For the Least of These: A Discussion of Border Policy & Illegal Immigrants

Pastor Alex Vaiz joins us to share of his experiences of working with asylum seekers and those called “illegal” at the border and encourage Christians to think differently about border policy – a new way Pastor Vaiz believes is in line with the Bible and the life of Jesus.

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Text Transcript of the Podcast

It was so gripping to see all these tents and all these people, and the moment we walked in, uh, there was like 40, 50 people just immediately drew near to us, immediately welcoming us in this shelter. The people, the, you know, the, the illegals, if some would call them that were.

We’re welcoming you to their, to their home, so to speak, and their temporary place to speak.

And this was the shelters that were made. And they were welcoming us and they were thanking us for being there and, uh, they were trying to offer us things. I mean, it was crazy. We were just gripped by seeing that, uh, so much for the criminals. You know, this whole narrative.

We’re talking religion and politics on the nonpartisan evangelical podcast. I could stand in the middle of fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters. Okay. Challenging them. Mindset of the partisan evangelical church and asking the question, is God really a conservative Republican and does God require his followers to be podcasting worldwide on the NPE network at NPE, this is the nonpartisan evangelical podcast with the nonpartisan evangelical himself your host, Paul Swearengin

All right. Welcome to the podcast, nonpartisan evangelical today, NP is the website, and today we’re going to talk an issue that gets a lot of discussion and sometimes I don’t feel like discussion from any real knowledge that anybody has to share. We just sort of have preset ideas and that is.

Immigration, dealing with immigrants in the country and dealing with immigrants in the church. And we have pastor Alex Vaiz from Vida church in Sacramento with us today. Uh, uh, heavily a church that’s attended by people of color and immigrants. And so we’re going to learn a lot from Alex, uh, perspective. And his wife, Liz, who serves at the church with him. And so, Alex, thanks for coming on the podcast.

Thanks for having me, Paul. Uh, I’m excited to be a part of this. And uh, you know, it’s interesting cause even in your introduction I was like, Whoa, we’re already processing things, which are intro.

Well, I, I’ve, I figured Jesus like to push buttons every once in a while to get to where we really were. And so I like to do that a little bit too.

Oh, it’s good. It’s all good.

And I know you do that as well, and we really do do this out of love, but you, as much as anybody I’ve known and we’ve known each other for a few years, are, or somebody who has been trying to say to the evangelical church, and particularly the white evangelical church for some time that, Hey, these marginalized people really matter. And so tell me where your heart came for that and how that all came about.

Well. Um, it’s interesting cause as we were talking about the introduction, I grew up in a mostly conservative evangelical home. My dad being a pastor, being in ministry, we were all taught that, Republican, right wing is Christian. They are one in the same.
So in our minds, if Jesus was here today, when we were growing up, it was, you know, he was going to be a right week conservative, you know, he would vote Republican. What really, really changed my paradigm was actually being involved and living day today with immigrant population.
And what I mean by that is after going to Bible school and just recently had gotten married, uh, in the denomination I was a part of, I was asked to pastor a church in the Fresno Valley. So right around your corner in a small town, uh, named orange Cove. Yeah. So where there’s a lot of orange fields and orchards and, most of the workers there, if not all are immigrants from Mexico. And, so we had not really engaged that close with the immigrant population. And so we pastored that church. And, this was back in 1995, when we started pastoring that church, my wife and I started to discover, you know, how really for the most part, undocumented immigrants live and the reasons why they came.

And, you know, for them it wasn’t an issue of, you know, are they trying to break the law, take advantage of this country and, you know, do things illegally and not at all. They are people just like you and I, but. Circumstances that you know, are of survival. Are we going to be able to survive with extreme poverty in their nations, violence in their nations, some political turmoil where it’s not that they really wanted to leave their country.
It’s the fact that they felt they needed to, to survive and for their children to be able to have a better future. So,

which is a decision any other parent would make. Right?

Right. If the situation were reversed, we would find a way to Mexico to take care of our kids, wouldn’t we? Definitely. And especially when it comes to your future, your family, I know I wouldn’t do anything for my kids.

