Mommy, Don’t Let Them Get You!

How might God be speaking to you through these true stories from Iowa?

From a mother of two who has been here for twenty years:

I don’t know what to do. My husband died two weeks ago. I don’t have time to grieve. I’m too worried about taking care of my kids. The other day I was rear-ended, and my car is a mess. I am so lucky the policeman didn’t give me a ticket for not having a license. But he told me not to drive. Now he knows my car because of the dented fender, so how do I get to work?

My kids are devastated from their father’s death and the trauma of living with a cancer patient for years. My husband was diagnosed when our youngest was two years old. Almost all of his life, our son has lived with the possibility of his father dying and also with the threat of both his parents being deported. It has traumatized him.

I was at work the other day when someone ran into the office, saying, “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is driving around in the neighborhood!” I was terrified. What would happen to my children if I’m deported? They are still grieving the death of their father, and now, what if I get deported? Every time I drive, I’m worried that I’ll be picked up.

The other day I was driving from one place to another, and I know that ICE was following me. I saw them in my rearview mirror. What am I supposed to do? Stay behind locked doors in my house? How will I work? How will I buy food, make my house payment, pay the electric bill? I have been in Des Moines for twenty years.

My husband had and I have no criminal record – nothing. Our daughter is a student at the university, and our son is in high school. If I’m sent back to the country in which I was born, what will happen to my son? Should he come with me? But then he would lose his educational opportunities. He’s a very good student. All I have are questions. No one has the answers. Lawyers can’t even tell me what’s going to happen because no one knows how the laws are going to be interpreted.

People tell me, “Become legal.” How? There’s no way. I applied fifteen years ago, and I have at least five more years to wait to even be considered for permanent residency.

The place where people worship in a church building is called the “sanctuary.” The concept of sanctuary or “safe places” for people to flee is found in Numbers 35:10-11, where God says to Moses, “When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there.” The biblical practice of sanctuary was to protect an accused person from vigilante justice until a fair trial could be held.

From a wife and mom

I love my children. They are the three most precious gifts from God that I can possibly imagine. And, my husband! He looks like a big hunk, but he is the sweetest guy you could ever meet. He knew from the very beginning of our relationship that I was undocumented. Since even before our first baby was born, he knew that I might be deported at any time. He knew he might end up being a single parent, so he decided to be the best dad he could possibly be … and he is! Since ICE has been out arresting people, I’ve been scared, really scared that his fear might become a reality, that he actually might be a single parent for our three children. The rumors on the street are crazy, just crazy. People say that our landlords will turn us in, that our enemies will turn us in, that we can’t talk to the police because they’ll turn us in. They say that ICE agents are horrible and mean.

My husband was so worried that he made me quit my job. I am going crazy staying at home. I love my kids, but … we can’t go to the park anymore. We can’t go to the mall and have them play in the playground. We can’t go to the store to buy groceries together. We can’t walk in the neighborhood. I can’t work anymore. I can’t go to church. I can’t go to their school plays. It breaks my heart that they think I don’t want to attend their plays, but if I do go I might get caught and deported. I love them so much! I can’t imagine life if I were sent back to Central America! But it’s driving me crazy being in the house all of the time. My husband says that’s how it has to be for now. How long will “now” last?

  • “For the Lord your God … loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18-19)
  • “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
  • “The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.” (Ezekiel 47:21-22)
  • “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

From a husband and dad

I’m Latino, born in California. Even though I’m a citizen, I don’t want to drive with my wife in the car because they will stop us and she doesn’t have documents. Why doesn’t she become legal? Why doesn’t she follow the correct way to come into the U.S., you ask? Well, the truth is, there is no way. So I have to convince my wife to stay at home so that she doesn’t get detained and sent away from us. I love her. I love her with all my being, yet I can’t do anything to protect her except make sure she stays at home and doesn’t answer the door except when she knows friends are coming over. I know it’s hard for her, but that’s how it has to be for now.

In medieval England, from at least the 12th to the 16th centuries, sanctuary was a legal procedure in both the church and secular law. Once accused persons made it into the safety of a churchyard, a community was legally obligated to keep them safe and feed them for up to forty days. After forty days, fugitives often had to confess, give up their possessions, and walk barefoot to the nearest port where they would live in exile for the rest of their life.

