Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Spiritual Pilgrimage

I am horrible at fasting. Just ask my husband what I'm like after missing even just one meal. It's not pretty.

But I do love Jesus and I've got to tell you, I have been DESPERATE for more of Him lately.

I have been in this fight for Immigration reform for a few years now, and boy is it a roller coaster ride. One day there is all this excitement and hope because a Republican Congressman came out in support of reform, and the next it seems completely hopeless because another Congressman says Immigration Reform is dead. Things have really amped up in the last year and specifically the last couple of months. There was excitement as over 600 conservatives, including many Evangelical leaders, gathered in DC late October calling on Congress to pass reform by the end of the year. Yet here we are, December 4th with only a handful of days left in the year and we've got nothing. I have felt so discouraged and hopeless over the last couple of weeks. I have lamented to God about this and you know what He told me...pretty much as clear as day?

"Bethany, why are you putting your hope in man?" 

"What God, No I'm not!! I pray all the time for Reform."

"But Bethany, if you are hopeless because man is not moving, then will you only be hopeful if they are moving? Put your hope in Me."

Shoot. He's totally right.

It's so easy to say my hope is in Jesus but it's a whole other thing to actually put your hope in Him. Like fully and completely in Him. I want to though, so so badly. Like I said, I am desperate for HIM. I am confident that my passion for this cause is motivated by my passion for God, but it is so easy to get swept away in the fight and lose sight of why we are fighting in the first place. It's not about meeting with important people, planning events, or influencing legislation. I need to return to what this is all about: chasing after God's heart.

While I've been wallowing over here a group of people began fasting on November 12th on the National Mall. You can read more about that here. As I've followed the story, something really stirred in my heart. I felt something in me say, "Go. Join them." That voice kept getting louder and louder and finally, I decided to listen. It doesn't make any sense, I know I can fast anywhere, I know God is everywhere and I have a one year old, for goodness sake!

But when God says "Go," you go.

This is my Spiritual Pilgrimage. I am going with an expecting heart and if I am honest, a nervous one too. Like I said, I stink at fasting. I get cranky, forget to pray, and usually give up. This time though, I know I will have to stick it out because I will be sitting with people who have been fasting for days and will continue to do so long after I leave. I know I will stick it out because God is good and He will sustain me. I truly believe that.

I am fasting for families, for immigration reform and most importantly, to set aside a space and time to align my heart with God's. I am fasting because my hope is in God, and God alone.  Just as He will sustain me and the other fasters, He will sustain my friends and neighbors. He will deliver them. He will bring freedom. It's not a matter of if, but when. Even if man does not move, He will move.

Will you join me in this? Click here and see how you can!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hope on a Tuesday

It was a Tuesday night and I planned on meeting with a small group of neighbors who I thought might qualify for the new Deferred Action Immigration Policy.  I had talked to maybe 20 people and expected about that many to show up. I set up a few chairs in the living room of our Solid House and waited for our new lawyer friend, who graciously agreed to help our neighbors file, to arrive. You see, normally how these community meetings go is maybe about 50-75% of the people we expect to show up actually do, and usually they are 15-30 minutes late. It's the way of the neighborhood and something I have come to embrace.

But this Tuesday was different. It wasn't even 7:00pm yet, the scheduled start time of our meeting, and the little living room was packed. People were overflowing into the patio and we definitely did not have enough chairs for everyone. It was hot and muggy, but the energy was high. We decided to move our meeting to the church down the street so everyone would fit. All SEVENTY people walked through the neighborhood to the church. It looked like a parade! When the lawyer arrived, he went right into introducing himself and sharing about the basics of the new policy. There were arms flying up left and right with questions about themselves or "their friends." I couldn't quite put my finger on it at the time, but something was special about this night. A group of people who daily feel the weight of their societal labels, like "illegal" and "criminal", were eager, anxious, and excited. There was fear in the room, but as the night came to an end, it hit me: for the first time, a room of undocumented immigrants from our neighborhood were gathered together and the normal overwhelming feelings of struggle and fear were strongly overshadowed by hope.

Hope is powerful thing. Hope gives you confidence, drive, and determination. As I scheduled individual appointments for each potential applicant that night, I heard countless people talk about how they were going back to get their GED now, re-enroll in college, or apply for a job in the field they love, have a degree in, but could never pursue without a work permit. Hope was in the air and it was a beautiful thing to be apart of. 

As the night came to an end and as I locked up the church, feeling physically tired but emotionally rejuvenated, a mom and her 13 year old daughter came up to me. They had just heard about the meeting and were wondering if I could help the daughter apply. I explained that she was too young right now, but as long as the policy was still in place when she turned 15, I would definitely help her. I gave her the basics of deferred action and her face literally lit up as I explained the potential for a work permit and driver's licence...things this girl didn't dare dream about. Her mom looked at her daughter as she put her arm around her. She didn't have to say it but I knew what she was thinking.

