January 13, 2019
In November of 2016, Ingrid Hernandez Mejia’s brother, Helin, was killed in Honduras. Ingrid has a photo of the body—hands and feet bound, mouth gagged, six bullet wounds, and blood. So much blood. The people who killed Helin—likely gang members—thought he left money with Ingrid, and she started receiving threatening messages demanding that she give them money she never had. People shot into Ingrid’s home, threatened her children. When she changed her phone number, they figured out the new one. When she moved—three times—they always found her.
The police could not—or would not—do anything to help keep her family safe, so finally she and her husband Misael decided they had to leave their home country and try to get to the United States, where Ingrid’s father lives. They packed up their three children, their birth certificates, $400 in cash, and the photo of Helin’s body, and boarded a bus heading north.
Obedi Miranda and her husband, Allan Escobar are also from Honduras. They are active with the Libre party, a group opposed to the current political leadership—leadership that was established by a military coup in 2009. Allan was running for office, but had to leave town, with his wife and their 2-year-old, when people threatened his life. The family stayed in Honduras for awhile, but the outcome of the 2017 election—with likely vote tampering and the U.S. legitimization of the current leadership–heightened tensions and increased the threat of violence against political activists. The family felt they had no choice but to flee north and try to get asylum in the United States.
About 2,000 years ago, there was another young family terrorized by the threat of violence. A corrupt and violent political leader wanted to kill their son, and they realized that they had to leave their home country in order to keep their family safe. Mary and Joseph took off in the middle of the night, leaving behind their home, their community, most of their belongings. They may not have faced walls and checkpoints and detention centers when they got to the Egyptian border, but it still would have been an arduous journey.
This story of Jesus’ own asylum-seeking is not, I’m afraid, an entirely encouraging one. While Mary and Joseph manage to protect Jesus (for now), other parents in and around Bethlehem are not able to take their families to safety. Herod’s soldiers kill children and we read these haunting words from Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Ingrid and Misael and their children are now living with her father in the Bronx; their life is not luxurious, but they are not being terrorized by gangs. Still, in their hometown, there are an average of three people killed per week. People who have not been able to escape the violence.
Obedi and Allan and their child made it at least as far as Tijuana, away from those who threatened them in Honduras. But at least 30 political protesters were killed by government forces in the wake of the disputed 2017 presidential election in Honduras. And many political activists in Honduras live under constant threat.
Even for those who make it safely to the border, there are certainly no guarantees. Between 2012 and 2017, U.S. officials denied 78 percent of asylum claims from Honduras.
We know that violence is not a new phenomenon. That, as bad as things may seem, we in the 21st Century are not the only people in history to deal with corrupt and inept political leadership. Immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are ever-present in the news these days, and they have been ever-present in our world . . . since Cain killed Abel and was forced to leave his home and settle in the land of Nod.
There are a lot of hot-button issues today that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly. Issues that I believe can and should be approached from a Biblical perspective and addressed with Biblical principles—but still, there is some interpretation and processing and wrestling involved. Because there is no command in scripture to de-fund jail expansion; there is no direct teaching about how to address global warming, what kinds of gun rights and regulations a community should adopt. And, at the risk of being contentious, I should point out that the Bible doesn’t specifically address gay rights or abortion, either.
So here, with THE hot-button issue of the day–with all this talk of building a wall and border security and immigrants and refugees and asylum-seekers—we have a rare situation of dealing with a political controversy that the Bible does specifically address.
We heard a few verses from Deuteronomy at the beginning of worship. God is described as One “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” And the people are instructed: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (10:18-19)
This teaching is repeated throughout scripture. Sometimes in even more ardent and specific terms. God tells the people to treat foreigners the same as they treat citizens. To leave grain in the fields for them to harvest. To welcome and love those who are strangers.
There is not much theological wrestling or cultural translation needed to understand how God intends for us to treat people who come into our communities from other countries.
I don’t think I need to convince you of this, but I wanted to remind you of it.
And I don’t mean to suggest that there are easy solutions for the US and other countries receiving a large number of refugees and asylum-seekers. The logistics of the situation are difficult. How to provide shelter and food; how to move cases efficiently through the court system; how to provide safety on all sides. The logistics are complicated.
What is not complicated is understanding how God wants us to treat foreigners: with love and welcome.
The Benedictines have a commitment to “receive all guests as Christ.” The idea is that they are to treat each person who comes to their monastery the way they would treat Jesus if he showed up. This seems like a good principle for Christians to practice when it comes to guests in our country as well.
And it’s not much of an imaginative leap to see Christ as a toddler with brown skin being carried across the border by his parents who are seeking the safety of a new country.