It is important to note that the concept of US faith communities providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants has no legal standing, which means that housing an undocumented immigrant in a church building is a violation of federal law. At the same time, there are currently faith communities housing immigrants across the US as a sign of God’s love, and historically, immigration enforcement agents have not entered houses of faith to remove a person. The new Executive Order has removed the previous administration’s practice of prioritizing the deportation of undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes. 

From a mom and professional

“Mommy don’t let them get you!” Those are the last words I hear from my five-year-old little girl every time I leave the house. I drive safely, I have insurance, I make sure the lights on my car are working properly, and I never go above the speed limit or run a red light or fail to stop at a stop sign… Yet I can’t stop being Latina. I can’t change the color of my skin or the way I look, so being stopped, arrested, and deported is always a possibility. I pray every day that I don’t get caught. I wonder why some people get caught and others don’t? Do some people pray more than others? Does God listen more to some than to others?

What can we do to help our brothers and sisters who have made this country their home but live in constant terror? Dare we sacrifice the safety of others in order to ensure our own safety and comfort? Can we turn against our own neighbors? How do we preserve the dignity of others and work for the common good of all of God’s children?

From a professional:

I was born in Mexico. I came to the US when I was a child. My mother and brother came here with me because she wanted to start a new life without my father. I became concerned soon after the 2016 election when my mother, who is a Legal Permanent Resident, was riding a Des Moines metro bus and another passenger said to her in a hateful, threatening tone, “Good, now you and all illegals like you will have to go back to where you belong.”

It was very upsetting to my mom. But I realized that I, too, looked like who I am, a Mexican. Well, I’m a U.S. citizen, and Des Moines is my home, but my family’s heritage is Mexican. Since then I have carried my U.S. passport everywhere I go. I am a professional. I have a Master’s degree and work at a university, but I walk in fear everywhere I go. It’s not just people who don’t have documents to work, it’s anyone who looks different from the stereotypical Iowans of European descent – white folks.

  • When immigrants have to wait twenty years before even being considered for permanent residency, how can we be a voice for immigration reform?
  • In Iowa and other states, there is a network of faith communities that is willing to provide support for immigrant families in need. (iowasanctuary.org)
  • Support for those who are vulnerable can be given in different ways: through finances, meals, rides, child care, and prayer.
  • Direct people to Justice for our Neighbors, a United Methodist free legal immigration ministry in many states, including Iowa.
  • Churches can advertise their support for immigrant communities and welcome all people to worship and participate.

I pray for the day when no child will have to ever say again, “Mommy, don’t let them get you!”

 

 

 

What is Saving Your Life Right Now?

As the four of us sat down for an extended lunch recently, one of my friends asked, “What is saving your life right now?” We sighed, laughed, and began to reflect, all of us United Methodist clergywomen. We didn’t bother trying to unpack what the question meant because we instinctively knew.

What is it that keeps you going during this uncertain time in our denomination, country, and world? How can we live fully when others are living in fear, refugee families are desperate to find safety, friends are reduced to poverty because of medical debt, and racial/ethnic tensions continue to simmer? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 16:25 when he says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What is saving my life? Let me count the ways.

  • Visiting the Detroit Zoo with my three friends on a spring-like February day and running into a former church member, who was carrying on his back a six-year-old Syrian refugee boy sponsored by the church. What joy was on his face!
  • Hearing about a church that made several hundred paper hearts for Valentine’s Day and delivered them to a nearby Muslim congregation.
  • Celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah with our Christian family and our son-in-law’s Jewish family. Talking about how we are all obligated to advocate for those who are on the margins, for we rise and fall together.

  • Reading books that deepen my faith, challenge my mind, and inspire me to make a difference: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, and A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
  • Meeting with various groups in my travels who are asking, “How can we be people of faith in the times in which we live, especially when our own families are divided?”
  • Spending time with United Methodist college students who are grateful for a safe place to explore their faith and do not hesitate to make their voice heard.
  • Walking through a botanical garden and marveling at the variety of God’s world, including the sausage tree, which is sacred to many communities.

