40 Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of the prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of a righteous person 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
Hello Southside, I want to start by saying thank you, for giving me this time to share and to be here with you all this Sunday, on Immigration Sunday. I am excited to share with you my reflections and how I am feeling about this idea of “welcoming others”, no matter who they are.
“Welcome the stranger”, “treat others the way you want to be treated”, “love thy neighbor”
These are all phrases that I have heard since I was little. To me, I feel they are the backbone of church and ministry. Yet, these last few years, they sound like hypocrisy. How many exceptions do we make to what stranger we accept, what neighbor deserves our love, or who we should treat well?
These are the thoughts that have consumed my YAV year and made me question my place in the world and where my vocation will take me. Serving as a YAV, one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn AND constantly be reminded of this year, is that as a YAV I am wanted but not needed. I am a stranger and a tourist in this place. I am welcomed and accepted but not necessary. I am loved, but this is not my home. My year in Tucson has taught me so much and made me reflect a lot on what home is and what it means to be comfortable somewhere. As opposed to other places I have lived and been to, Tucson has made me think about what it means for a culture to welcome someone and what it looks like when that person is different from me or different from the community around me.
As many of us know, the church has a complicated past with mission work. We as YAV’s have lots of quotes from our year written on paper in the walls of our house.
One of them reads: White saviorism, like colonialism, assumes that Black Indigenous People of Color need white people to save them. Without white intervention, instruction, and guidance, Black Indigenous people of color will be left helpless. That without whiteness, the BIPOC community who are seen as below and less than white in the white imagination, will not survive. It puts BIPOC in the position of helpless children who need to be saved by the supposedly more capable and wiser white people”. This quote was shared with us during our Delegation to the border by AmyBeth Willis, the original quote is from Layla Saad.
To me, this quote is the embodiment of how the church started and sometimes continues to enact mission. We as people of God get excited about taking a vacation somewhere and “making our souls feel happy” by serving those we see as the “less fortunate”. We spend a week fixing something then, leave no direction on how to sustain our work when we leave because it is expected that other “saviors” will be back for their vacation and to fix the problem again.
When I read the scripture for this week. I was consumed by this idea. I first felt guilty over being welcomed, then I felt uncomfortable with how “rewards” were included in the work of the Lord. Do we as God’s people only do work for a reward? What is with this hierarchical system? Welcome the prophet, receive the prophets reward, welcome the righteous, receive the same, give EVEN a cup of water to “the littlest of these– meaning the poorest…. And surely you will receive some kind of reward. Time after time… this is how I read the scripture. I was confused and hurt by how even the “word of God” could be so prejudiced. When Alison asked if I wanted to change scripture passages, I was close to doing so. But, scripture isn’t meant to come easy. It is meant to be struggled with. This is a text that recorded and upheld the values of a culture from the dawn of time. And just like my YAV year, it is meant to push and grow into something more. So, bear with me as we all do like YAV’s do best and “lean into the discomfort”
I came to Tucson fully aware of this stereotype of the “white savior” and it was eerie to me, how much easier fundraising was when I said I was going to the US/ Mexico border instead of when I went to the “brewing capital of the world” last year to study poverty. Even with the backlash of helping “illegals” enter and “steal our jobs”, my fundraising went much better. It seemed like less of a “vacation” and more “charity”. Therefore, even more uncomfortable.
I can’t help but assume that this mindset is partially due to the fact that I am a young white woman who has come to “do God’s work”. I can’t help but feel guilt over how welcome I am. Guilt because my whole year here has been studying and observing the ways we as a system, a government, and as a people, refuse to accept the people both native and needing of this land as refugees. How can we tell a person that has been here “as long as the deeply rooted mesquite tree” that we have no space for them or that our American government controls their ancestral land? How can we as a collective people, continuously allow for people to die in the desert and shoot holes in both their bodies and water jugs when all they are after is a free life away from violence, harm, and war. Or, maybe they just want to reunite with their families. How can our government tell people that have been here for 30 years, never convicted of a crime, and profiled while driving, that they don’t belong? How can we as citizens continue to respect and uphold the systems that uphold this hatred?
I believe it is because we refuse to see it. We don’t believe it. We make EXCUSES for it. It does not affect those in power, so why pay attention?
My year with Keep Tucson Together has shown me time and time again how complex our immigration system is. Laws and policies are continuously written to manipulate justice. I have heard many of our volunteer attorneys and long time volunteers share the ways in which this system is confusing to THEM. These are BRAINIACS with degrees and years of research to fall back on. If they have trouble understanding all the logistics, how do we even begin to think that a person could go through our immigration system alone? Last year, 22,677 cases of individuals, families, and children, went through the Tucson Immigration court system. Of those cases, 98% went without a lawyer. 18,059 of our neighbors, families, and individuals fleeing violence went into court unaccompanied. My work with Keep Tucson Together this year has shown me that cases that are “won” by the court are few and far between. Even WITH representation, it is hard to “win” over the government and convince the judge that these cases are more than a file, that these individuals are more than their assigned “alien identification number”. Our government makes the hoops one has to jump through for naturalization and citizenship impossible. Even in doing the process correctly, you are criminalized and punished. The first time I heard that folks pleading asylum are often not eligible for bond I was outraged. These are people that have followed our systems “rule” came “legally” through the Port of entry instead of “sneaking in” and are then often obtained by ICE and given a record. They are then branded with the term alien and are ineligible for bond therefore are trapped in the death camps we have created during this pandemic- I mean—- they are held in respective detention centers.
