Rev. Dr. Youngsook Charlene Kang, Rocky Mountain Conference
We see too much . . . sickness, suffering, death.
We hear too much . . . gunfire, crying, moans.
We feel too much . . . anguish, anxiety, fatigue.
We know too much . . . sorrow, loneliness, uncertainty.
In a world that turns with troubles upon troubles,
Speak now, O God.
In a world that hungers and thirsts for righteous indignation and courageous action,
Speak now, O God.
This poem sounds as if prophet Haggai laments, “Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3b)
Anti-immigrant stories are rampant in the news today. People among us are crying due to the uncertainty in their lives. People among us are moaning because they are forced to be separated from their children. Araceli Velasquez is one of these people.
“I will be killed if I go back to El Salvador. I know it for sure,” Araceli Velasquez said to me. Both of us had tears in our eyes as we felt her pain. “My former husband, who was abusive, told me clearly that he will kill me when I go back.” She went on to say, “My family is here—my husband and three children.”
Araceli fled El Salvador in fear for her life and sought asylum in the United States, but was denied; she is now facing deportation.
Araceli declared sanctuary the day before she was supposed to check in with immigration officers in August. The Denver Post reported, “Immigration authorities told her that her stay would not be renewed. Velasquez and her family sought refuge inside Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah synagogue on August 8. She plans to stay there indefinitely to avoid being separated from her husband and her three young children.
Araceli is grateful that she was given sanctuary. But, at the same time, it is hard to be in sanctuary, she says. “I feel like I am in jail. I can’t go anywhere.” Her three children are citizens, and her husband has a temporary work permit. Her oldest son asks her, “Mom, let’s go together to see Dad.” “It is hard to explain why I can’t go with him.” It is hard because she really cannot explain why. It is hard because she cannot share her children’s lives as a mother as they grow up.
What is she seeking? She is seeking the United States government to stop her deportation and review her case again so that she can stay with her husband and children.
In the midst of her despair, she wants to remain hopeful. “My hope comes from the community support,” Araceli says. What keeps her alive is her faith. She is a Roman Catholic. While she is in sanctuary at Park Hill United Methodist Church, she attends worship at Park Hill on Sundays and she feels strengthened in her faith. “The community is my hope.” She is deeply grateful for the support from the community.
Araceli is one of the many immigrants who are suffering from living life on the margin. Many immigrants living in the United States today are the least, the last and the lost. They feel that they live on the border of society. They find themselves living on the margins, belonging nowhere, often with their livelihood threatened.
While not suffering from the threat of deportation, I walk in the wilderness together with people like Araceli Velasquez. I was called out of my homeland to come to this country as a pilgrim and have lived in the United States for more than thirty years. However, I still feel that I am a stranger in a strange land.
I define myself as a person living on the margin. The experience of marginality is something common to ethnic minorities in this country, including Asian Americans, who live between two cultures.
Asian Americans are often considered “foreigners” even though they were born and raised in the United States. Here is the story of my daughter, who came to the United States when she was one year old. When she was a junior in high school, she wrote an essay about her identity for a school assignment. Her essay starts as follows: “As I was walking home deeply concentrating in my thoughts, the words, ‘Where are you from?’ quickly brought me back to reality. It was an autistic boy, my neighbor. I smiled and replied, ‘from Colorado.’ But evidently not satisfied with this answer, he again asked me where I was from. This time, knowing what he wanted to hear, I answered, ‘Korea.’ It startled me that even a little boy noticed that I was different from everyone else. I realized at that moment that it would be a question I would be dealing and struggling with for the rest of my life.”
The reality with which Asian Americans struggle for “the rest of our lives” points to our attitude toward strangers. When you are considered a stranger, you are pushed from the center to the margin. So, marginality is inherent in being a stranger. Using the term of Jung Young Lee, I as an ethnic minority woman live “in-between.” I am a stranger living in two worlds. Although I am a citizen, I am often seen as a foreigner or alien.
This in-between marginal experience is shared among many ethnic minority groups. Ada María Isasi-Díaz, a Hispanic American, feminist theologian, has written, “I am caught between two worlds, neither of which is fully mine, both of which are partially mine. I do not belong in the Cuba of today; I do not belong in the States.”
Isasi-Díaz moans that she will always remain a marginalized stranger, even when she returns to the city of her birth. “The marginality is within,” she says. Living in-between two worlds and two cultures, I often feel I belong in neither. When I visit South Korea, where I was born and grew up, I see people noticing I am different. I internalize marginality as if I were born with it.
For undocumented immigrants, this internalization takes a painful form, as they face their uncertain future. My heart pains at their reality.
I have tears in my heart
When I see
Lives lost, dreams shattered, and acts against them far from God’s grace
Young people cross borders under the night sky
Fleeing gangs and violence
Children of El Salvador, children of Guatemala, and children of Honduras
Grow up never knowing peace;
Mothers weep for their lost children.
Seeing this painful reality, the ecumenical and interreligious communities, locally and globally, come together to voice concerns and take actions.