This is why she made the difficult decision to come and dangerous journey here...for hope. 

And this is why I got involved in this work to begin see that look of hope on the faces of my friends and neighbors.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I recently heard my friend David's migration story and to be honest, it made me uncomfortable.

David's family came here from Peru, because they felt called. Legitimately and genuinely called. David's father is a pastor and heard about a church here in Southern California in need, and decided to answer the call by moving his entire family thousands of miles away from home. They were not able to get the proper visas to come legally, but felt strongly that if the Lord was calling them, they must go. 

As I listened to his story and wrestled with my feelings of discomfort, I pretty quickly felt convicted as I began to realize what it was that offended me. 

My initial thought was, "We don't need missionaries. We are the missionaries." I was offended that this family thought God would call them here, as if our country needed them. We are the ones who send missionaries all across the world, often times fudging the truth on our visa applications, claiming to be tourists or coming to do business, and therefor, entering under false pretenses and committing a federal crime. I know I've done it before. But it's ok when we do it, because we are the bearers of truth...of hope...of Christ. God couldn't possibly be calling this family to do something illegal for his Kingdom too, right? 

I admit, friends, I am broken. I am a work in process and have been struggling with my identity as a white, Christian, American and the power and privileged that comes along with that for some time now. It's easy to get sucked into the world's, and sometimes even the church's, perspective of who I am.  "I am the one with the answers. I am the missionary. I am the Savior." As I repented of these feelings and tendencies to see myself as greater than I am, I felt God assure me of my true identity. I am beloved and valuable in His Kingdom, just like David's family who risked it all to minister to my country. 

I invite you into an embarrassing and vulnerable part of my journey, because something tells me I am not the only one who feels this way. I am not the only one who felt offended by David's story. I am not the only one who struggles with a narrow view of the world and God. I have to be willing to accept the fact that if God can call me to do something "illegal" for His Kingdom, then He can most certainly call a family from South America to do the same. We are, after all, given the same value, worth, and purpose through the cross. 

Not to mention that our country probably needs more missionaries than we are comfortable to admit. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tutorial on the new policy of Deferred Action for "DREAM" eligible young people

Last week was an exciting week for our Church, Nation, and Immigrant communities. For those who missed some or all of what went down, here is a recap:

-Tuesday, June 12th: Over 150 prominent Evangelical leaders sign a Statement of Principals for Immigration Reform. Some key leaders of this statement presented it at a press conference in Washington DC with all major news media covering the story. Read More

-Thursday, June 14th: Time Magazine releases the cover of it's latest issue featuring 36 Undocumented Immigrants stating, "We are Americans, Just not legally." (On stands June 25th) Read More

-Friday, June 15th: President Obama announces a new memorandum, effective Immediately, offering deferred action and work authorization to young people meeting a list of specific qualifications. Read More

As I woke up Friday morning to countless texts, Facebook messages and emails regarding the news, I felt deep in my heart that God was saying, "I have not forgotten you" to all those struggling as Undocumented Immigrants in our country. I was filled with hope and also many, many questions as to how this would logistically play out. Many questions have yet to be answered and in an effort to keep people informed, here is a basic tutorial on what we know so far.

Important terms and definitions:
Deferred Action - basically a postponement and protection against deportation
Work Authorization - essentially, a piece of paper that allows you to work legally in this country
Removal Proceedings - The process of being deported
NTA - Notice to Appear, basically a demand to appear in front of an Immigration judge to determine your status in the country
USCIS - United States Citizenship and Immigration services, they process all requests for visas and Immigrant benefits
ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they enforce Immigration law

Qualification Criteria from USCIS:
1. Have come to the United States under the age of sixteen
2. Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012 and are present in the United States on June 15, 2012
3. Currently be in shcool, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharge veterans of the Coast Guard of Armed Forces of the United States
4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
5. Not be above the age of thirty

What it isn't:
-Amnesty, a path to Legal Permanent Residency or Citizenship
-The Dream Act
-A change in the Law
-Comprehensive Immigration Reform
-An Executive Order

What it is:
-Protection for a vulnerable and important group within our country from deportation
-A way for many eligible and deserving youth to come out of the shadows, continue their education, and contribute to the economy more fully by allowing them to work legally without the threat of deportation
-Prosecutorial Discretion, basically changing the way the Law is enforced, which is within the authority of the President

