Walking with Christ

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These 21st-Century Freedom Riders are among those who walk in solidarity with undocumented immigrants. They rode from from Durham, N.C., to Birmingham, Ala., in 2012. Learn more at http://www.redletterchristians.org/21st-century-freedom-ride. (Photo: Steve Pavey)

by Kristyn Komarnicki

School kids across the country still put their hands to their hearts and daily pledge their allegiance to our nation—“under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this portrayal were true? One nation under God, indivisible. That’s a tall order, especially given that, most days, I’m hard-pressed to find it even on a much smaller scale. Like my family—under God, indivisible. How great would that be? Even as an individual I don’t often feel indivisible. Two very different people live inside me. One is full of energy and ideals, able to envision and ready to fight for justice. The other is world-weary and easily discouraged by societal injustices. This one turns a blind eye to structural inequalities because they feel insurmountable. This one says (though not without embarrassment), “What can you do? It’s a broken world driven by avarice and self-gratification. Things’ll never change…”

And yet I daily witness the results of visionary, dogged justice work. Some years ago, when investors singing the siren songs of New Jobs and Revitalization lobbied to build a casino in a blighted area just two miles from my house, a small group of determined residents fought back. Because of them, the city eventually told the investors to look elsewhere. Today, where casinos would have been built—and where all the maladies that accompany gambling sites would by now have become firmly entrenched—a multi-million dollar community recreation center now stands, thanks to a collaboration between the Salvation Army and the Ray and Joan B. Kroc Foundation. I exercise there several times a week, along with folks from all walks of life who come out to connect, play, and get fit. That’s justice, plain and simple, unmistakably spelled out in both the masonry and the mission statement on the wall. That’s proof that when folks fight for things they can make a difference.

But I confess that my small, cowardly self emerges when I hear how immigrants are treated in this country. It’s awful. It’s unjust. It’s rooted in greed and fertilized by fear. It exposes our national hypocrisy in vivid Technicolor. The issue (much like gun access and unregulated capitalism) has the effect of kryptonite on me. So when I heard what a group of brave, young, undocumented Americans are doing—risking all to stand tall against the “Juan Crow” laws that detain, deport, and dehumanize so many of our nation’s Hispanic immigrants—I felt a mix of admiration, awe, and…futility.

“The biggest challenge for me is facing my own complicity in a global political-economic order that sins against migrants everyday.” Steve Pavey

But futility is a privilege restricted to the comfortable. The undocumented immigrants who do so much to keep this country running smoothly and cheaply—from meat processing to lawn care, from housekeeping to construction—cannot afford feelings of futility. They are too busy working long hours for low pay, and in conditions that no documented American will tolerate. They are too engrossed in worrying how their children will ever get ahead in this country, regardless of how hard they study or how impeccable their reputation. Whether they keep their heads down and yearn for invisibility or hold their heads high and march defiantly in the streets, these immigrants from the global South have done what our European forefathers and foremothers did when they entered the country through Ellis Island, but unlike those ancestors these folks have little or no recourse to legal citizenship. They might feel like saying, “Things’ll never change,” but they live each day praying and working for change nonetheless.

But what can I—or any of us citizens without real political power—do? According to Stephen Pavey, who has been fighting alongside undocumented immigrants for the last five years, it’s not complicated. We can walk in solidarity with them, acknowledge our common humanity, and recognize Christ in them.

“As I live and work with undocumented migrants,” says Pavey, “I’m with Jesus. I’ve learned that they do not need saving—I do! The biggest challenge for me is facing my own complicity in a global political-economic order that sins against migrants everyday. Standing against this system—which benefits me—will necessitate suffering and solidarity with the least of these.

Can we find ways to be present with the suffering of our undocumented brothers and sisters? Can we offer friendship, moral support, or even just a cup of cold water, whether they are surviving in the shadows or defiant in the light? Can we relinquish our need for results and simply accompany them—indivisibly—in their struggle? Could that be a way to begin securing at least one kind of “liberty and justice for all”?

I think I’m ready to swap my feelings of futility for an experience of solidarity. I’m ready to trade in my save-the-world fatigues for a celebrate-Christ’s-presence party dress. What about you?

Kristyn Komarnicki is is the Senior Program Director for ESA’s Oriented to Love. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of ESA’s PRISM Magazine

If you want to do walk in solidarity with immigrants, join us every Thursday at 5:00 pm in a public prayer vigil to #PrayforDREAMers

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