And, uh, you know, we all think, you know, uh, ethically and morally, you know, what we should, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do. But when it comes to survival, you know, you’re not thinking in those terms anymore. You’re thinking of how can I. Really help my children thrive and survive and have a better future and really even live.
Uh, so we encountered so many stories that really help tear down our paradigm of seeing, uh, the undocumented immigrant as an illegal person, as somebody that’s breaking the laws, somebody that needs to be deported back. And another thing that we engage just really quick, um. Is also the processes. All of these people that we engage, all of them want documents.
All of them want to be here legally. They’re not here because they want to take advantage of, you know, the system and they’re here because they want to contribute, they want, and they do still contribute. But as undocumented, it’s so frustrating because. There are so many limitations. So they have gotten into the process of becoming legalized and getting their documents, but each case is so different.
And on top of that, our broken system, it doesn’t, uh, give allowance to any mistakes that could be made. Uh, you know, a certain document that wasn’t submitted the right way, where when these things occur. They saved so much money and they give so much money, or they pay so much money for the services that they need, the legal services to get their documents.
Just one little mistake could throw them all the way back to the beginning of the process. And so we seen their frustration and we’ve seen how at times and many times it seems like an impossibility to be able to become documented residents here in the United States. And it is a system that sadly.
Everybody knows basically that it needs to be reformed, but nobody does it.
Right. And I think a lot of that has to do with politics and maybe both sides of the aisle, like it as a political issue. So that’s why we don’t get through a resolution.
Definitely. Definitely. And so you can see how these people, and on top of that.
Most of these people are God fearing. Uh, these aren’t, you know, as the narrative has put it, criminals, rapists, uh, the, uh, you know, bad people bad on braise. These are people that are humble people for the most part. They have nothing. You know, they barely come with a shirt on their back coming over, um, where basically they are seeking to better their lives.
Um, and. To be honest with you, the statistics have, the statistics have shown that in their communities there is more compliance through the law than actual citizens here in the United
right. So they don’t want to get sent back home.
And most of them are God fearing. And a good number of them are Christian.
Even even Christian, what we would define Christian evangelical is somebody that has placed their faith in Christ Jesus as their Lord and savior. Um, so most of these people cross over and you know, they come as Christians already, their comm has got fury. Uh, you have a, the majority that people come this way, even if their Catholic faith, it continues to demand of them a humility, a, uh, a submission, a compliance, and all of these.
Virtues, you know, that Christianity gives. This is what they come already.
When I was in college, I worked a lot of really crappy summer jobs to make a lot of money that were very hard work. And in that process, I ended up working with many illegal illegals who were willing to do that work on an ongoing basis.
I was willing to do it for a summer to help me get back to school. Um, and I found every one of them. They’d be hardworking and, and many of them longed to be home with their family. But they knew there was no opportunity in Mexico for them. So they were here, and some even could not go home to see their kids and their wives because once they went home, it would be difficult to get back.
And, and I think, is it fair to say Alex, and I think some of this is, we have proximity living in central California because we see the value of the labor these people are providing where maybe Midwestern people or others don’t get to see that as much. But I’ve always said. Not only are they here because we need them, but in fact they’re here because we invited them.
Or at very least, we turned our head to let them come because we needed the labor.
And they are very hardworking people. They are not people that come to take advantage of.
I’ve seen it in action. Yes.
And they even contribute taxes. They didn’t anything really from it. Uh, and they come, they work hard, and they work in jobs that the normal citizen would not want to work in.
And, uh, they fill these jobs and they do them really well. Uh, and so thinking just, I mean, trying to understand that, you know, not wanting, you know, these people here and in our country. Uh, really would make a huge impact in a negative way to our economy if they would all be deported back
down. We’re going to have a hard time keeping our industry’s going.
Definitely. And I think that it’s across the board, how you said, in the central Valley, we engaged, uh, basically farm workers and field workers here in Sacramento and the Capitol. You know, we engage lower sector jobs. Uh, we’re, uh, they work in hotels. They work in, um, you know, um. In a landscaping. They work in, uh, you know, cleaning homes and so forth.
The jobs that, as I said, a normal citizen without ones, and they work really hard at it and they do a good job at it.
So I saw meme yesterday on social media from a Christian friend of mine that said. Um, there were more than, I think it was 18,000 violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants last year.
Uh, I, I looked up the statistics in that study. There was only about 16,000 of those crimes in America last year. So, I mean, the, it was more. In the meme that actually had occurred in, in the country. Um, and, and you know, and you’re talking a little bit anecdotally here, but, but I mean, let’s, is it fair to say that this idea that, that these are criminals and a major portion of crime that’s occurring in the United States is coming from illegal immigrants to be an untrue statement that even our president is perpetuating.
Most, definitely. It’s, it’s been around, uh, this community for years. Uh, you know, even by my own, uh, proximity and personal experience shows that Mel, these aren’t people that, you know, came here to, to, to want to break laws and, uh, do crime. Um, there is a very small percentage, definitely. Um, you know, you always find a bad Apple, as they say, but the majority of them don’t want to do that.
