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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Entry 4: I Am An Illegal Alien



Dear Friends

February 12, 2014

RE:           Entry 4

My wife’s family often tells the story of an uncle, born in this country to Italian immigrants.  He grew up, went to public schools and graduated just in time to be drafted into the United States Army for World War II.  He fought across the Pacific, in both the artillery and the infantry, in some of the signature campaigns of that war.  Until the end of his life it affected him, not unduly—or admittedly—so, but he would have nightmares of Japanese snipers and he would dive out of and under the bed, nearly sixty years after those snipers had long since died or surrendered.  I guess I am making the point that he, as much as any child born of Mayflower descendants, earned the right to be called an American.

After he was mustered out of the army, he returned home and began looking for work.  The story so often told begins here, as he and a few of his friends went to apply for work at a local aluminum plant that was built during the war.  Upon speaking with the appropriate personnel at the plant and divulging some of the details necessary for consideration, they were all told “We Don’t Hire Foreigners”.   So this war veteran, son of immigrants, born in America, found another job at another place and basically forced the people of this country to let him have his part of the dream he fought to preserve for the rest of them.  I only heard him tell this once and he laughed about it.

There is a debate going on in America today over immigration.  It is often couched in terms of “border security”  or “economic opportunity”, both important points, no doubt, but the same debate has raged through the history of America; as a land of immigrants-- but also subject to the injustices of human nature—the last group in seems to help bar the door to the ones who may follow.  In the age post 9/11, some arguments are valid, security concerns leading to the barring of entry to foreigners; some arguments are cynical, as politicians have now recognized a new and potentially huge voting bloc and have, if some correctly accuse, sought to debase the value of citizenship to the vagaries of politics.  Citizenship does and should have a value, and to denigrate that value does undermine all of our rights eventually.  I will leave that part of the discussion to others.

My concern is the role of Christians in this debate. I suppose it is fairly obvious that I have a bias in this argument, that being a bias in favor of the individual immigrant.  A little simplistic I admit, but it is a considerably more difficult to homogenize one person, to demonize one person, to so group one person into some amorphous lump that they lose their identity and become easier to hate, fear or otherwise type. Why is it that some as Christians love the mission field and yet fear the same people living among us?  Is it politics?  Does “conservatism” or political party trump the great commission? Or is the great commission only effective at a safe distance? I have found it fascinating how many good and true Christians are against any type of immigration (or “immigration reform” whatever that means).  I have been conducting a rather unscientific poll, asking people randomly for several months, or otherwise engaging them in conversation on the subject.  And I would say the matter is fairly settled, at least in my poll, is that it is variously (a) wrong, (b) illegal, (c) dangerous, (d) unfair to those already here and (e) un-American.  Very, very few speak of it in positive terms.  Here comes the fascinating part:  many of those people cannot put together a coherent set of arguments as to why they believe what they do, basically restating cable news or talk radio points.  Yet those believing, practicing Christians are willingly supportive of missions, personal evangelism, personal salvation, and the preaching of the gospel to the individual.  I can’t seem to reconcile in my mind how we can keep two sets of life books—one spiritual life set where we are compelled to go into the streets and drag people into the feast and the other personal, economic, ethnic, [fill in the blank] set, where we are forced to view every stranger as an interloper.  I truly believe what we may call “illegal aliens” the Lord may call “the mission field”.   I want to view my brothers and sisters this way as well.

I often use Hebrews Chapter 11 as a filter, more for prosperity gospel than anything as this subject (another Entry, no doubt) because I often say “reconcile that for me to Hebrews Chapter 11”.  I think I sound like a broken record.  But another part of that book highlights the fact that as a Christian, we are all strangers, aliens, sojourners, looking for something not of this earth, not always finding it here, dying “without receiving the promises” and ultimately “seeking a country of our own”.  Abraham was one of those people—a stranger in a strange land.  He was the original illegal alien.

If only I had the courage to look at it differently, to challenge the conventional wisdom, to ask someone every time they talk about “illegals” that I could realize and tell them that I too am a spiritual stranger in a strange land, I wonder if I could with that knowledge and the gospel help change the world?  Thank the Lord that those who came before me “hired” foreigners, illegal, gentile, or otherwise. 

I remain, 

Fessler