Why are you cast down oh my soul? Is it because you know the wearisome journey of immigration, because you understand the loopholes that make it impossible for people of color to gain access to living in America? Are you cast down because the American church is self absorbed with “orthodoxy” that it has neglected to do the very thing Jesus said is the greatest commandments of all, to love thy neighbor as yourself? Is it because that silence of your supposed community impacts you and those who look like you and it is an action that speaks louder than words? And the answer is yes, yes and yes.
It has been heart wrenching to hear the news and see images of brown children in cages, little babies without their mommies to sooth and hold them being treated as animals. And, it hurts deeply to watch smart, beautiful, strong women who look like me and my daughter being told to go back to their country because they dared to speak up and not be silenced. It hurts because he’s said it to me too, no not the president but a man like him, a man who was an authority figure in my life for a SEASON but who mistakenly thought my existence needed his permission and approval.
He was too busy climbing the leadership ladder, he was the new young CEO of a company I briefly worked for. It was a christian organization and I was the new girl right out of college he didn’t want to bother with nuances of my immigration status and thought I was simply going to disappear if he just wished it.
I went into his office to tell him the deadline to reapply for my work permit is approaching and I needed his approval to start the process with HR. All he was needed for was to give confirmation that I was doing my job well and that I was a capable employee. I told him about my visa situation and that I truly believed that God was calling me to stay and that I’d like for the organization to sponsor me to stay for an extended amount of time. He very nonchalantly said, why don’t you go back to your country? I wish instead he had said, tell me more or why do you want to stay. But no, he didn’t care to hear it, I don’t know why he chose careless words but they pierced through my heart. The weight of this comment had too many memories attached to it, it brought with it shame, guilt and fear all at once and left me feeling worthless it felt fresh just like it did when my community college advisor said it to me for the first time, it was triggering.
So yes, it still hurts to hear it, even if it’s not directed to me personally because it is indirectly about me and my family. It hurts because the church is still silent and outrage is only coming from outside of the body of christ, it hurts because it reminds me that there is an us and a them and I can’t depend on the church of christ to be my family and stand for Justice. I pray that God would heal the divide and that we would truly be united; till then, telling our stories and hearing theirs with compassion is the way forward so, I tell it to those who have ears to listen and I encourage myself in the Lord because he is my hope.
It’s funny to me to hear the assumptions made about immigrants, people glorify immigration as if it’s something we pursued out of luxury. For me, I didn’t want to live so far away from my family and friends. I was too proud of an Ethiopian and African to leave the country I love behind and try to fit into one that obviously didn’t want me nor was built with people like me in mind. The narrative of immigration was not representative of me that I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Anything that would paint me as a poor, hungry beggar who was desperate to get to “the promised land”, I worked hard to distance myself from but God kept calling me to serve in places that struggled to understand my reality.
The last thing on my mind was being in full time ministry in America. I knew of NO ONE who served in an American church as an immigrant and has had a significant leadership or influence, so the lack of role models scared me. I knew I was made to lead, but I was aware of how the obstacles would be many for me as a woman of color in the church. The nuances of my life and journey were too many to be understood let alone accepted in these spaces God was calling me to so I didn’t want any of it, but I loved God and I wanted to follow him and it so happened this was a path he chose for me.
Moments like these where I hear hateful words coming out of places of influence, I encourage myself by reminding my soul that my home is in heaven, that God has made the universe and it fits in the palm of his hands and I get to live where he sends me and makes a place for me. The bible is full of immigrants and refugees including Jesus Christ himself, and this temporary struggle only makes my walk with christ and suffering with him the more meaningful and tasteful so I give thanks to the Lord and pray for my enemies.