And especially because they don’t want to get caught. I want to be under the radar. So they drive the speed limit. They do all that they can to obey every single law. Um, and th there is a narrative that continues to marginalize and oppress them. Um, and this narrative continues to put them in a bad light in.
Uh, a perspective that criminalizes them. And it’s, it’s, it’s very, very sad because that is not at all the reality of who they are.
And I think, in fact, keeping them in the shadows as we’re doing, even makes them vulnerable to crime rather than more likely to be criminals.
Right. And, you know, we’ve, we’ve tried to work with law enforcement actually here in our state.
Uh, and, uh, specifically we’ve, we’ve had meetings with the sheriff of our County. Where we’ve talked about how uh, we can continue to, uh, or not continue to actually actually establish a trust with law enforcement where, um, uh, our, our undocumented immigrants won’t feel threatened at all, but on the contrary, they would feel safe, uh, where they could call the police knowing that, okay, mom, I’m not going to be turned into.
You know, uh, immigration, but I’m actually going to be helped if there’s somebody that’s trying to, you know, steal from me or somebody that’s, you know, doing crime in my community or how so many things are, uh, go unreported, uh, where there’s, you know, sexual abuse and so forth that really in these communities, they have to keep it silent because there’s a fear of it being reported to immigration.
So, working with law enforcement more and more, they are engaged in. These communities, um, in a friendly way to show them that they are here too. Uh, maintenance feel safe. But we’re still a long ways. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, and that’s the point of sanctuary cities too, right? Which are so, so Holy maligned. But the point is, if you don’t protect these people from being deported, they’re not going to report crime.
They don’t help police, uh, give information. And, and so the sanctuary city idea that everybody seems so against is just a misunderstanding of, of the purpose of it in the first place.
And that’s exactly the purpose of sanctuary cities where we are trying to keep all our communities safe, you know, from the suburbs to the urban context to, you know, all the communities we’re trying to keep safe.
So when we talk about our very large undocumented community, um, they are a part of our whole, they are an important part of our whole, that we need to keep safe to, um, and also find solutions. I’m always going to
go back to this,
to our laws, our immigration laws, because we do need them here. They are contributors.
And, uh, not only that, they are a blessing. Many of them are our from, you know, the perspective of Christianity. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So
tell me how you see that biblically. Europe, pastor, you want your people in your church to obey laws, and so I hear it from people all the time. And Jeff sessions, our old attorney general quoted Romans to say, if you violate the law, you, you pay the penalty.
And so how do you square this biblically with being followers of the law and obedient to our government and all of those things in the midst of all this.
Um, I think there needs to be a balance. Um, definitely we don’t seek to break laws. That’s not what we’re trying to do as an at all as Christians, especially, um, we don’t seek to break laws.
Um, but yet what supersedes our law? That is, you know, the laws that we live in the land, what has to supersede it is the scripture is the Bible. And the Bible teaches us over anything to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, our souls, and our minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves. And, uh, how are we loving our neighbor?
Jesus specifically taught through the gospels who our neighbor is. And if you want to personify the neighbor in our days, now it is the immigrant. It is the marginalized, it is the oppress. And so
the good Samaritan would be the illegal immigrant over that day.
Exactly. There. There is a specific example of the Lord saying, okay, these are the laws that we have lived by now.
I’m going to challenge these laws by showing you what, what heaven looks like. You know, the priorities of heaven, the priorities of the kingdom of God and the priorities of the kingdom of God is God is always giving value to the marginalized and the oppressed. And so. When we look at that biblically, uh, there are laws in our land that are unjust and we have to accept that, uh, and one of the most unjust laws because it is what it is in our nation.
Our nation has struggled with racism for so long since the beginning, since its inception. And, uh, we’ve struggled with racism so long that our laws always tend to, for the most part, tend to criminalize and oppress people of color. And we’re seeing that right up front with the immigrants.
Yeah, and I, I guess I just think if our heart would change toward this whole thing, the solutions would follow.
You know, if our, if we’re hard-hearted toward it, that’s why it gets difficult to get, get things. Get things accomplished. So just, I think it’s a hard issue to begin with. And, and, uh, and I guess, I think America is that place where we’re like, Hey, we’re going to bend over backwards to be welcoming to people because we were welcomed at some point here.
And that’s what makes us a great country is being good people. And the second we stop being good people, we’re not going to be a great country anymore.
Right? And I think that that’s, that’s the whole gist of our country. Um, we are a country of, you know, immigrants. And generationally we have been. And, uh, because biblically we welcome the immigrant, we welcome the stranger.
Uh, and then we talk about, well, there’s a legal way, you know, well, the Bible specifically talks about how we should treat. Um, the foreigner, how we should treat the immigrant unconditionally. We need to welcome them. We need to love them as Christians, and we need to find ways to be able to reflect that also in the laws that are in place in our land.
How can we help. In the process of bringing reform to specific laws that continue to oppress and marginalized people.
Yeah. And I think the Bible talks about us humbling ourselves and pray and seek his face, and then he’ll heal our land. So I, I think, uh, humbling around the issue could help. We’re talking with Alex vias, a pastor of beat a church in Sacramento.
Um, and I, I think in that hump, humbling is a little bit of some of the problems that’s driving people here in the first place. We kind of had, were participants in that, and we have to own a little bit that, that we caused to some degree, some of the conditions that are driving people here in the first place.
