I grew up as a majority citizen… white, suburban, Christian, sporty enough, bookish enough… I was a woman but surrounded by women who proved that opportunities were open to me. I grew up thinking, “Can I do this? I can try!” instead of facing obstacles of “-ism”s.
I live now as an immigrant: a minority in race, citizenship, religion, education, and so many other categories. To be sure, I am an expat, which means that I am an immigrant by choice, that I have a nation I could easily return to, and that I have a safety net of resources (savings, health insurance, and a fabulous sending agency that has already thought of every contingency).
So many immigrants lack those assurances. The realities they face are amplified by their lack of choices. The lost, last, and least – leaving their own country to migrate, or worse, flee; and they arrive in other countries where they again face lack of opportunity, where they are forced again to be the lost, last, and least.
A friend of mine once told me about immigrating to Italy from the USA. When her family got there, her husband was working. She was encouraged to learn Italian – in fact, her community had free language classes with free childcare, because the community understood that it would be otherwise impossible for her to learn Italian. The USA, on the other hand, demands that people learn English (a wretchedly hard language to master) while working 100 hours a week as single parents, expecting people to organize and fund their own classes and to take that time away from their families.
I’ve learned some of the language here, but it’s remarkably difficult. Because it’s the national language, there are actually fewer resources for learning the language, becuase it’s assumed that you already know it. I want to honor this place and its people by learning the language… even with passion and hope, it’s not happening anytime soon.
We are in limbo with visas as well, not allowed to do anything that appears to be taking a job from a local person, and under suspicion because of living at the Seminary, which is clearly Christian. Christians in Sabah aren’t under threat of violence; but a minority faith is enough to put many roadblocks to visa approval. Like many immigrants around the world, we are doing our best to follow our host nation’s policies. But those policies are shifting, and we are not lawyers; it’s hard to know if we’re doing things the right way. We have to trust our advisers here and have a back up plan. That’s a difficult, stressful way to live.
Being an immigrant has reminded me to care for other immigrants. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service does amazing work within the USA, helping immigrants live better lives and contribute more quickly to their communities. (And the contributions immigrants make are significant!)
I would ask that you pray for all immigrants: for those who go to a new place to serve, or for more opportunity; for refugees who flee with only the hope of staying alive, then find themselves in a new place with no resources; for missionaries like us who are finding immigration documents to be very challenging. Notice the immigrants in your community and make room for them. Pray for greater international responsibility and cooperation. Pray, and pray, and pray. It is often in prayer that God directs us to the concrete things we can do to care for others in our midst and around the world.