  • Observing how people are learning to dialogue about difficult issues in ways that are not defensive, accusatory or mean but rather honor others.
  • Driving across Iowa on I-80 and listening to the splendid symphonies and symphonic dances of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
  • Discussing theology with my new six-year-old friend Kinnick from Council Bluffs, who asked what a bishop is and then prayed for me in worship the next day.

What is saving my life?

  • Celebrating the lives of two dear friends who died recently. Dorothy Wimmer, who died on her 90th birthday, sent more encouraging cards and notes to me over the past twenty-four years than anyone else. And Helene Hill, a deaconess in The United Methodist Church, was a prophet and leader in the area of social justice for the very least of God’s children. If only I could be more like Dorothy and Helene.
  • Reveling in the sweet song of a cardinal in a tree.
  • The wonder and innocence of small children.

  • Appointive cabinets across the country working prayerfully, strategically, and fruitfully to make clergy appointments.
  • Clergy giving themselves fully to ministry, yet also intentionally caring for their own physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • Those who believe that the church is a big, big tent where there is room for all of us to live in peace, follow our passions, and change the world together.
  • A flower poking up through the ground in February.

  • Reading Exodus 3 and reminding myself that the God who self-identified as “I am who I am,” is also the One who will always be there for you and me.
  • Late night comedy shows that remind me it’s okay to lighten up once in a while.
  • Dear souls who pray for me and make sure I get where I am supposed to be.

What is saving my life?

  • Interacting with people who are bent over by the pain of the world but at the same time stand tall and reach out to others in need.
  • Welcoming to our churches those who are openly skeptical but have found a sanctuary where they can explore who God is and who they are called to become.
  • A husband and children who love me as I am and are doing their part to change the world.
  • Watching ordinary people do extraordinary things through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • An Iowa sunrise from a different perspective

  • Children of God who are hungry to learn, grow, and serve.
  • Stimulating interfaith conversations with Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists, confirming that we humans are more alike than we are different.
  • Saying “I’m sorry” and receiving grace.
  • After Meals on Wheels was in the news last week, remembering my mother, who served Meals on Wheels for many years and modeled for me the importance of using our time and gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Saving my life by losing it, and losing my life in order to find it.

What is saving your life right now?

 

Only the Cross Survived

March 13, 2017

It was the largest pipe organ in Iowa. This glorious Casavant organ, with four manuals, 94 ranks, and 5,122 pipes, was dedicated on April 29, 1984 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Muscatine, Iowa. The congregation was eager for me to visit their church and try out the organ. Now it lies in ruins.

Last Monday night, severe weather battered the state of Iowa, spawning high winds, hail, intense rain, and tornadoes. Clocks indicate that at 10:10 p.m. the electricity went out at Wesley UMC. 115 mile winds ripped through the town, with a tornado headed right toward the church. In the blink of an eye, the roof at the front of the sanctuary was torn off and the organ was completely destroyed, with woodwork and hundreds of pipes collapsed onto the floor, twisted, bent, and shattered. In addition, the adjacent Family Life Center had a huge in its roof.

Miraculously, the only thing left untouched at the front of the sanctuary was the cross, hanging by a few chains from the ceiling. On Tuesday afternoon, I was able to visit Wesley UMC and talk with pastor Bruce Ursin, his wife Susan, organist Sally Potter, and Director of Media Ministries, Katie Roquet.

My first reaction was visceral, coming from deep in my heart. How could this be? What kind of power could throw around 5,122 organ pipes and leave them in a twisted heap? I felt a mixture of awe to find a jewel of a pipe organ in a town like Muscatine, grief at the devastation, and gratitude that most of the rest of the church was intact. Jesus, keep me near the cross.

After shedding a few tears, I simply walked around the sanctuary, examining the damage and meditating upon the magnificent and irreplaceable stained glass windows that were spared. The Wesley United Methodist Church building was constructed in 1912, and the sanctuary is gorgeous. The original Skinner pipe organ lasted for seventy-one years, when it finally needed to be replaced.