Well, yes, definitely. When you’re looking at most of, most of the. The people that are coming over from Latin America. Uh, we have been, uh, we have been present in their nation causing, you know, specific damage. And, uh, and because of that, we’re finding, you know, many of them have to, um, out of necessity, out of survival, leave their countries to be able to find, you know, a way to survive for them in their, and their families.
Yeah. We’ve caused many times the conditions that are in, that are going on just in the nature and their nations, like El Salvador. You know, we look at that, what’s going on? Um, uh, specifically even back from the eighties and so forth, uh, from their civil war. I mean, there’s just so much that we were involved in.
That, you know, basically, we shouldn’t have been involved.
That’s kinda been our one to around the world, so. All right, let’s talk about the border. I know you’ve been down there recently. Um, so talk about, uh, the conditions down there, and I guess to start with, what is the responsibility of a government of a nation.
Uh, about its borders and, you know, how do you see, from your perspective, what we should be doing on the Southern border of the United States?
Um, in the first place, constitutionally, an asylum seeker that comes over, he, he has the right, he or she, they have the right to a hearing. Um, you know, so that way.
They could examine to see if this person could actually get asylum, uh, here in the United States.
So let me stop you real quickly there. I think that’s a really important point because when you say constitutionally, that doesn’t mean some King has handed down this rule that we all have to abide. That means we as a people determined along the line that this was important to us.
We, when somebody comes here seeking asylum. We’re going to at least give them the chance to prove that they deserve asylum. And if, and if they are truly fleeing something that’s life threatening, we’re going to find a way to accommodate them to come.
Right. And the, I think that, uh. The attitude that we have shown toward asylum seekers is not been seeking a way to accommodate.
And more specifically when we’re separating families, I think the zero tolerance policy is very inhumane.
So did you see that happening?
Uh, see that happening personally?
Yeah. When you were down at the border, could you see children separated from families. Um,
actually I was just this last month, uh, I was down there at the border, uh, present in one of the hearings, uh, for a group of asylum seekers.
And one of the mothers was asking for her daughter’s six year old daughter that was separated from her. Uh, the difficulty was, um, the lawyer was demanding. Uh, the public defender was demanding, uh, the government to tell her where her daughter is, seek as a separating of the families. Basically they lose them.
I mean, it’s right up front. They cannot find them. The, the parents have no idea where their children are. And many times they were taken, uh, to a detention center way across the country. And you have, they don’t know where. Uh, so
now telling me, I can’t imagine having my six year old child disappear somewhere in a foreign land.
And the people that took them not know where
he is. And it’s, it’s something when you’re watching it, like either you’re watching it on TV or you’re seeing it online or so forth. Um, but when you’re actually presence and you could feel the, the, the pain that the mother was going through and, uh, you know, she’s walking up to the judge, uh, you know, basically in chains, um, cuffed, uh, as a criminal.
Um, and as she’s cuffed as a criminal, before the judge in her jumpsuit, um, she’s asking, you know, they’re, they’re going through the process of, you know, do you understand these, you know, your rights and so forth and so on. Right. Uh, which basically there isn’t any for the asylum seekers. Um, but you know, they have to say they’re their spiel.
Um, but when they’re doing that, she’s asking the judge, where is my daughter? Uh, that was taken from me. Oh. Uh, that gripped my heart so much. Um, it is, it’s just so in comprehensible, you just cannot comprehend. You know, I, I have my kids and I just cannot, I could not even imagine. You know, my kids, and I have specifically, I have a 28, 20 year old, 18 year old, but I have an 11 year old.
Right. I could not even imagine my 11 year old being stripped from me and I not knowing at all where he’s at. Uh, and so I know more and more they’re working on, you know, being able to reunite, but that’s just right now has become such an impossibility.
Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about the conditions, but first, just what do you do at the border?
What drives you to go down there and what are the things you’re trying to accomplish? Being down at the border.
That’s a good question. Um, I’ve been asked that a lot. It’s like, why you have your church up here, you’re doing here. Why do you go to the border? Um, last year, or actually the, at the end of 2018, uh, when we had started hearing news about the caravan and so forth, um, there’s.
Was this a narrative that was coming out of, you know, most of these people are gains and you know, these are criminals. These are bad people. Uh, firsthand. I saw here in the U S that, uh, immigrants that I was working with, they were not like that. Um, so I thought, okay, how can we at least first of all, shed light and change this narrative?
Help people understand, humanize these people, and help them understand why. They would leave their country Trek all the ways, thousands of miles that could become a one way trip for them. They could die on the road. And, uh, but why would they sacrifice so much to do this and bring children to and bring their families?
So I felt, um, in my heart, such a conviction to shed light on this, to really, uh, establish a counter narrative of what’s been, what’s, what was being said. One thing, but second, because my faith demands it. Matthew chapter 25 talks about, because I have done it to the foreigner because I have done it to the immigrant.
I’m doing it to Jesus. How I’m treating those that were coming is the way I treat Jesus. That’s the way the Christian needs to see this, and that’s the problem that we have, is that we have such an individualistic Christianity in our country. That we, you know, it doesn’t demand of us to look at an asylum seeker as Jesus.
