I’ll never forget the day my grandmother suggested sending me into the United States “by land.” This is, as an undocumented immigrant.
I was born in El Salvador. I grew up hearing the adults in my life discussing my immigration status. Using the proper channels was frustratingly slow. Reaching a point of desperation, my grandmother made her suggestion.
As a kid, I didn’t realize what all that fully meant. And honestly, I still don’t. Thank God, I never tried to cross the border illegally. But for a time it was a real option. And my heart aches for the people who see it as their only opportunity for freedom, for escape, for a better life. I was one of the lucky ones.
Right now, I’m sitting on an airplane. I can look out my window and see the border between the United States and Mexico, the winding Rio Grande river separating them. I’m too high above it all to see the chaos, but I’ve heard enough of the news to know it’s happening. The clashes. The rhetoric. The suffering. And yet, there is something at the border for me. There is something that calls my name to that place on the map—the border crossing that almost was.
The past few weeks have been difficult. As much as I want to bury my head in the sand, I’ve seen the headlines. I’ve heard the politicians clash over buzzwords. I saw the photo of the father and daughter, drowned in the Rio Grande, her tiny arms clinging to his neck. It breaks my heart.
In so many ways, that could have been me in that photograph. Or it could have been me in those child detention facilities. It could have been me standing before an immigration judge. It could have been me, lost in the desert, desperately thirsty and fearing death. A different set of life circumstances, different choices, and it absolutely could have been me.
I try to see beneath the clouds but I can’t make out any figures down at the border. But the pain is real. And it’s beginning to numb me. How should I respond? What can I do to help? Can I make a real difference? The suffering is immense. It’s much too big for me. God, where are you? All I have is my faith, a trust that God sees what is happening. That he feels it and somehow is present in it. The Bible says that God is “close to the brokenhearted.” I’ll be honest, this week, it’s been hard to believe those words. But through my emotions, through my heartache, I’m choosing to put my hope and trust in that promise. Even when it hurts. Even when it’s hard.
I honestly don’t know what Jesus would say about the situation currently taking place at the border. Some argue that he’d swing wide the gates, letting in illegal immigrants because he is a God of love. Some argue that Jesus respected earthly authority and would live by the laws of the land. I think, somehow, though it seems contradictory, both may be true. What I do know is that Jesus welcomed everyone who came to him. He interacted with men and women; he healed Romans and Jews; he touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable, respected those in political offices and yet was only concerned with pleasing his Father. If I’m trying to pattern my life after his, I’m going to have to do the same.
Honestly, I think it’s easier to be numb—to hide from the news footage, the social media arguments, the photographs that I wish I could unsee. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus wants for me. And I know that’s not what he would do. He would feel the pain. He would experience the heartache. He would comfort the afflicted. He would afflict the comfortable. And through it all, he would not allow himself to be dragged into party politics. He served one. And he served him well.
Jesus wasn’t bothered by lines. Every line that humanity drew to separate one group from another—to define one as “good” and another as “bad”—Jesus patently ignored. He stepped right over party lines; racial lines; religious lines. No one was too far gone. No one was too broken. No one was too lost.
The issue at the border is complicated. I don’t know how to fix it. But I do know we need to start seeing each other. Listening is not a weakness. Empathy is not a weakness. Compassion and kindness is not a weakness. It should be freely given to illegal immigrants and ICE agents alike. To be like Jesus, the people of Jesus need to imitate his boundary crossing. Don’t allow this news cycle to numb you. Don’t look away. Instead, take a genuine interest in getting to know someone who thinks differently, looks differently, or votes differently than you do. If for no other reason than that’s what Jesus modeled. And if the world could use anything, it’s a lot more Jesus.