those for whom we offer visas, and in part because we are unwilling to pay more for milk, cheese, and other food to compensate those who harvest it with a livable wage.

In the last week, we have received news reports of immigration raids throughout the country. Because of a mistake that was dealt with several years ago, Lidia’s family is in the government system.

Even a month ago, Lidia and her family were nervous about the new administration, but they were planning to stay so that their two kids, who are citizens, could grow up in the only country they have ever known, free of violence and with opportunities their parents didn’t have. As I sat with Lidia, she told me that they didn’t know what to do. They were trying to figure out a way to build a house back in Mexico in case they were deported, or to balance work, saving money, and child care if one was deported and the other remained with their children. They were even considering moving back preemptively to avoid the ongoing anxieties of the last weeks.

After that conversation, Lidia, her spouse, another friend, and I spent hours together, trying to find a way for them to legally move to Canada, seeing it as the only hopeful option. As I came home, I had to fight down my own anxiety and panic. This family is a vital part of our ministry as a community of faith. They are bridge builders. Their children are children of our congregation, sitting with different people in worship, comfortable playing with almost anyone. If they are deported, it will be devastating for them and for our whole community of faith.

We know that the immigration system in this country is broken, but right now the burden and anxiety rests most heavily on those who are already most aware of and most vulnerable to its brokenness. Children wonder if they’ll see their parents again when they get home from school. Parents worry about what will happen to their children (who have only known this country as their home) if they get picked up by “la migra.” If parents are captured, will their children come with them? Will they stay? Will they be lost in the foster care system?

And as their pastor, I cannot help them. So instead I sit with tears in my eyes as they share their anxieties. I search fruitlessly for a crumb of hope for their situation, when I know there are no crumbs falling from this table. I make sure they know to call me and that I will show up if Immigration and Customs Enforcement does show up. I pray like their lives depend on it, because they just might.

When our community of faith started building relationships with strangers we hadn’t realized lived here in the “homogenous rural states,” we didn’t know where it would lead. So far, it has led to joy and discovery as well as heartache and pain. In other words, it has led us to Jesus, who made the ultimate journey across the divide of living and dead out of love–love for those of us with papers, and love for those of us without them.

*Name has been changed.


Kaji S. Douša

“Just make it magical,” I said.

I looked at the makeshift learning space: a hallway, really. This was where our church would be asking our children to go in-depth about Jesus for the next year and a half, while we completed our all-encompassing construction project.

Everything had to be added to the space; it came with nothing. But, quite quickly, it began to host the ragtag miscellany that inhabits all spaces that are not carefully controlled. It became a storage room, a hallway, and a place to learn about Jesus. Some of this could change—we could be more disciplined about where we put things—but some was simply the reality of where we were. Yet if the children were asked to do this, then the least we could do would be to make the place… magical. So we designed something exciting and beautiful that might have been too difficult to pull off in a larger space. Magic could make this work.

If only we had a wand to make everything else magic. Read more

Go Back To Your Country

just-race-dec-2016It was on the way to pick up the kids from school.

I slowed to a stop at the crosswalk that connects a paved walking trail with a rails-to-trails path on a fairly busy street in Bloomington. I had seen the bicyclist slow down to wait to cross, but even though I was in a hurry, I waved him on anyway. My eyes flicked up to my rearview mirror, and I noticed the car behind me abruptly stop, like the driver hadn’t been paying attention. Maybe he didn’t expect me to stop for the lone person waiting to cross the street. Maybe he was on his phone. Maybe he was in a hurry to pick up his kids.

When I drove further down the road, the lanes opened up, and I got in the left-turn lane. That’s when I noticed the same car behind me come up and zip around even before the lanes split off. As I turned to watch him drive by, he slowed down a little with his driver’s window down and screamed out:

Bitch, learn how to drive or go back to your country.

Then he sped through the intersection. I missed my chance to turn left as I watched him drive away, my knuckles turning white from gripping the steering wheel. I couldn’t help but immediately default to thinking: Was I not supposed to stop for the bicyclist? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad driver? Read more

Strong Women and White Privilege

Gia Hayes-Martin

Gia Hayes-Martin

“You come from strong women,” my grandmother said. It was late on a Monday evening in the winter of 1991. We were up late on a school night, and my grandparents were visiting, because I had been confirmed that evening. Granny gestured to the small photographs of her parents that sat in a double frame on the desk in our guest room. My great-grandmother, whom we called Muzzy, was approaching the end of her very long life. We hadn’t known until the last minute whether my grandparents would be spending the week with us or five hundred miles away at Muzzy’s bedside. Looking at the photos, Granny said it again. “Never forget it. You come from strong women.”

I’d heard Muzzy’s story before. In 1924, her husband, my great-grandfather, was found dead in bed of “acute indigestion.” (Someday I will find out what that might have been.) Muzzy was twenty-eight years old. She had four children under the age of seven and was pregnant with her fifth. They had moved from Louisville, the city nearest their hometown in rural Kentucky, to Akron, Ohio, so my great-grandfather could find work on the new streetcar line. Now that she was a single mother, Muzzy knew she needed to be near family. She returned to Louisville, where her sisters helped care for the children and her parents sent produce from their farm to put food on the table.

It was common in the 1920s for the children of widows to be institutionalized in state orphanages. Muzzy was determined to keep her family together, and she reasoned that if she owned a home, the state would have a harder time proving that she could not care for her children. She used the money from her husband’s life insurance to buy a little shotgun house on Greenwood Street in Louisville’s West End. It became my Granny’s childhood home. Muzzy took in washing and sewing, and once her children were older, she went out to work as a seamstress. She did it: through shrewd thinking, hard work, family support, and sheer bloody-minded strength, she kept her family together.

Muzzy was a remarkable woman. Read more

Why we don’t always feel like talking about race (and what to do about it)

Picture of the author, Nicole Martin

The author, Nicole Martin.

The time is ripe for race talk. The problem is, some people don’t always feel like talking. A variety of recent events have added to a surge of desired dialogue on the black experience, but after years of talking, some black people are too tired to engage. As an African American clergywoman, I feel this tension nearly every week in some tangible way. There’s always some group seeking insight on what it means to be black, including Presidential candidates vying for the “black vote;” Christians debating on whether black lives, blue lives, or all lives matter; new research within my community on the psychological outcomes of blackness; and so much more. While this is extremely fruitful, it can also be extremely taxing, especially for those of us who are able to articulate our lives in ways that others can understand.

I sensed this for the first time growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Like most young children, I never had a concept of what it meant to be black until a white student pointed it out to me. “Why are your hands two different colors?” they asked while laughing on the playground. I had no idea what they were talking about. In that moment, I looked at my hands from front to back, and sure enough, the insides of my hands were lighter than the skin that covered my body. I was never good with comebacks, so I just put my hands in my pockets and walked away. This was the beginning of an intense process of discovering that my hair, lips, body, speech, food, and family would all one day be spaces of curiosity for well-meaning white people. Read more