So that moved me, not just because of the counter narrative, but secondly, because this is what my faith demands of me. What am I doing to, uh, help these asylum seekers? So when the, when the first caravan came. I traveled down there with a group of people with the, one of the organizations we care. Uh, and we went to, um, we visited a large shelter of 6,000 asylum seekers in a shelter tent city.
Um, you know, they’ve built up a triage and everything for them, even a small school for the children. It was, it was neat to see how everything happened, but it was so gripping to see all these tents and all these people. And the moment we walked in. Uh, there was like 40, 50 people just immediately drew near to us, immediately welcoming us in this shelter.
The people, the, you know, the, the illegals, if some would call them that we’re, we’re welcoming you to their, to their home, so to speak, and their temporary
to speak. And this was the shelters that were made. And they were welcoming us and they were thanking us for being there and, uh, they were trying to offer us things.
I mean, it was crazy. We were just gripped by seeing that, uh, so much for the criminals, you know, there’s merit in. Um, I was even told by one pastor, uh, uh, well before I came down the first trip. You better be careful. That’s really dangerous. And that’s, you know, on the contrary, when we walk over there, they made me feel welcome.
They may meet Phil accepted and amongst them. And, uh, and we prayed with them. It was interesting too, because not only were we, you know, we’re going in there, we’re going to pray for them, we’re going to help them work. Well, they encouraged us. In the middle of their affliction there. They were comforted and they comforted us to see what was going on.
Um, and at the same time, you know, we also saw how we can bring supplies to them and help them out. Um, but it was real gripping to see and be there and know what was happening and who they are, why they came. Um, we were so gripped by their stories and the majority of them in that. That’s fine. That shelter were unattended minors.
There were kids between the ages 13 to 17 tons of kids, hundreds of kids that were not gang members were not. These are vulnerable kids that their parents sent because they were being, um, persecuted either if it’s Nicaragua by the government. Uh, if it’s Honduras, by the gains that really wanted to recruit them, were threatening the lives of their parents if they weren’t a part of the gains.
It was just a lot of the things that that were going on in their countries was the reasons why they were fleeing. And, uh, and these kids were there and all he could do is just hang out with them, hug them, love on them. And in particular, there was one kid, a 15 year old kid. I looked at him as like, one of my sons, what am I teenage boys?
He stuck with me the whole time that we went through the whole, uh, uh, shelter, just like one of my kids. And he just hung out with me, hung out with me, hung out with me all the way until the end. It was so hard to say bye to him. I, you know, I had to leave and he just, he hugged me and he said, don’t forget about me.
And I said, are you kidding me? I’m never going to forget about you. And I’m never going to forget about any of them. You all have one my heart and not only have you want my heart, you want my devotion and dedication to helping asylum seekers as much as I can. It’s the reason why I traveled down there.
Now, just to give you a real quick. A background of what’s happening now that shelter couldn’t last very long, um, because the money that was being pumped into it ran out. So they had to divide them all over the city of the Quanta in different, smaller shelters that needed, need supplies desperately, and they need to be dignified.
In other words, they’re just under tents, no bathrooms, no nothing. It’s terrible. So what we’ve begun to do is work with other or their organizations to create a network of the shelters to be able to resource each one of them and see what they need. And we’ve already started helping out with one of the shelters as a pilot shelter to construct rooms, small rooms for the asylum seekers that arrived.
So there’s so much work to do. Definitely. It’s nonstop. It’s going to be probably last forever. But what are we really doing as Christians. When we talk about how we are Christians and how we love the Lord, yet we don’t show that in our action and in our works.
So we care as the organization. And I know you were telling me that it’s, uh, it’s life changing to go down there.
So you would encourage others to, to go with this organization or somebody else.
Definitely. Um, you know, we’ve gone out with world relief to Rover leaf has made some trips down there, uh, to be able to again, shed some light on what’s happening and what’s going on. Um, I’ve also, um. I’ve gone down there with faith and action.
Faith and action is a national organization to faith and action does a lot of work also at the border. Um, so. I’ve gone down, I just, this last trip that I made was a, actually the other side of the other border in wadis what is, and, uh, El Paso and New Mexico, that area. So, um, you know, we got to see what was going on down there.
We didn’t go across, but we stayed, we’re doing work on this side, but I’m over here in California. You know, in our Southern border is where I mostly been, uh, focused more on and that the guano site too, and seeing how we can resource the shelters. So there are different organizations that are doing work.
Um, AOL was another one. I looked through a lotto. Um, AOL, what they do is they do, um. Orientations, uh, legal orientations for the asylum seekers and they, they need a lot of help. Uh, they need a lot of volunteers. They need a lot of support, especially if, you know, somebody is studying law and immigration law or is a lawyer and immigrant for immigration.
Um, it would be huge, uh, to look into AOL. I don’t throw, allow, um, which they need support in a big, big way.
There’s a shortage of public defenders that want that job. I would assume.
Oh yeah,
we need a lot of that even at
our size.
Hi everybody. Let me take a quick break from this discussion with Alex vias, uh, discussing the border and immigration, which I think are really important topics for us to look into. And let me tell you about the exciting project we have going on now. My novel when Joseph comes to town, when the religious right goes religiously wrong, is coming out in audio, and I’m doing it in an audio book series form where releasing segments at a time, and you can hear it through our nonpartisan evangelical Patrion page, and I want you to join right now, our NPV community is a special place where people who want to give a little financial support to help.
