The tug to get involved with immigrants in my community came from a deep desire to experience other cultures, to be connected to people, and to use the gifts God has given me.
I grew up in a family that traveled a lot but also had deep roots in our Mennonite community in Pennsylvania. We were taught the virtue of serving others, of listening to and identifying needs, of respecting another’s culture and way of life, and of always helping those with the least in society. I grew up knowing that we were “privileged” and that God wanted us to use what He’d given us to bless others. My parents modeled that, not with obligation but with joy. The ability to sacrifice was a gift.
Africa always intrigued me, and I imagined that someday I would move there to work in an orphanage. A part of that dream became a reality when we adopted our first son from Ethiopia in 2010. Unbeknownst to me, adopting Daniel also resulted in falling in love with the Ethiopian culture and people, which has indelibly become a part of the fabric of our family. I have traveled back several times over the last decade, and we added a teenager from there to our family as well.
Pedro is a 14-year-old boy who has grown up in a Central Mexican town ruled by a violent drug cartel. The cartel operates above the law and the town’s police force is powerless to control their criminal activity. And for boys like Pedro, joining the cartel isn’t just an option, it’s mandatory. Anyone who dares to resist recruitment by the cartel faces torture — even death.
Pedro’s attempts to avoid joining the cartel were met with severe violence. Then the cartel started to threaten Pedro’s brother and mother as well. So, Pedro’s mother had to make a critical choice: stay with her friends and family in the town she loved, or leave everything to protect her two young sons.
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Ruth 2:10
The day I became a citizen was hope deferred that turned into hope assured. It was a day I had waited for my entire life! But the context of my story is steeped with bitterness. Why would I feel shame over something that, in our society, is valued as the ultimate dream?
My parents are both from impoverished parts of Mexico and Central America. They both sought to dig themselves out of poverty, trauma, and hunger. They met at the border of California and Mexico at a factory, where they fell in love quicker than expected and soon found themselves pregnant with me. While I was still a newborn, my parents decided that they wanted to cross the border to offer me a better shot at life. They crossed the border in the only manner they understood—without documentation.
Has your church ever stepped out in faith—on short notice—to seize an opportunity to serve your community?
Bethel Presbyterian Church has been faithfully serving the Korean community in Howard County, MD, for forty years. Recently, however, they’ve responded enthusiastically to a sudden unexpected and unprecedented opportunity to partner with others from a multitude of cultures and backgrounds to serve the broader community during the ongoing pandemic.
“When you know what’s happening, there’s a point where you are responsible to help.” -Rachel
Rachel* and her husband Mark* had seen hopelessness in a country where jobs are scarce and the threat of violence is real. They saw the complexity of immigration from the side of those who feel the need to leave, but it wasn’t until they were faced with helping a Honduran child stuck in the murky waters of the U.S. system, that they truly understood how complex immigration really could be.
They had lived in Honduras for over a decade working at a boys’ home for teens who lived on the streets. She and Mark, now living in the U.S., heard from a close friend in Honduras. “Francesca* is a faithful, compassionate person,” Rachel says. She was married young and had several children, but was struggling to support them. Her husband had been looking for reliable work for seven years and his family was part of a family feud in which people had been killed and he felt their lives were in danger. In January 2019 he left with their 11-year-old son, Ruben*, to try to get to the U.S.
Life in Central America’s northern triangle is riddled with violence as a result of economic collapse and political instability. Josue’s father had been living and working in the U.S. as a migrant worker in order to provide for his family back home. While his father was away, Josue was looked after by his grandmother. But when her health failed, Josue had no one else to protect and care for him. And so, he fled toward the U.S.
Josue traveled north toward the border to try and find his father. After surviving the dangerous journey, he reached the border and began to wait in the asylum queue being monitored by local authorities. Eventually, he made his way to the U.S.
"There’s a difference between being tolerated and celebrated."
In the midst of a conversation about how we can pursue our callings, own our voices, and gather our communities as we step into peacemaking, a Women of Welcome webinar guest bravely spoke about what it is like to be on the other side of conversations about immigration. As an immigrant to the U.K. and the U.S., Jo Saxton knows what it is like to be tolerated instead of celebrated.
Briana Stensrud, Women of Welcome Director, sat down last week for a conversation with author, speaker, podcaster, and entrepreneurial coach, Jo Saxton. Jo is co-host of the podcast Lead Stories and the founder of the Ezer Collective, an initiative that equips women in leadership. Jo is the author of four books, including Ready To Rise: Own Your Voice, Gather Your Community, Step Into Your Influence. Born to Nigerian parents and raised in London, Jo brings a multicultural and international perspective to her leadership training for women.
When the conversation turned to how we can be good listeners as we engage in difficult discussions, Jo shared her own story about growing up an immigrant.
Right now it feels like there is such heaviness in our daily lives, in our country, and world. Peace can feel like a far-off concept. We may not know where to find peace or how to be a part of creating peace in our homes or our communities.
At Women of Welcome, we are on a journey to understand Biblical hospitality in an authentic way. So, we turn to the whole of Scripture for our understanding of living out our legacy of peace in Christ. Today, our Fall 2020 four-week study exploring these questions launches! Here is a glimpse into day one of the study:
“This is what God's called me to, and I can't not do it.”
About seven years ago, already into her early 50’s, something started to change for Carla. She had been a Christian since she was eight but says she was just content with going to heaven. When she decided to truly put God first in her life, the Holy Spirit started to change her heart toward people. “I started seeing people the way God sees them, like I’ve never seen before,” she says. Her views about immigration began to shift as well.
We had the incredible opportunity to speak with British American author, editor, and speaker Jill Briscoe. She has partnered with her husband in ministry for over 50 years and written over 40 books. She currently serves as the founder and Executive Editor of Just Between Us magazine. She is a former member of the boards of directors of World Relief and Christianity Today. In this excerpt from our September 2020 webinar, Jill and Women of Welcome Director Briana Stensrud discuss Jesus' command for us to be peacemakers and God's heart for the vulnerable.