The process of dehumanization around immigration is strong, we know we are doing wrong by NOT welcoming the stranger. We KNOW that these strangers have every right to be here and are our neighbors, friends, and siblings in Christ. However, we let fear drive us to hatred and we accomplish this by not seeing the human inside the individual. Instead, these people are given nasty labels like “illegals” “aliens” “drug lords” and “thieves”. We refuse to think of them in truth, as the neighbors, victims, and PEOPLE that are here. Because that would mean we were wrong and our government lies and our world is broken. That would mean I as a white person would have to change my lifestyle. I as a white person would then become overwhelmed and shut down, instead of adjusting to the change.
If we were to really stop, and think about things….
Who are “Americans” to stand on stolen soil and tell a person they are not welcome? When did this stolen soil become “ours” to dictate and manage? How can “we” tell a refugee, there is no room for you here and you cannot come in? When that is LITERALLY how 75% of Americans came here?
As Christians, we are given one task- to love your neighbor. If Tucson, a city of half a million people has taught me any more lessons, it’s that even in a city this big, you know everyone through one degree of connection. We are all neighbors, we are all siblings in Christ. We are all commanded to love one another.
Southside knows these issues better than anyone, this stereotype of the church, of saviorism, and of the harm we as an organized religious body have done. Y’all, more than any other church that I have seen, are a church that has strived to revert its witness and reconnect with the roots of this land and its culture. Every service holds the culture of Tucson in its heart. Every time we listen to the blessing in the O’Odham language or hear the word of God brought to us in Spanish, we are rebelling against the systems and rejecting the social norm of “whiteness” that is mistaken for “civilized”. WE are holding space for visitors to feel welcome. Visitors of all kinds, not just the young white female before you. Honored, as I am to be here.
Every time my site coordinator introduces herself to a group, she says that she lives in the unceded land of the Tohono O’odham that is now named Tucson. I am in awe with the way she says it every time she says it because it takes me back to the stories I have heard from Guadalupe Castillo this year, it reminds me of the hike I went on with you all to Baboquivari, the fear of getting stuck in the “birth canal”. It reminds me of the culture and the ancestors that inhabited this place. I reflect on the ways that I have been welcomed into this desert land with open arms, from a group of people that should have every reason to push me away. Yet, they didn’t. I have received true hospitality in Tucson. And it makes me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because everything in my education would say that scripture is referring to “the little ones” as the community I have strived to be a part of. When really, as I saw Mayra in the Christmas pageant or was led by Gil through the spiritual journey at Baboquivari, I was welcomed by the prophets. I have been the one that was given a cold cup of water. While my community, the government I thought I was a part of, is blowing up water jugs in the desert and denying even a lukewarm drink after a perilous journey to the prophets that deserve it most. These are the people of God because just as Jesus, they know what it means to be an outcast and unwelcomed.
I know most of you already understand and know of the issues I was just introduced to and have begun grasping this year. Issues of hatred and division. I appreciate the way you have taught me, been patient with me, and called me into La Lucha. Still, I wonder if there are takeaways in my reflection that could be beneficial to you. In closing, I wonder what kind of reflection you can do over the word hospitality? Do you welcome others the way Jesus would do, with open arms and the best intentions? Or, do you hold fear and resentment at times? Do you roll up the windows when driving past Santa Rita park, or do you roll them down and say hello to your neighbors? Do you speak to the whole room when you speak to people or just the ones you are comfortable with? Is there a way to help the 98% of asylum seekers and neighbors that stood alone last year in court? Can you afford to even offer a cup of cold, to a traveler passing by? What makes you comfortable, and what discomfort should you try leaning more into?
These are the questions we should think about. And I can’t think of a better time to have immigration Sunday, the day after some have celebrated America’s birthday. A time where we can reflect on not just the current migrant and the ways we are dismissive of them. But, of all the immigrants that have come before them and built the country that we pledge allegiance to. Few, belong on this land, the unceded Tohono O’odham land. Yet, we have claimed it and decided who comes in and who is welcomed. It’s time to reimagine our “welcome” and to see that as Christians and people, we are connected and we are meant to travel, to learn, and grow. And to be together, as equals.
link to the whole service
To the God of all creatures big and small, we strive to welcome the visitor, whether we are comfortable with them or not, whether they look like us or not, whether they think like us- or not. Whether our visitor be a prophet, of righteousness, or a little one in need of a cool drink, we strive to welcome them, as you have done for us. God of love, help us share your love and spread it- through our hearts, our minds, our feet, and our hands- the ones that serve you.