It starts. Five 99 a month to help us buy the equipment we need to market our product and just to, to let me be free to be out and give this message to the world that you don’t have to buy into the right wing Christianity to be good with God and to tell the rest of the world. God is not mad at you and he doesn’t require this of you either.
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In that. Did you ever run into anybody that, I’m trying to think of what the narrative is that people are bringing other people’s kids here to try to try to use the kids to get into the country for nefarious reasons. Did you experience that at all?
I heard about that from our narrative, our side. I had never experienced that.
I’m going to be straight up. I had never seen that, never experienced it. Every family that I met was actually family. Uh, it was their kids. Um, I, I’m not saying I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know if that was actually. A story that happened, or maybe a few people did that, but I know the majority of the people are families.
And you know, I’ll give you an example. One of the, the families that we encountered in that shelter, the mom was showing us her wounds. She had a stab wound in her stomach. They were treating the stab ward. Um, and the reason why was because, and she, she was telling us there, she says, see, those are my kids are 14 age boys.
Uh, ranging from 13 to 18, 13 to 18, she was 14, eight boys. And, uh, she said there is a gang, the w one of the, you know, the well known gangs in our city wanted to recruit them and they didn’t want to be a part of the gangs. They’re good kids and they’re Christian kids. We’re Christian people. We, we love God.
And we go to church and, but they threatened. Uh, that they would hurt us if they wouldn’t be a part of the game. And they ended up doing that. They found a mom, they stabbed her. Um, and so, so the best thing that they could do was three, get out. Um, and that’s what they did. And she came and, uh, she was a part of that, you know, the, a caravan that came and she was in that shelter.
We met her, we met her kids, we brought them all along together. We prayed for them. Uh, it was interesting because in that encounter is we prayed for them. You know, she prayed for us. You know, it’s just incredible. Uh, their faith is an amazing many of them. It’s because of their faith. They could have, they could make it all the way, but all they want is a better future, but a future.
She wanted it. She said, I just want a better future for my kids. I don’t want to go back to Honduras and have to deal with, and my kids have to deal with us being persecuted and harmed. And maybe even kills for them to be a part of, you know, a gang. So, and most sadly, most of these cases are turned away and they are deported.
and I assume she would be in real life danger if she were sending.
Definitely. Yeah, definitely.
Was she aware what she was doing was, and I’ll use my air quote fingers here, what, what she was doing was illegal. Did she have an awareness of that?
I think most of them, because from what they’ve heard, the law of them being able to turn themselves in.
That’s why many of them cross over and then they turn themselves in and seek seeking asylum. So it’s like, okay, we’re obeying the law here. I, yes, we did cross over, but we crossed over and we’re turning ourselves in so that we can tell you we’re seeking asylum. They’re not trying to sneak in and trying to, you know, uh, find a way of not being seen.
They just cross over and they turn themselves in. Because their belief is they are going to be heard. That their story is going to be convincing enough for them to be able to be given asylum. Sadly, that is not the case,
I think. And so I love you giving us that perspective and kind of a view, cause I think you said humanizer.
I would say if we can put skin on people, all of a sudden our stories start to change. So I think that’s really valuable. And so I do business coaching as, as part of my, my life’s work and was working with a, a young executive woman just yesterday. And her story is her father came here illegally. Um. Got amnesty in the Reagan administration, was able to become a citizen.
And now here’s a young woman that has a master’s degree, is an executive in a, in a really significant organization here in Fresno where where I live. And I think those are the stories we ought to focus on a little bit as well. And even even the DACA dreamers who are. Running businesses, paying taxes, employing citizens, marrying American women.
You know, the, these are good people. These are not gang members destroying our country, but our, but our us. Right,
right. And even in our congregation, we have doctors in our congregation. Um, and, uh, you know, several of them own businesses and, you know, they’re, they pay their taxes. They, they do their best with what they do.
And, um, what’s so hard about the removal of Baca is the fact that they’re in the system. You know, their names are there. Uh, and I think it’s that, again, unjust laws that if we don’t do something about it, uh, these people basically have lived under the threat of being deported, but they’ve lived all their lives here, basically.
And they’ve built their futures here. They built their homes, they built their businesses. Uh, their kids are growing up here. It, they’ve contributed so much. There’s no way they can be displaced and removed and go back to a country they basically don’t know about and, uh, basically did not grow up in. And it’s a whole different thing for them
and has a lot of fear for them in that
a lot.
There’s a lot of fear, and especially right now that DACA was removed, they feel vulnerable. Uh, at least with DACA, they felt that they were protected, uh, that Hey, you know, there’s something is happening to work toward. Uh, the legalization or the documentation that they need, but now that that’s removed, uh, basically they feel very vulnerable.
And the F and from what we’re hearing, again from the government, the administration is the fact that even they are, um, basically vulnerable to be deported also.
So, yeah. Well, I think we’re waiting for a court case to come down, uh, that if it goes the way it seems, then they can start deporting people out that have been here their whole lives, as you said.
And I think the thing people don’t realize is, is for that dreamer. Right? Which in case anybody doesn’t know what that means. That’s somebody who was brought here as a young child illegally and basically have lived their whole lives in the United States. There is no easy path for them to become citizens there.
