A few years ago, as I sat in my office on a sunny afternoon, my day was interrupted by a knock on the door. I went to the door and greeted a tired-looking man. He began to share his story with me, how he was a migrant worker travelling through my town, trying his best to provide for his family, and his family had no place to sleep that night. The man told me that he had his entire family with him – his wife and four kids were in the van behind the church. I looked suspiciously out of my office window to find his family as he described.
My heart sank. I was broken for a brother in need and the unfriendliness he experienced. In that moment, I saw a brother and his family in need regardless of his status, documents or race. This man was my neighbor who was stuck in the midst of a broken immigration system. The issue of immigration reform came knocking on my office door.
Fast forward to Chicago
On a cold Thursday morning in late March, I traveled to Chicago to gather with clergy of the Northern Illinois Conference. We gathered to protest the 1,200 deportations that happen every single day. Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters are being torn from their families. Children are being ripped from their parents arms. The time is now for immigration reform and the cessation of deportations.
We left the First United Methodist Church at Chicago Temple and marched down Clark Street with our stoles on and the Spirit in our hearts. We became a very public witness for the love of Christ as we approached the gathering at the Federal Plaza downtown. Our group became assimilated with a group of people who had family members deported. I learned quickly that two young women standing nearby were in a detention center weeks before and won their case that allowed them to stay in the United States.
Northern Illinois United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck led the assembled crowd in prayer. We prayed for those families who are hurting and for a change in the hearts of the leaders of our nation. The protest march continued as we walked to the Department of Homeland Security Building, which is also the home office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We prayed again as we marched and gathered in front of the building. Then I witnessed a number of community leaders, clergy, and Bishop Dyck participate in an act of civil disobedience. They gave up their comfort, were arrested and stood in solidarity with the “least of these.”
It was a blessing for me to stand in solidarity with the families and people who are hurting due to a broken immigration system. The gathered United Methodist clergy and lay people became a witness of Jesus Christ in the streets of Chicago, as we saw the face of Jesus Christ in the faces that we stood beside. I stood near Hispanic, African and Caucasian faces, all faces of Jesus Christ, all children of God.
Why did I protest deportations and called for immigration reform? The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls me to stand for the “least of these” and love God and love others.
Scripture reminds me to show hospitality to strangers who may in fact be angels. I never intended to get involved in this issue, as it has never affected my family directly, but when a brother in need knocks on your door, you have to open the door. When you do, your heart and world are changed.
Back in Winamac
The next morning the same man who came the day before seeking a friendly face stood in my office doorway as I arrived at the church office. This time he had a huge smile on his face, continued to hug me and said “Wherever I go, I will remember that there are kind Methodists in Indiana.” He was again extremely thankful for our love and kindness to his family. I pray The United Methodist Church and the universal church of Jesus Christ will be known as those “kind and loving people” willing to be interrupted, arrested and stand in solidarity with the “least of these.”
Matthew Landry serves as leader of the Indiana Conference Social Advocacy Team and pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Winamac, Ind.