Who is a neighbor? Who is a stranger?
These are the questions that confront anyone who volunteers for accompaniment work for with the New Sanctuary Coalition. The people I volunteer to accompany to their immigration check-ins are often, at first, strangers to me- people who are navigating the often byzantine system of regulations which often keep them marginalized and uncertain about the future- not just their own, but their families as well. Yet, they are also my neighbors. They are part of the city I live in. The most ancient moral precepts of social justice call upon us to be witnesses to those who are strangers, and to reach out to and associate our neighbor’s welfare with our own. And that is what makes New Sanctuary Coalition and its work so essential to the current condition of our nation’s immigration policy.
I have met several people through the New Sanctuary Coalition. Several have young families that might be split apart. One gentleman is working as a counselor, attempting to give back and pass on what he learned from his life’s experiences. Another wants to work in the field of economic development, transforming local communities. From these experiences, it became clear to me – as was never so clear in a seminary class- that the prophetic and the pastoral are one. We can protest and demand legislative systems to reform the immigration process, but the real impacts of the crisis are felt in individual lives and stories, in moments and sometimes hours tensely waited in a crowded room for your name to be called and your story to be heard by a judge or officer.
In pursuing my religious avocation, I have seen much that has redirected the way I think about my social location, the condition of the world, and what gifts we are given to work with in order to effect change. In activist work, there are so many ways in which the tide can be turned that are unexpected, small, and unnoticed. By bearing witness in a pastoral way, to someone life, or being silent when one previously jumped in to dominate a conversation. This is the activism that does not show up on twitter feeds or on the front pages- but it is active and engaged all the same.
Let us never forget to make the stranger into our beloved neighbor, and let us start by listening- not to respond, necessarily- but to hear.