There’s no amount of money they can spend. There’s no easy path for for that to happen.
I mean, not even, and when I say easy, I mean viable. I mean, my understanding of it now is they would have to go back to Mexico. Uh, if they’re from Mexico or El Salvador or Honduras, whatever country they’re from, and, and it would be 10 years before they would have a chance to come back.
And then the chance is very, very slim.
And once again, we’re dealing with what we would call unjust laws. Uh, that is just, it, that’s very unjust, specifically with people that have built their lives here already. And, um, they’re, they’re woven already within the fabric of our country. And they are Americans.
They really are. Um, and the way they contribute, the way they’re raising their children, the way, uh, just how important they are to our society. So just removing. So many of them, eh, it’s unheard of. It’s just something that I, it’s an unimaginable, basically. So I’m hoping and praying things change.
Yeah, for sure.
And I know, I know some of those, some of those people as well who are saying is today the day. Right? Somebody pulls up to my door and I’m, and I’m taken away, uh, snatched away as the Bible says.
And, and many of them are very successful. You know, they’re successful. They went to school, college, college degrees, own their businesses.
We see that right here in our own congregation. And, uh, and they’re afraid, you know, they’re basically lived in constant fear that they could lose everything that they’ve had. They’ve built here. Um, and it’s been a great, it’s been a great ride for them and what they’ve done and, uh, and how they continue to contribute to our country and their kids have such a great future because of it.
Let me ask you about this and I’ll let you answer the way where you feel is appropriate. But I know having known each other, I know that this has been a little bit painful for you. Being the pastor of a, of a, a significantly migrant and, and a church of people of color to deal with some of our less evangelicalism brothers and sisters as a, I think it’s caused you a little bit of pain.
Is that fair to say?
Uh, definitely. Um, we’ve, it’s been a difficult experience, uh, both my wife and die. Um. Have had to endure. Um, just a lot of, uh, from ridicule to, uh, not only that, but to basically, uh, people beginning to cut us out from beings. Um, isolation, isolation has been one of the biggest, uh, problems that we’ve had.
Uh, being isolated has been very difficult. Um, because we were were. We were a part of, you know, the evangelical circles and the churches here, especially in our area. Um, and it’s not to say that we don’t have relationship with them, but it’s just the dynamic has changed completely ever since the elections basically.
Um, the 2016 elections. Yes. And, and how that has affected our community. It’s, it’s, it’s tough. Even our church, like my wife and I, we have felt very isolated from. Uh, the greater, you know, evangelical church here in our area and from the nation that, uh, in many ways, they feel betrayed, um, by their brothers and sisters, specifically white brothers and sisters in Christ.
They feel betrayed. Um, so it’s, it’s been a difficult journey. It’s been a very difficult process. Um, where we’ve had to navigate through it all, but God has been our strength. God has been our church’s strength. And, um, we see how resilient they are, very resilient and, uh, and they’re willing to stand for their convictions and who God has called them to be.
And again, it’s not like they want to be undocumented. They want to be illegal. They really, really are seeking ways, but it’s so hard. And now even more so with the administration that we have, it’s, that makes it even harder to be able to, uh. Get on the right track for documents and what they need.
Well, I, and I appreciate it.
I can hear you sort of choosing your words in there, and neither of us want to be dishonoring of people. And, and I tried to tell people all the time, you know, you can make the choice you want to make. And you’re voting for president or governor or anybody else, but for one, when you start saying only one party, Christians can only vote for one party.
I know that’s a violation of the Bible for sure, but I want people, instead of becoming defensive when they hear something like what you just shared. I think we’re supposed to hear people’s pain and, and be able to S to hear somebody say, and, and our, our brothers and sisters from Latin American countries and or Latin American descent to say, Hey, your unabashed support of anything right wing.
Seems a little bit painful for us, if not flat out a, a rejection of who we are as human beings. And, and I think that’s important for, if I can just say white evangelical Christians to here.
And you know, that that has been our struggle, right? Our struggle has been, um, to be seen, to be heard, basically hear us.
I’m not even asking for you to change how you, how you think. But maybe if you would hear and learn and just be able to, uh, have some proximity. Get close to those that are in hurt and pain, those that are hurting and are in pain. Get close, listen, hear it. I think that just doing that to start out with begins to help us tear down those structures that continue to divide us and separate us.
Um, and then when we begin to hear and understand I, that’s how it started with me. I’d been going to hear and understand their pain. I never fully understood it when I was with them. I began to understand it. And being with them has changed a lot of my perspective and has made me see Christ through a whole different paradigm from the margins not from the center.
And I think that when, as evangelicals, we have seen things from a religious center. But not from the margins. And so we tend to look at people at the margins as people that, um, basically have, uh, you know, have just made bad choices to be in that in the six circumstances that they’re in. When in actuality, a lot of what we have done is we’ve caused them to be the margins.
And, uh, what we have chosen has causal oppression, uh, in those that are margin marginalized. And so. Being able to begin to see the perspective from the margins, then you’re looking at something completely different and it helps you to understand pain of others and it’s, it helps us to not be so selfish and self absorbed and religious, self-righteous and so forth, where we begin to see through the eyes of Christ the hurt and the pain of others.