What we know:
-This memo will be implemented within 60 days of when it was announced, so sometime around August 16th
-Those in removal proceedings or with a final order to be removed who qualify, should request deferred action with ICE immediately
-Those NOT in removal proceedings who believe they qualify SHOULD NOT turn themselves into ICE, but rather wait for USCIS to release the implementation plan and apply directly with them once the application process is available
-Those who believe they qualify should begin gathering documentation proving they meet the criteria listed above
-Applying for Deferred Action and Work Authorization will not trigger an Immigration investigation into the applicants relatives
-Those who apply and are denied will be given an NTA, but not necessarily be placed directly in removal proceedings

What we still don't know:
-How those who qualify will apply
-The intricacies of the exact meaning of each of the qualifications
-If those who receive this form of temporary relief will be able to travel outside of the country
-What will happen if President Obama is not re-elected next term

What you can do to help:
-Help spread facts and not rumors...check your facts before posting something on a blog, facebook, or twitter
-Volunteer at a local Legal Services organization, like World Relief or Catholic Charities. There will certainly be A LOT of need over the next few months and years in regards to this policy change. Solidarity will be helping in some capacity to process applications for our friends and neighbors that qualify. If you are interested in helping, email me at
-Learn more about the Bible and Immigration by joining one of Solidarity's 8 week learning communities. For more information, click here.
-Join with Evangelical leaders like Max Lucado, Shane Claiborn and Dave Gibbons, by signing the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform

My Response:
The general consensus is that this is HUGE. It is step in the right direction and will not only positively impact our nation, but will allow for thousands of hard working young people to come out of the shadows and have an opportunity to fully contribute to our country without living everyday in fear of being sent back to a country they may not know or remember. Is this a political move on Obama's part, given it's an election year? Probably, but aren't we used to all types of politicians doing what ever they can to get re-elected? I don't think we need to dwell on the supposed motivations of President Obama. Rather, I think we should praise our LORD that He is answering the cries of so many young people who have lived a life of oppression and struggle. I personally do not think it's an accident that this announcement came just 3 days after the Church came together in UNITY declaring our commitment to Immigration policies that reflect dignity and respect for all humankind. When do you have so many different denominations come together in agreement on anything?? It is unprecedented and can only be lead by the Holy Spirit. I think God is honoring that unity and answer to His call. I also think that this is only the beginning of God doing miraculous works in our nation in regards to Immigration policy.

Let us continue to seek God's heart for the oppressed and be diligent as we seek His calling for the Church to respond.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Law of the Land

Last week, I had the privileged and honor of attending Immigrant Pathways Institute in Chicago. Basically, I spent about 9-10 hours a day learning, studying, and researching our current Immigration Laws. In addition, I was able to engage in some challenging theological discussion with seminary students, Biblical theologians, professors, pastors and lawyers. After only a week of class, I don't claim to be an expert, but I do feel like I gained some specific insight, some of which I would like to share here. It's hard to summarize all that I learned and how the Lord is stirring in my heart, so bare with me as I try and articulate it all.

1. We can't start with the law. As Christians, we have to start with Scripture. If we start at the Cross, and continue to keep that our focal point, then we can not help but to see all humanity as made in the Image of God. All are worth His death, so all should be worth our time, love and energy. No one is beyond His grace, so as we try to be like Him, we must strive to extend His grace as well. Noel Castellanos, Executive Director of CCDA, said it brilliantly, "Justice is about all people being made in God's Image and injustice is anything that tries to strip that truth from people." If we look at the issue of Immigration from this point, we can't help but seek to learn before we judge. We have to hear the stories, understand the motives, look at the law in light of God's justice, and shape our opinion from that place.

2. We are called to submit to the law, which does not always mean follow it. Danny Carroll, author of "Christians at the Border" and a theologian from Denver Seminary, made this point way more eloquently than I ever could as he explained it during one of our devotions during the week. He shared that there is a difference between submitting and following. In Romans 13, Paul is clear that "whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement (vs. 2, NRSV)." The problem is that so many Christians end the discussion with this verse. I think this is unfortunate because the scripture also makes it clear that there are times when we are not to follow the law of the land, but submit to the authority and consequences that may come from doing so. In Acts 5:27-42, we see the story of Peter and the apostles being brought before the authorities who are angry that they have disobeyed the law of the land by continuing to preach in the name of Jesus. The apostles respond to this anger by saying, "We must obey God rather than human authority (vs. 29, NRSV)." There are times when the law of the land does not match the law of God, and we have to choose God's law. This does not mean, however, that we do not still submit to the authorities. In Acts, there is no account of Peter and the apostles resisting the punishment issued by the law of the land. They willingly take the punishment and submit to the authorities without following their law.

