33 When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. 34 Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. -Leviticus 19:33-34 (CEB)
The morning I wrote this comic, I was proud to belong to a church that serves free coffee every Tuesday to the immigrants arriving for ESL classes in our facilities. I was proud to belong to a church that providing a full welcome reception, with American citizens mingling with men and women from Mexico, Somalia, Japan, and Iraq. I was proud to be a church with members from Burma who have diligently worked to become American citizens. I was proud to be a church that has dealt with immigrants as individuals with names and stories. Some have required us to go a great distance to help. Others we have learned did not really need our help even if they thought they did. Treating them as if they were one of us means listening and discerning with them what their real needs are and what our role should be in meeting those needs.
I was proud of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church, (home of two missionaries to refugees that my church supports), as they have publicly stood to defend one of their members who has been detained and will likely be deported. They are concerned that he requires a certain medication to treat a terminal illness, and aware that detention centers are known for neglect and lack of care for the people kept their indefinitely. After all, just two months ago a public report revealed the reality of the inhumane conditions of many private detention facilities where men and women are held prisoner with less rights than an American criminal (read the Homeland Security report here).
This church is standing up for justice for their friend and member, Gilles Bikindou (read about it here). This entire scenario evokes Christ’s letter to the church in Pergamum: “I know that you are living right where Satan’s throne is. You are holding on to my name, and you didn’t break faith with me even as the time that Antipas, my faithful witness, was killed among you, where Satan lives” (Rev 2:13 CEB). In this same passage, Jesus challenges this church to constantly review their own lives and community in light of the Gospel, saying, “I will give those who emerge victorious…a white stone with a new name written on it, which no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev 2:17 CEB).
This is a call to a singular pursuit of Christ in the midst of world of power and coercion, them and us. This is a challenge to remain faithful to the gospel whose fruit is revealed through “hospitality to strangers” (Heb 13:2), upholding “justice for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut 27:19), meeting the real needs of the “stranger,” who turns out to be Jesus Christ in disguise (Matt 25:35). It is the Christian’s job to expect and proclaim a different reality than the one that makes sense to the present American economic set-up. It is the Christian’s job to faithfully defend the defenseless (and those in detention centers have absolutely no legal defense), even if it is a lost cause.
This comic also features David Acosta, a kid who went to school with some kids in my youth group. They all remember the day David faced his greatest fear, when he was arrested and detained on his way to school (read about it here). The girl is Emily Ruiz, born of Guatemalan parents in America (which makes her a natural-born American citizen…read Ezekiel 47:22 if you require biblical precedent for granting citizenship to foreigners born in your midst). These kids are derivatively labelled “anchor children,” because they complicate the process of deportation. Emily’s story (please read it here) is horrifying for any parent of a four year old, and especially for any American citizen that Customs or ICE agents may suspect being foreign.
I chose to make the ICE agents giant cute penguins for this comic for two reasons. The first is I think they are terrifying. The second is because the whole thing is complicated on both sides, and even if I think ICE is diligently upholding unjust laws with little regard for the humanitarian issues, these officers are also human beings created in God’s image, for whom I must pray and show compassion. Detention centers and our responsibility to immigrants are not partisan issues. Emily and David’s stories happened under a Democrat administration, and Guilles story under the present Republican administration. They are issues at the heart of God’s story from the very beginning, and we are fools if we think we will not one day be held accountable for the way we treated the sojourners in our midst.