And. And so that has been something very big for us that through this process we have been trying to help people. That’s the counter narrative, trying to help people understand and humanizing, Hey, these people are here because of their pain, because of what they’re going through. They’re not here because of what the narrative is telling us.
They are here because they are in pain. So as a Christian, what does our faith advisors, what does our faith demand of us. Our faith demands of us to love our neighbor, to love the immigrant, uh, to welcome them, to love them as we love ourselves, to love them as we love those around us. How are we doing?
Yeah. Well, and I think it just softens our heart just to hear people’s story and, and, uh, and so being soft-hearted is a big part of it because Jesus didn’t call us to be American Christians. He called us to be. Christians of the kingdom and the rest of this stuff come into line with that. I, I was going to finish with this.
You talked about Matthew 25 and so I would love to just read a little portion of that and then you kind of share what that means to you in the context of this conversation. But, um, and so I’m kind of coming into the middle of the story here, but in verse 39 of Matthew 25 says winded. When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you and the King will answer them.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me. And then he will say to those on his left, depart from me, you curse it into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For, I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me naked and you did not clothe me sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? Then he will answer them saying, truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me, and these will go away into eternal.
Punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. So what does that passage mean to you, to share to our audience here today?
I think we need to make a distinction between charity and lifestyle. What we have done in, um, basically compartmentalizing that scripture is to look at it as a compassion ministry.
Hmm. So, and our churches have even had structures. Of compassion, ministry, and then discipleship and so forth and so on.
food on Thanksgiving. And I’ve, I’ve accomplished that verse.
Definitely. And, uh, or I’ve gone to Africa or I’m gone. I’ve been missions trips. And so we, we see this charity mindset that still doesn’t, uh, you know, change who we are.
Uh, and there’s many people that do their mission work, but when they come back, you know, they still think the same way. They still, the lifestyle is the same. And when I look at this portion, I don’t look at this poll portion as, uh, you know, compartmentalizing it as a part of my Christianity. I look at it as Christianity, as life’s our lifestyle because on that day, we’re going to be judged on this.
And what Jesus was trying to say is this is what the kingdom of God looks like. This is the lifestyle of the kingdom. This isn’t a compassion ministry. It isn’t like you’re saying a on a Thanksgiving day or a backpack event that we’re doing. Talking to one pastor, he had told me that you’d look at the backpack event we’re doing to the undocumented immigrants in our community.
I was like, yeah, but how? What are you doing to truly love them, to value them, to make them feel that they are welcomed? What are you really doing? You know, it’s one thing to give them a backpack and it’s another thing to actually. Uh, stand with them in solidarity. How are you doing? And I think that that’s where many of them, they’re thankful, but they know that there’s a separation.
And how can we close that gap? The way to close that gap is to look at the scripture as the lifestyle. This is our faith and this is what our faith demands of us. Our faith demands of us to welcome the stranger. Our faith demands us to visit and minister to those that are in prison. Our faith demand.
This is a list. Of those that are being oppressed and how the kingdom of God puts value and priority to them. And how are we responding in that manner?
Oh, that’s a good word. And so let this discussion today. Don’t throw up your defenses. Allow it to start this. Stir in your heart. Is there a greater. Life to the full that God has for me.
Is there something greater that Jesus demonstrated? And in saying, your neighbor is that person, you don’t think worthy of God’s favor. That is actually who your neighbor is. And how you treat that person, uh, is, is how you prove your devotion to God above all other things. And, and when we start to think about that, I think that changes the way we think.
And if and if people were concerned about the government being involved in these things, welfare and these programs and these kinds of things, then then let’s do something to change it through our churches and our communities and our things. And then maybe the government won’t have to jump in there, but until then, I say, let our heart be towards taking care of the problem first, and then let’s worry about how we work through the logistics of it.
Right. And well, that’s another conversation.
Sorry to open a whole nother can of worms is we’re about to wrap up. I know. It’s a hard issue for me. Yeah,
definitely. And, and I, I’m with you where I think that when you hear so many people defending a perspective or a point of view of, you know, the government shouldn’t be doing that.
Why is the government helping out? Well. That only reflects our hearts in the way we think about those that are vulnerable. And, uh, because if we don’t want the government to do it is specifically what we’re saying is I don’t want my money going there. Right. Uh, and so when. The kingdom of God puts priority to those that are vulnerable.
And, and this is one thing that I, you know, uh, told our church even this past Sunday, um, we were sharing about, you know, the marginalized. And I said, you know, every time Jesus would walk into any room and in every, any place in the gospels, he would look for the person that’s the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable was his priority.
That’s why he always stated, you know, the last will be come first, and the first will become last. The most vulnerable for him is always the one that becomes first priority. And how are we reflecting that? You know, on the contrary, we seek the Feynman, the famous and the powerful and the rich.
Yeah. Yeah. We really turned that on its head.
All right. I gotta let you go, Alex. I know you’ve got things to do, and so just so appreciate you giving us a view of something that many of us haven’t been able to see ourselves and, and so encouraging us to see ourselves in that.
Thanks Paul.
Thanks for
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