3. God's law is clear when it comes to immigrants. If we look at scripture, the values we find in the Old Testament, and the commandments throughout the New Testament, it is clear we are called to love and welcome the stranger. We are called to treat the immigrant like someone who is native born. If you don't believe me, take a look at one of these many verses, just to name a few: Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Exodus 12:49, Psalm 146:9, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:35-36 and 40, Hebrews 13:2.

4. The Law is unjust. This may be controversial for some people, but this is the honest conclusion I have come to. For starters, it has not been fully enforced for decades. By not asserting the law, it does lose a bit of it's authority and our government finds itself in a place of contradiction. In the past 20 years or so, we have made it relatively easy for people to come here, find work, start lives, lay roots, all while giving them very few rights. Now, our country seems to be in a bit of a dilemma. We have 12 million+ undocumented immigrants in our country, many of which were small children when their parents brought them here, and now we want to start enforcing the law? Basically saying, "While we felt like you benefited us, we were OK with overlooking the law, but now that we are struggling and it seems like there just isn't enough to go around, we would like you to leave. Oh, and by the way, since it will be WAY too expensive to round you all up and deport you, we are just going to pass more and more laws that make life miserable for you, so you will chose to leave on your own. Who cares if you have children who have lived here for practically their entire lives, or if you have continually paid your taxes, been apart of our churches, served our food, cleaned our houses, taken care of our children and grandparents, we just don't want you anymore." Supporters of laws like Arizona's SB 1070, or Alabama's HB 56 might tell these immigrants to "get in line" and "do things the right way." What was overwhelming clear to me as I studied the law in depth, is that for the majority of those who are undocumented, this is impossible. These "lines," for the few that may qualify, are upwards of 20-30 years. As I learned the different ways people can migrate legally, the countless names and faces of my neighbors went through my head. I thought about their stories and their backgrounds and realized that there is probably not even one who, under our current law, would ever be able to migrate legally. I just can not wrap my head and heart around how this could possibly be just or how this could be what God wants.

5. Immigration in our country is an incredible opportunity for the Church. When I look at my own story and how God has shaped me, specifically in the last 7 years, I realize that the immigrants in my life have played a crucial role in it. As I have focused my energy on depth with Christ while I seek to love and minister to my neighbors, I have learned more about God's heart for His people, unending grace, racism, entitlement, evangelism, vision for the future, and purpose for my own life, than I ever could have imagined. Not only do we have the nations at our doorstep, making the great commission a whole heck of a lot easier, but the opportunity for redemption of our past is GREAT. Let's be honest, the mainstream Church has missed the boat on some huge justice issues throughout our history. Slavery, Chinese Exclusion Act, Civil Rights, just to name a few. Are we going to let history repeat itself? Are we going to sit by silently while fear of the other and entitlement guides our thoughts, words, and actions? Or are we going to stand up and proclaim that ALL humans are made in the image of God and we are not going to allow anything strip that truth from people? We have an opportunity to intervene in the lives of those who are vulnerable, suffering, and most definitely hurting as strangers in our land and share the Good News with those who do not already know Him, all while growing in our depth with Christ and becoming more and more like Him. I don't know about you, but I do not want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to look back at this time in our history with shame that their fore fathers did not do more to advocate for the marginalized. I have a strong sense that we are at a crucial point in our history and I do not want us to miss the opportunity.

As I process all I am learning and what God has called me to, I have to continually ask God to break my heart for what breaks His. As I do this, I feel myself more and more burdened by the stories of my immigrant neighbors and the unfortunate apathy of many of my brothers and sisters.

Forgive us Lord and help us to be more like You.

*A special thank you to all those who shared their wisdom with me over the last week: Danny Carroll, Craig Williford, Matthew Soerens, Noel Castellanos, Bill Hamel, Alex Mandes, World Relief staff, Immigrant Hope staff, and Trinity Seminary Students. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The New Girl

Her face says it all. She is terrified, untrusting, confused, hungry and dirty. Her cheeks are sunken in and her lips as dry as the desert she just came from.

She couldn't be more than 17. She's a cute girl with straight, long, dark hair. I really know nothing about her, other than she's from Central America and was just picked up with her 19 year old brother.

Why did she come? Where are her parents? What happened to her while she traveled here? How long did she go without food and water? Does she know she's safe now? I know I can't ask her any of these questions right now, so I just smile at her. I can assume there is one question her mind is focused on. "Where is my brother?"

My heart breaks as I imagine and assume the hardships this young women has faced. Clearly, a desperateness must have driven her and her brother to make the long and dangerous journey here. Maybe they were trying to find their parents. Maybe they were escaping gangs or poverty. Perhaps they were hoping for the American Dream. No matter what the reason, the reality is that she is here now. She is alone, scared, most definitely hurting and vulnerable. The question for us is how will we respond to her?

Matthew 25:40
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Thursday, January 26, 2012