Latino/a Evangelical Immigrants in West Michigan
Published by Calvin Seminary
In our panel with Latino/a leaders and pastors (women and men), we heard about their experiences in West Michigan. It is important to clarify that the experience during the last two years has nothing
to do with having or not having documents to be in this country. It is, rather, a more simple fact: Being Latino/a in West Michigan means experiencing frequently violent attitudes and actions from people who now believe are entitled to be violent against racial minorities regardless of their legal status.
We asked the participants in the panel the following questions:
What words describe your feelings about the immigration situation in this country? Why?
The following words were most used:
“Rejection because we do not speak the same language and our color is different. Inferiority – in this country I have felt like a second-class human being. Abuse in the wages we receive and the types of jobs we can get.”
“There are families that have gone through the pain of being separated. There are children without parents that are taking care of their brothers and sisters, taking care of their homes. Basically, children are being forced to be adults when they are physically
and emotionally not prepared to do so and they are being denied the ability to enjoy the stage of life that every human has the right to live. There are children who feel abandoned, many betrayed by the country where they were born and that should ensure their rights, seeing and feeling that there is a community that is not demonstrating the goodness of God. They do not feel the human quality of love for people who look different. A society that is broken starts breaking families and that affects us all.”
“Our children live through it at school where their classmates tell them (without even realizing what they’re saying) to go back to their country. What country, if many of them were born here?”
What have you done?
What does all of this mean in your daily life? How does this reflect in the activities you do every day? How is it for your family and church?
“Everyone is afraid, whether they be a citizen, a resident, or a visitor. Hatred has been planted, a hate against certain groups or minorities and it’s not a question of being legal or not, it’s about the color of your skin, that you look different than a predetermined appearance. That’s discrimination. Now we have to carry all of our documents, an ID isn’t good enough anymore for someone with our skin color. That is what we live every day.”
“For me, and I believe for many others that are in this situation, this human behavior (racism) seems to be normal in this country that many say is one of the most developed countries. In my life, this is reflected in my fear of leaving the house and never being able to come home to my wife and my children and feeling the contempt that others have toward me.”
“ICE deported a father who went to drop his children off at school and went to work and never came back home and the children were left without a father, abandoned and separated. There are families, people with great needs, that are afraid to apply for or look for help. People who need emergency help are afraid to ask for it. For example, with the situation with the polluted water in Flint there was an organization or group of people that were asking for ID to Latinos/nas in order to give them water. That is an extreme abuse in an emergency situation.”
“Politically they are trying to say that we do not have value as human beings and I wonder, do we not have the image of God in us? We were also made in God’s image and are the likeness of God and creator and we have the same worth that all humans have.”
“It has affected my family because they feel that even though they were born in the USA they are isolated from activities at school. For the brothers and sisters of the Church they are hurt by the raids because for those who don’t have a driver’s license it’s dangerous for them to go to their jobs and to church.”
What have you done?
What actions should our churches take to help ease these situations?
“Make every church a center of refuge for immigrants and provide information on what to do if detained. When a church is no longer a safe place, there is something really wrong with the church.”
“First, practice and show compassion as right now immigrants are looked at with hate and racism in general and it is being justified by ‘Christians’ for political reasons. You need to love your neighbor as the Bible calls us to love. We need to acquire strength to continue to cry out. We need to acquire tools to help people who have gone through a crisis. We need to see in what ways we can help the Church with emergency situations, providing a place to live and food to eat, teaching them what their rights are or what institutions they can turn to. Create funds to help support institutions that serve and help immigrants.”
“Churches should take action and unite to fulfill the needs of those around us. There are families that need food that cry out of loneliness. There are children that cry because their parents were taken away from them. I have entered homes where they lack furniture, appropriate clothing, and they sleep on the floor. We, as Christians, should give kind, soothing words to those who are in pain. However, many who call themselves Christians are spending their money on selfish pleasures, satisfying pleasures of the flesh with fine clothing and stuffing themselves with good food and barely give a compassionate glance to those who are in pain and suffering. In this culture there are multitudes of human beings that do not even receive the care and consideration that is given to animals. There are many children suffering and if you are a Christian and not just religious you should give of your resources because there is a need for us to serve personally and share the strength and opportunities that God has given us. What God has given to us through others we also need to share with others. We need to be like the Good Samaritan.”
“Each church that believes in the true Christ needs to demonstrate tender compassion and feed the hungry, bring the homeless into our homes and without complaint ask God for strength and grace to give us the ability to fight and reach the needy and help those who cannot help themselves. This way we’ll have to opportunity to bring them to and present them to Christ. Goethe said, ‘Treat people as they are and they will stay how they are, but treat them like what they could become and they will become what they were called to be.’”
“What is going to happen in our churches and communities when compassion no longer exists and we forget about it and we exchange it for practices that go against what God established? What is going to happen when we forget to put into practice one of the greatest of the Ten Commandments, to love one another, to love your neighbor, and we replace it with a human policy that leads to hatred?”
What have you done?
Biblical reflections in light of these testimonies:
An underlying question during the panel was: If we are one family in Jesus Christ, why is a political and cultural ideology (white supremacy) more important and determines our everyday relationships more than our common faith in Jesus our Lord?
The question in Genesis 4:10 keeps speaking loudly today and we hope it will be taken seriously by our white brothers and sisters. What are we doing to our brothers and sisters from Latin America and the Caribbean?
In his eschatological discourse, Jesus issued a strong warning that is becoming a sad reality today.
“Because of the increase of wickedness (Gr. Anomia), the love of most will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).
Jesus described a time when love was going to grow cold and wickedness would have the high hand. The translation of the word anomia as wickedness or lawlessness does not capture all the significance of this term in the Gospel of Matthew.
Anomia is used in Matthew to describe the false prophets who may do all kind of signs and wonders but fail to live according to the standards of the Law as defined by Jesus in terms of love of God and neighbor (7:23); it has a demonic inspiration (13:41); and it is expressed in the hypocrisy of religious leaders who are like whitewashed tombs but full of hypocrisy and wickedness (anomia – 23:28).
Anomia is “not doing the will of God (cf. 7:15, 21ff)…Jesus conceives of lawlessness as effecting lovelessness, a state of affairs he sees growing more intense with the approach of the end (24:12). Consequently…‘lawlessness’ is an ethical and eschatological term: from one standpoint, it denotes a failure to do the works of love that are at the heart of the Law of God as delivered by Jesus; from another standpoint, it denotes prodigious offences against the Law of God which suggest a prevalence of moral chaos (e.g. apostasy, betrayal, hatred, leading others astray, etc.).” (Kingsbury 1969, p. 105)
In more contemporary terms, anomia describes the reign of terror and inhumanity that, under certain circumstances, is set loose and becomes normal and even necessary by those who embody it. It is a progressive loss of our humanity and of the basic values that make human community possible. Think about times of moral anarchy during biblical history, like the days of the judges, the pre-exilic days of prosperous Israel (and the strong prophetic denunciations), or the graphic descriptions of inhumanity found in the Lamentations of Jeremiah during the destruction of Jerusalem. Or remember days during recent wars when a basic respect for human life seemed to disappear and terror and cruelty have been the normality even in Christian nations. Given the right circumstances, anomia flourishes and spreads wildly.
Today, we are witnessing in concrete ways an increase of anomia, even in the name of legality, morality, and Christian faith.
What have you done?
By Mariano Avila
Professor of New Testament & Director of the Certificate in Latino/a Ministry
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