Praying fiercely for an empowered church to rise in love and courage and strength and truth against the evil of white supremacy.
This morning, there is an older man in the coffeeshop with his granddaughter. Side by side at the table, drinking juice, he's gently teaching her to read. He is so tender and steady and present. The look on her face as she looks up to him is so dear, I can hardly bear it. "Oh, this spider is a wily one!" he says with glee. "Keep reading! You're a good reader, I can't wait to hear how it ends!" She beams and keeps going slowly, sounding out every letter. You know, save the world or not, whatever, but I hope someday you sit with someone like this, drinking juice and sounding out letters like it's your most important and most holy work, and there is nowhere else in the world you want to be. It can look so ordinary and regular, so uncelebrated, you might just miss it. And yet that is often the holiest work of our lives.
It was during the months immediately before and after 9/11 that I became an immigrant to the United States. A Canadian, I married a tall Nebraskan while on a student visa and we made our home in Oklahoma and then in Texas as I began the immigration process. Those 18 months of being vetted for my green card and my permanent residency were exhausting and burdensome. I could not financially contribute to our family even though we were barely making ends meet. I often remarked during those months and afterwards that I could not even imagine having to go through that process without English as my first language or without a university education and an American citizen as a sponsor: the forms were baffling, every phone call to authorities generated a different answer to repeated questions, reams of paperwork, if-this-answer-then-that-form-but-if-this-answer-then-that-form decisions, delays were common, the background checks were expensive, the amount of paperwork was overwhelming. And expensive! Every cent we had went towards the never-ending processing fees and associated costs. We found the entire process brutal and expensive and exhausting. This was before the Internet application was really a thing so I remember the hours spent in waiting rooms filled with immigrants, all of us sitting in plastic chairs with paper cups of bad coffee, silent and waiting for our turn with our stacks of papers, truly afraid that this time we would have something wrong - a wrong form, a wrong line item, a payment missed - and so we would be sent back out to begin all over again or never again. We were all praying for a sympathetic agent, one who would work with us instead of against us. I was in an area of the country where the primary applicants were from Mexico or central America, often labourers with no advocate within the system. We sat together and we prayed that this time we would get the coveted stamp of approval instead of another form to fill out, another payment to make, another hoop to jump through, another delay. There was not a part of my life that went unexplored during that process. My background, my history, my studies, my family, intimate details of my health, my opinions, my religion - all questioned. Immigrant agents read through our sacred love letters and pawed through receipts for old movie nights, sniffing for the slightest hint that our marriage was a sham. I was immunized and examined. Honest truth though? I know that I was given preferential treatment in the system because I was white, because I spoke English, because I was Canadian, because I had earning potential. I was jumped to the front of the queues in those dim waiting rooms at processing centres because the staff were exhausted from dealing with non-English-speakers all day and wanted one straight-forward case for a minute with a white Canadian girl who spoke English and seemed to have her files well organized. There were always people crying in parking lots of the immigrant centres or standing at the pay phones, weeping. Visas denied, paperwork delayed, payments rejected, the final hope dashed. I haven't forgotten that. My final immigration hearing at a processing centre in San Antonio was tense. Brian and I were there together for the final interview. Would they or wouldn't they approve us in this final interview? When that final cha-chunk of the heavy stamp went down into my passport and onto my file, indicating that I was approved - I could stay, I could work, I could travel - I cried with relief right there in the office. Finally. I only ever had my green card while we lived in the States - I never applied for citizenship and eventually we moved back home to Canada where my husband then had to turn around and go through an immigration process to become Canadian (which to be honest seemed by contrast to be so much more humane and welcoming, designed to reunite us rather than keep us apart). I loved my time in the United States, it was overwhelmingly positive, and I am grateful for it. I had to surrender my green card when I moved back home to Canada and it felt like saying good-bye to an hard-won friend. Obviously my husband retains his American citizenship, our children enjoy shared citizenship, and so our shared family and friends are on both sides of the border now. We love our shared culture. But I have to speak up to say to everyone who chirps about how a "strong vetting process for refugees is needed": let me personally assure you - it is already there and has been for years for regular immigrants, let alone for refugees outside of the country. I can't imagine having to go through that whole process with the trauma of war behind me and around me and a political climate that vilifies and demonizes me. So for those who are working to keep suffering and desperate people out, I just thought you should know the system is already doing a pretty good job at that. And in the meantime, I believe that following Jesus means remembering that I was once a stranger in a strange land, an alien, and so I wanted to share this story. Jesus was a refugee. And I believe Jesus was sitting in that immigration processing centre with us and right now Jesus is at the port of entry, waiting.
"You are an amazing leader! You'd make an excellent pastor's wife someday!" #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear