When my husband and I were dating and talking through our future life of ministry, it was pretty clear that we were going to be working in poor communities in an inner-city somewhere in the country. Those conversations, laced with anticipation and dreams, held the question of where we were going to live at the forefront. My then-fiancé/boyfriend thought we needed to live in the same at-risk community as those who were in our church, sharing the joys and struggles of life together, loving our neighbors as ourselves. I wasn’t as convinced and certainly not excited about the prospect. Living in America’s inner-city back in the early 90’s seemed like throwing not only my life away but also offering up our yet-to-be-born children’s lives and opportunities as well.
This issue was one of those pre-marital, non-negotiables that I had to really evaluate and decide, would this be my future? Knowing God, who is gracious, merciful and worthy of my life, could be trusted, I decided to jump all in. I am one of those types – always trying to make my choices work. And, it did work but not without a lot of learning and leaning on Jesus along the way!
One thing I had not realized in our decision of where to live was that my proximity to the pain of the inner city would radically change my perspective.
We chose to live in a poor, immigrant neighborhood and reared our kids alongside families where English was a second language and hard-work and multiple jobs were a matter of someone’s survival.
Living there, I learned how our immigration system worked as I saw some families traveling to Mexico for the summer while others only sent children, some never visiting at all. Understanding words like undocumented or people without papers or status began to take shape in my mind so when the media talked about immigration, they now represented people, my children’s friends, my neighbors.
My upfront, personal perspective did not just humanize the issue but it led me to engage in ways that a simple mother in Denver could not have imagined those many years ago when we decided to move into a neighborhood and strive to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Living in proximity to immigrants not only showed me how broken our immigration laws were but it made my talk of loving my neighbor and sharing our collective joys and pains have to actually take on some action. Talk on its own is cheap but Jesus who actually called himself talk – the WORD, became flesh and dwelt among us. As his follower I needed to make sure my word took on some flesh and did something.
Not everyone is going to have their perspectives change in such radical ways as mine regarding immigrants and immigration, but I do know that God regularly puts his people in proximity to others so that we can engage and love deeply ensuring radical transformation, making the hands and feet of Jesus real to our broken world.
Michelle Warren is the Advocacy & Policy Engagement Director for the Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org). She is a strong advocate for immigration and issues that affect at-risk communities. She is the leader of Colorado’s Evangelical Immigration Table (www.evangelicalimmigrationtable.com). She and her husband, founding executive director of Open Door Ministries, live in an immigrant community in Denver with their three children 19, 17 and 13.