I sit at my desk in my home office. It is late. I did not plan to stay up this long.
Tomorrow I leave bright and early for Washington DC to join 21 other Conference Ministers as we gather and prepare ourselves to meet with members of Congress and hold a press conference at Capitol Hill to urge those who represent us to create better policies, practices and procedures for how immigrants are treated in this country.
The last thing on my list was to place all the letters I received from you in sheet protectors in order to put them into a binder, which I will share with Congress while on Capitol Hill. I planned to read the letters as I complied them together. What I did not plan on was how deeply moved I would be by the content of these letters!
Tonight, my heart is full of gratitude for you, the beloved ones of the Illinois South Conference. You have moved me to tears. You have given me hope. You offered your support and prayers for this action and event. More importantly, you have made me realize the incredible ways WE faithfully answer our calling to be the hands, feet, mind and voice of Christ in our world.
The letters I will be taking with me include: typed letters and handwritten letters, letters from pastors and lay people, letters from children and adults (ages 7 to 98), letters from entire congregations and even letters from other faith leaders who also serve in southern Illinois. The messages are thoughtful and profound as well as direct and pragmatic.
Instead of me trying to explain, please allow me to let the letters speak for themselves.
Below are just several excerpts from the over 90 letters I received:
"I believe we are to treat all of God's children with dignity, regardless of their country of origin, the color of their skin, or the size of their bank accounts."
"I never do this...write a protest letter, or protest anything politically...but I can no longer bear it... We are a nation of immigrants...so how can we behave this way."
"At the end of WWII, I was a young nurse...proud that our country had the Marshall Plan to help war torn countries rebuild. I look to you to gather others to devise a "Marshall Plan" for the countries in Central America which have the conditions which force people to flee."
"Regardless of your party affiliation or your religious beliefs, it is immoral to continue to separate children from their families. It is unconscionable to house people seeking asylum in places that function as concentration camps. These human beings are children of God, just like you and me."
"My grandfather was a refugee to this country. Like some of your constituents, I am a descendant of the Armenian Genocide. In the early 20th century, the powers-that- be in this country deemed our ethnicity as white so they could become citizens. If not, I may have never been born, and my grandfather could have grown up in a country without our freedoms."
"Some of my counterparts say the people at the border broke the law. I remember when Jim Crow was a law. As a child in Little Rock, Arkansas, my grandmother and I stood up on the back of the bus when there were empty seats in the front of the bus. That was the law. All laws are not right or Godly. The laws of God are the laws we should obey-"Love thy neighbor as thyself."
"Dear Congress, we are on this earth for a reason and we all need justice." -written by a child
"My career was in child advocacy. I was a social worker for over forty years. However, in all those years, I never witnessed the cruelty and inhumane treatment of children by any government as what I am witnessing now. Love today is being replaced with Law. Kindness is being replaced with sorrow and death."
"As a Christian, I believe in following the example Jesus set to care for those who are in need, regardless of their status. In Matthew 25: 31-45, Jesus tells us that we should welcome the stranger, feed and clothe those who are in need regardless of their place in society. I implore you to work toward a human immigration policy and take a stand for humane treatment of all immigrants."
"I am first and foremost a person of faith--the Christian faith...I am also a proud citizen of the United States of America. I have worked on behalf of my country as a Peace Corps volunteer. The symbol I hold most dear is the Statue of Liberty; a symbol of care and extravagant hospitality, a symbol of how the diversity of our country is one of our great assets."
"I challenge and beg you to consider the need for immigration reform as your most important priority as you fulfill your time representing the rest of us. This is not a political issue, but a humanitarian issue. It should not be used as a political bargaining chip. All of us are affected by the treatment of the least of these."
"People should not be in cages because everybody deserves to live a free life. They should not live in fear." -written by a child
"Mary and Joseph were immigrants when they had to leave their homeland to protect their infant from a political tyrant. Our neighbors to the south are in similar situations."
"I am a grandmother and a great grandmother, and I would like to be able to assure my grandchildren we are doing our best and being our best as a country. But this is not us being our best."
"Our country was founded on principles of freedom and humane treatment of everyone. As I have watched the footage of young children locked in cages, I wonder how many of you would be as complacent as you have been if those were your children."
"Jesus and Mohammed and most other world religions preach kindness and generosity to the stranger, and the USA has been the salvation of generations of immigrants. The current situation is a travesty of epic proportions."
"What would Jesus do? A popular catch phrase several years ago. It is still to be considered with the surge of refugees being held at our own border. Now they are not much better than the homeland they fled. Consider what would cause you to leave the only home you had ever known and undertake a journey of months. On foot. Leaving all you owned behind. Not knowing what dangers lay ahead. Then to be stopped-your innocent children taken from you-and put in a cell with strangers. Is this what He would do to these desperate people?"
"It's not right what you are doing taking kids away from their family. You wouldn't like somebody to do that to you. Treat people how you want to be treated." -written by a child
"We and our ancestors were all immigrants...Please show the love that Christ has showed for us even though we didn't deserve it."
"Remember the Bible says in Matthew 25:40 "Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me."
"Do our actions mesh with the history of our country and the greeting of the Statue of Liberty? For those given great power comes great responsibility. Please consider how you would want to be treated as a stranger in a strange land when considering legislation."
"I saw a picture of kids locked up in a cage like one we have in our backyard for our dogs. It made me very sad and scared. Please help. I can't do anything to help them, but you can." -written by a child
Thank you for taking the time to write letters and to express your thoughts and concerns. I feel honored and humbled to have the opportunity to share them and speak on your behalf when I am in Washington DC for the next couple of days. I am not sure how much sleep I will get, as I know I will continue to think about your words and the power of your witness. However, I can always nap on the plane.
Grateful to serve alongside all of you,
Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister