I Am an Immigrant

 

I made it a policy not to talk about politics—South African or American—on this blog, but I cannot keep silent by the recent events in the USA, concerning immigration.

Yesterday in chapel, we had a Thanksgiving Eucharist for the 10th-anniversary of Growing the Church (GtC), the organisation with whom my husband and I serve on the field. In lieu of a homily, staff members shared some of their favourite stories about GtC, especially those that displayed God’s provision. When it was my turn to share, I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe how emotional I became. I talked about my first encounters with the GtC staff and my earliest days at GtC, about how everyone had welcomed me with opened arms.

You see; I am an immigrant. I know what it feels like to leave one’s beloved family, country, and culture and move half away across the world. I know what it feels like to quit a good job and head into the unknown of financial security. I know what it’s like to completely uproot, to sell one’s possessions and to arrive in a new country, carrying only three suitcases and two carry-on bags.

I am a foreigner. I know what it’s like to learn how to grocery shop again, learning new foods, how to read labels, new terminology, a new system of weight and volume. I know what’s like to learn to drive on the left side of the road and to learn different rules of the road. I know what it’s like to struggle to communicate, to understand people and for them to understand me. I know what it’s like to feel so homesick at times that the feeling feels almost like physical pain.

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Within a month of my arrival in Cape Town, I was in George, helping out with a Rooted in Jesus training. We were in an Afrikaans-speaking community, and all the parishioners, including the ones in this group, welcomed me with opened arms.

I am an immigrant. I know what it feels like to be welcomed with opened arms and with love, for people to be happy that I am here, for people to have me over for dinners and braais and to take me for walks on the beach. I know what it feels like to receive needful help and advise and guidance from opening a bank account, to cooking, to where to get the best bargains for clothes, to which neighbourhoods to be cautious of, to which doctors to go to for medical help. I know what it’s like for people to be patient with me, as I struggle to communicate in their language. I know what it’s like for people to live out Leviticus 19:34a, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” This has been my experience in South Africa, and I can never thank my friends, family, colleagues, parish family, and all the countless churches, parishioners, priests, bishops, students and other individuals who have welcomed and loved me as one of their own.

 

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Compassion

SunkissedWhen I told my mom that I thought God was calling me to be a missionary, she wasn’t that surprised and mentioned something about my always having a compassionate heart. She told me the story again about when I was a child, I would always put my coins in the little charity boxes for kids with disabilities, for people fighting disease, or for abused animals.

I do think that God has given me the gift of empathy and compassion, but these traits didn’t develop naturally; they were learned and cultivated. It was my mom who taught me to be compassionate, and it was through her deeds, her lifestyle, and not merely through words.

When I was around 10 or 11, there was a tragedy in our small town. A drunk driver hit and killed a person; I don’t remember the details at all, but I believe it was a young person he killed. This drunk driver became the bogeyman of our town; he was reviled and hated for what he did. Mom’s heart went out to the family who lost their beloved member, but Mom felt God was also calling her to visit the man, this murderer, in jail. She was obedient and did so and started ministering to him in jail. This started my mom’s jail ministry that continues to this day, and my dad joined in years ago too. Together, they have been ministering to inmates in the local county jail for more than twenty years.

In our society that is more or less compassionate and Christian, inmates are a forgotten group and are thrown away. But our Lord loves them just the same, and my mom was opened to being a vessel of this love. It’s not a “sexy” ministry; nobody really applauds those who ministers to people in jail, but it is an important and vital ministry. Did not our Lord tell us not to forget those in prison?

Through mom’s actions long ago and through a lifestyle of giving and showing compassion to others, often to the forgotten of society, Mom has taught me to have a compassionate heart. I still strive to be more and more like Mom in this regard, as I have a long way to go. But I thank you, Mom, for your example of faith, obedience, and compassion.