The Organ Committee retained Robert Scoggin as their organ consultant and recitalist for the dedication. Not only was Scoggin an outstanding organist who studied with my organ teacher, Robert Baker, but he was also a United Methodist elder. Scoggin traveled the country, visiting organs constructed by contemporary builders and discerning how the new organ in Muscatine could lead and enhance worship, function as a concert instrument, and also serve the musical needs of the community.

Pipe organ construction is extremely complex, sensitive, and expensive. This organ was made possible by the Jackson Trust. Robert S. Jackson, a Muscatine attorney, church member, and music lover, died in 1979 and left a major portion of his estate to the church to be used for the music program, including a new organ.

There is also a Jackson concert series. According to the church website, “From the first concert by soprano, Louise Russell, in 1981, the Jackson Concert Series continues to present musical concerts by artists of distinction. Over the years we have been privileged to provide the community with concerts by Roger Williams, Bobby McFerrin, The Four Freshmen, Jerry Hadley (20th anniversary of the series), Marvin Hamlisch (25th anniversary), Simon Estes, many great organists, and also some of the most celebrated jazz bands and vocalists. The series is varied and has something for everyone – from the opera buff to the jazz aficionado to the child in all of us. To date we have presented over 175 artists free of charge to our community.” How incredible is that for a town of 23,000 people?

As one who devoted ten years of my life to playing the organ, I was utterly amazed at the story. I have no doubt that the Jackson organ will be rebuilt and will continue to glorify God again. Yet, there is much more going on here. God is already at work, transforming hearts and lives through the witness of Wesley UMC. In the cross of Christ I glory.

The very day after the storm, church leaders made a decision to become the communications hub for storm damage in the Muscatine area. Their website, wesleyonline.org, is a clearing house for information about the storm. Is it any wonder when you read their mission statement on the home page, “Transforming lives through hands-on ministry with children and families in need.” And their vision is, “Growing together in Christ, reaching out in love.” After all, the organ is at the heart of Wesley UMC, and the congregation, as the largest church in town, is at the center of the community.

The church is used for school concerts and other community events. Director of Media Ministries, Katie Roquet, explained that so many people have stepped forward and offered to help the church in any way they can. Yet Pastor Bruce and church members want to use this tragedy to share Christ’s love, encourage each other, and reach out to others whose homes or businesses were damaged by coordinating volunteers. Wesley UMC refuses to lament and instead seeks to look outward and make a difference in the community. In that old rugged cross … a wondrous beauty I see.

Wesley UMC’s Presbyterian neighbors have invited them to worship with their congregation until they are able to be back in the sanctuary. In fact, the Presbyterian pastor called Bruce at midnight on Monday, shortly after the tornado, saying, “We’re with you. We’d love you to worship with us as long as you want.”

Sally Potter has been the organist for decades, and Pastor Bruce is a skilled, spirit-filled pastor. The discipleship pathway of the congregation includes connection, growth, serving, and missions, which is why Wesley UMC has a partnership with Franklin Elementary School. The children at the school sent a banner and messages of love and support to the church last week, with one 2ndgrader writing, “I feel so very sorry about the tornado, but want you guys to know that I love you. I drew you a rainbow so you wouldn’t feel sad.” In the Cross of Christ I Glory.

What a witness Wesley UMC is making! It’s all because the cross is at the center of this church’s existence. Is it any coincidence that, after the massive destruction of the chancel and the organ, the cross was unscathed? The cross, symbolizing Christ’s self-giving sacrifice, reminding us that no matter what happens, God is with us, strengthening us to reach out to our world in love.

Last week organist Sally gave me a copy of the 1984 dedication service for the new Casavant organ. As part of the dedication, the congregation read these words, “We dedicate this organ to the healing of life’s discords, and the revealing of the hidden soul of harmony, to the lifting of the depressed and the comforting of the sorrowing, to the humbling of the heart before the eternal mysteries, and to the lifting of the soul to abiding beauty and joy, through the gospel of infinite love and good will.” Lift High the Cross!

Wesley UMC, I can’t wait to see what your new organ will look like! And, yes, as I promised last week and, God willing, I will play a piece at the dedication of the organ, all to the glory of God.