The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:34)
I am hungry. I am surprised (and embarrassed) that such a little commitment can produce such a large result day after day.
I am joining more than 5,000 others in committing to pray and fast for 40 days so “that our hearts will be changed and our current unjust immigration system will be transformed.” My commitment is to skip lunch every day, and not to eat snacks or desserts.
Saulo Padilla, director of immigration education for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. is joining me. So is Ann Graber Hershberger, chair of the MCC U.S. Board. We each have our different fasting commitments, but we are agreeing together to pray and to advocate for change during these 40 days.
Yesterday, I talked to Juan Jose Rivera, pastor of the Iglesia Sequidores de Cristo in Sarasota, Florida. He said more than 20% of his members face immigration issues. He told me about a man who was recently deported to Mexico. Officials arrested him in the grocery store in front of his four children. Handcuffed him and took him away.
Pastor Juan Jose said that his members live in a daily state of anxiety and fear, wondering how they will be able to support their families.
That was the sentiment also expressed by John Gallo, pastor of Aposento de la Gracia in Miami. He said five people from his congregation were deported in one year. He said that sometimes people just seem to disappear and you never know what happened to them.
Ann said her fasting has helped turn her thoughts toward a student who is undocumented and who has had difficulty finding the financial support to finish his schooling. She holds this student in prayer and tries to keep in touch with him.
Ann’s thoughts reflect my own when she says that she feels God’s presence more when she feels hungry and she is deeply aware of how she can usually meet her physical needs on her own very easily.
Saulo says that when he is hungry, he gets that “hole in the gut” feeling that he often gets when he crosses a border or when he has been at the Border Patrol office dealing with his own immigration issues. Saulo was born in Guatemala, and is a Canadian citizen who has lived the U.S. for many years.
Saulo says feeling hungry helps remind him of his brothers and sisters who are undocumented in the U.S. and who wake up every morning with that hole in the gut feeling and still have to go to work, church and school. Some of these brothers and sisters have had to live with this feeling for more than 10 or 15 years.
Saulo tells the story of Walter who is the only person in his family who did not have documentation. He was deported in May for the second time in less than seven years and so he is barred from the U.S. for 20 years or more. He leaves his wife and four daughters behind.
For Walter, his two choices are for his family to join him and live in one of the most violent countries in Latin America or for him to try to cross the border again and risk being caught and held in a U.S. detention center.
For Walter and Juan Jose and for the others I have mentioned, can we imagine what it would be like to have a hole in the gut feeling day after day, month after month?
In 40 days, I will start eating lunch again, but I hope I won’t stop praying and advocating for my undocumented brothers and sisters who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The history of God’s people, and God’s call today, compels me to do so.
J Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.