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Viewing Immigration from the Low Places: Ministry Leader Speaks Out on Controversial Law

Viewing Immigration from the Low Places: Ministry Leader Speaks Out on Controversial Law

Political sound bites lose their power when you get to know immigrants through flesh-and-blood ministry.

Not long ago, I viewed the immigrants coming to our country without proper documentation as lawbreakers. I thought if people wanted to come to our country, they should get in line and do it right. The apostle Paul made it clear that submission to governing authorities was important. I affirmed the importance of treating people with compassion, but breaking the law was unacceptable.

Then in 2004, my wife, Becky, and I spent two weeks living in "the 'hood" at Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona. [Editor's Note: Neighborhood Ministries plays a central role in This Is Our City's forthcoming Phoenix coverage in CT September 2012.] As we met undocumented families and heard their stories, we came to understand their plight and pain. The issue had a new dimension—a human face. As we traveled back to Colorado, we realized the issues surrounding immigration were not cut-and-dried. Instead, we saw immigration as a multidimensional problem with no easy solution, but one that nonetheless required a solution.

I have spent most of my life leading ministries (including serving as president of the Navigators) in positions that caused me to view problems "from above," giving me a macro perspective. In retrospect, that viewpoint at times made me oblivious to the pain and suffering of people living in very "low places."

Immigration in the United States cannot be fully understood from a bird's eye perspective. Some of my friends like to say that "grace gathers in the low places," and I believe this applies to the issue of immigration in the United States. The national dilemma of immigration reminds me of Jesus' experience in Matthew 9: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them" (v. 36). It's easy to make pronouncements while standing off in the distance. When we step into the low places and witness the suffering of real people, our hearts are softened with Jesus' compassion.

Three years ago, Becky and I moved permanently to Phoenix to live and serve in an urban context. Making the decision came after a month-long season of prayer. Becky and I chose not to talk to one another about our future. At the end of the month, we sat down together to discuss what God was showing us. I will never forget asking Becky what she felt God was saying: "I believe God wants us to sell our home and move into the Neighborhood in Phoenix." She felt we needed to "burn our bridges" and make a total commitment to living in urban Phoenix. I agreed. Our decision proved to be so right!


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Displaying 1–5 of 14 comments

Mrs. Shepel

September 08, 2012  9:02pm

Definitely the situation in Mexico is very difficult and we as believers need to pray for our neighbor. However there are also very rich people that could help their own people but there is much corruption and also a large population. Americans have actually been very generous with the Mexicans and sent many missionaries and help. But also in the rest of Central America there is poverty, drug problems, terrorism etc. you may not be aware but the motto in Mexico is "Mexico is for the Mexicans" and sometimes they do not treat well poor immigrants from Central American Countries and they harass them, even here in America, something like the parable of the man that owed much and was pardoned but then went to choke his fellow man and was not willing to forgive him a little debt..A Mexican Pastor actually told me once he believes the poverty of his town was due to being cursed, even the land did not produce crops.

Sandra Shepel

September 08, 2012  8:44pm

Very good article on a touchy subject and as believers we need to be compassionate and loving but also wise, as we could be opening doors to terrorists. Being a Hispanic legal immigrant myself, & having tried to comply with all the legal requirements (sometimes very complicated & costly) and loving my adoptive Country, yet sometimes is hard to see that there are those that judge you just by your appearance, assuming all Hispanics are illegal. On the other hand, I have seen illegal immigrants perhaps earning more than those born here, and not paying taxes or social security, yet getting all the benefits, owning houses, cars and even getting free medical care, free food, sometimes not even being poor or really in need but taking advantage of the generosity of the American people and American Churches, but is hard to know who is for real and who is not..


September 07, 2012  1:15pm

I would echo Mrs. Lyles comments. We too were victims of illegal immigration in chicago-a beautiful neighborhood, safe schools, home with value absolutely decimated by the influx of Mexican illegal immigrants who with no thought or value to the law-turned single family dwellings into apartments, who parked 10 cars per house on the streets , who brought 5 times the children load into schools built for single family dwellings and drove the housing values into the gutter. Our alderman did not give a hoot about our situation because he was too busy cultivating the Hispanic vote to get re-elected. One illegal neighbor bought a beautiful house-turned into 3 illiegal apartments and then after three years went back to Mexico to live like a king on the illegal apartment rent. Which by the way, created a second round of immigrant victims from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine who had settled in this neighborhood before the Mexican crisis. God's justice is for all His children.

Nancy Ruminski

July 12, 2012  10:23am

Mrs. Lyles, I've read your comment & see how important it is for you to be seen, heard, understood and believed. The thought of your suffering being overlooked must be painful. I wonder, if on a larger scale, that is really the heart of the matter for all involved in the immigration issue in our country. Those who are undocumented in the US are often over looked and mistreated. The abuse they endure is real and they need to be protected and cared for. Note: Most data shows the largest percentile of undocumented individuals are not part of the drug scene. Those who are here legally also need to be protected and heard as well. Discounting your pain is just as wrong as discounting the plight of those who Alan talks about. Let's look to Jesus. Jesus SAW them (rich, poor, sick, healthy) and had compassion on them. With that as our foundation, let's take time to see, hear, understand and believe all sides and then build from there. May God's grace lead us all.

Mrs. Lyles

July 02, 2012  6:35pm

We moved from a luxury apt. to an affordable rental not far from where Mexican immigrants live. As a Christian, I have lived in the middle of the Phoenix immigration crisis for 9 yrs. How short-sighted & cruel to dismiss Americans whose neighborhoods, hospitals, work places, schools, credit have been ravaged. Loud parties at night, building & zoning violations, excessive neighborhood traffic, gangs, theft--some Americans endure the decimation of their own culture. At the heart of existing remedies for illegal immigration is the plight of citizen-victims. These laws should be endorsed, not criticized. When a few evangelicals elevate parochial experience to the point of public policy, something is wrong. Somehow, from casual conversations in ministry come action items that amount to insults for Americans who bear this crisis in very personal ways. Illegal immigration has more than one human face. Let's not remain oblivious to much longer--pain and suffering is all around.


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