Over the past several years, our church, located in Chicago's western suburbs, has begun to engage with the under-resourced areas surrounding us. Our church—mostly middle class, Caucasian families—is embarking on a journey to love our neighbors like Jesus commands. The uniqueness of our situation rests in the fact that our church campus is located right on the border between one of the most affluent neighborhoods and one of the most under-resourced neighborhoods in Chicagoland.
This was the reality 11 years ago when our church building was built, but it was just a few years ago that we recognized that our context presents a unique opportunity. We discovered that this calling would mean bringing justice to broken systems while working to restore relationships to a community torn apart by joblessness, racial divides, overcrowding, and an inadequate education system.
We've all heard it said, "It's not about the destination, but rather about the journey," and that has been true for us. Our journey led my wife and me to relocate in East Aurora, the under-resourced area, because I've found when these problems become personal, your advocacy becomes much more potent.
Our neighborhood is more than 80 percent Hispanic; many of the families we know are undocumented. These families care deeply about providing a better future for their children and have a deep sense of community with one another. Many are among the hardest working individuals I've ever known, waking up very early each morning, working long into the evening in physically demanding jobs for minimal pay.
We work with many students who have little hope for a prosperous future because of their immigration status. We've seen students who have an A and B average in high school literally give up because they realize that they have no chance of ever going to college (because undocumented students cannot apply for federal loans or grants). If on the slight chance that their family can afford to pay for college, they realize they'll never get a decent job because they don't have employment paperwork.
In our neighborhood, we see low parental involvement rates in the school system. It's not just because our kids' parents are working two or three jobs, and it's certainly not because they don't care enough to get involved. Rather, they live in constant fear that they'll be "found out" and sent back to the land they worked so hard to escape to provide a better future for their children.
As a pastor, and more importantly as a Christ-follower, it's my job to "do justice … [to] do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow" (Jer. 22:3, ESV). In almost each Old Testament book, the plight of the oppressed and defenseless is a major theme. God specifically highlights three groups of people who are vulnerable and in need of unique protections: the fatherless, the widow, and the immigrant (Ps. 146:9, Deut. 10:18-19, Ezek. 22:7, Mal. 3:5). Recently, God has given our church the opportunity to be a part of a bigger movement, dedicated to bringing justice to a broken immigration system. Leviticus 19:33-34 commands us to not take advantage of foreigners who live among us. We're to treat them like native-born and love them as we love ourselves.
A national issue
Doing this in our community is vital, but currently there are 11 million undocumented people living in the United States, holding out hope that one day we'll fix our broken immigration system. I can't merely serve undocumented people in my community and remain silent about the larger issues that have a direct bearing on their lives. I consider now the time for pastors to speak up for those whose voices our legislators are unlikely to hear or heed if not joined by others.