I have always felt akin to interfaith work in general and on immigration in particular. I believe it has to do with my upbringing and identity here in the United States. South Korea, where I was born and raised, was inherently a multi-faith world. In Korea, back then, Christianity was essentially a novelty, and I witnessed Buddhists and Christians living as next door neighbors. Buddhism and Confucianism were deeply embedded in the Korean culture. However, people of all religions lived together in harmony.
I learned the love of God and love of neighbors from Christianity. I learned to respect others from Confucianism, which was embedded in the Korean culture. I learned the vastness of life from Buddhism.
My first knowledge of our Christian God was through my mom, who never refused to give “a bowl of rice” to the street people who knocked on our door. Through her simple acts of kindness, I grew up learning to share the love of Jesus Christ; my first image of Christ was that of a middle-aged Korean woman. Still holding my mom’s Bible in my hands, I share my faith in God’s transforming power for all God’s creation and my dream and vision for a just world.
My first deep relationship with non-Christians was with my neighbor Grandma Heja. She was poor, disabled, and forgotten by many. I learned how to develop friendship and care for others through Grandma Heja, who was a Buddhist. She loved me dearly and taught me to care for my neighbors. She came to my house almost daily. Her daughter, who is also disabled, became a close friend of mine. This relationship instilled in me a vision for women in ministry: friendship (or relationship) and solidarity. These have been helpful in fulfilling my call to be a clergywoman in the ecumenical and interfaith context.
This vision of friendship and solidarity was articulated by Lynn N. Rhodes: “Friendship means the mutuality, nurture, trust, and accountability that we value. In friendship we find comfort and sustenance in times of pain and sorrow.”
Solidarity means being with those who are oppressed and with the disadvantaged. Solidarity is accompaniment. Rhodes says, “Solidarity comes out of our common experience of pain and unequal distribution of power. Solidarity leads us into concrete action.”
Relationship and solidarity are indeed the two values that the ecumenical and interfaith community upholds. It has been my experience that interfaith work always starts with relationships. The vision of solidarity is undergirded by the notion that many faiths speak of the same human needs and hopes, and that we are all equal in the hunger for justice and peace. These two values keep me involved in ecumenical and interfaith ministries. Ecumenical and interfaith work has helped me, not only develop the ability to evaluate the reality with critical eyes and think and to act to eliminate injustice, but also to cultivate relationships and solidarity to do justice work.
I have been part of an interreligious organization called Religions for Peace-USA (RFP-USA) for the last decade as a representative of The United Methodist Church. RFP-USA is a good example of an interfaith organization that voices shared concern and commitment through statements, peaceful marches, and advocacy work. In March 2017, it issued a statement, “Out of Many, One.” It was a joint statement from U.S. religious leaders and communities on immigration in the wake of the current government’s anti-immigration policies. This statement asked that safety be provided to all vulnerable and marginalized migrants.
Indeed, meaningful interfaith dialogue and action on immigration should include interreligious solidarity against further marginalization of all migrants. It should also include solidarity toward advocacy for the comprehensive reform of the US immigration system and for “legislation that will uphold the civil and human rights of all migrants in the United States and will provide an opportunity to attain legal status for all undocumented migrants currently in the United States, as well as for those arriving in the future.”
I end in hope. We may often feel like the prophets who sounded the warning against the violence and injustice of their time. Indeed the prophets sounded critique and judgment. However, as Jim Wallis observed, “The prophets begin with critique and judgment, but they always end in hope. It is that hope, grounded in faith, that will lead to action for change and bring the things that make for peace.”
Hear prophet Haggai’s voice of hope: Take courage, for I am with you. My spirit abides among you. Do not fear. (Haggai 2:5b)
So, even in the midst of the current immigration crisis, I express hope for good pathways for undocumented migrants. For God is a God of hope and God’s mandate for humanity is to live in peace and hope. I strive to continue being a midwife bringing “hope” into the world, where the marginalized feel no more pain. I dream for a world where Araceli lives with her family without fear of deportation. I envision a world where we love sojourners in the land as ourselves and treat them as the natives among us.
 The Rev. Barbara J. Essex, “Women in Ministry for This Present Age—A Poem,” http://www.abc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/WTIM-worship-resources-poem.pdf , accessed October 20, 2017. Used by permission of the author.
 Araceli Velasquez has given personal permission to share her story.
 Danika Worthington, “Another woman seeks sanctuary in Denver to avoid deportation to El Salvador,” The Denver Post, (August 19, 2017), http://www.denverpost.com/2017/08/19/denver-woman-church-sanctuary/, accessed October 12, 2017.
 Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995).
 Ada María Isasi-Díaz, “A Hispanic Garden in a Foreign Land,” in Inheriting Our Mothers Garden: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective, Letty M. Russell, et al, eds. (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988). 92.
 Lynn N. Rhodes, Co-Creating: A Feminist Vision of Ministry (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1987), 123.
 Ibid., 124–26.
 The United Methodist Church, “3281. Welcoming the Migrant to the US,” in The Book of Resolutions (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), 290.
 Jim Wallis, “The Things That Make for Peace,” Sojourners Magazine (July-August, 2003).
 Paraphrased from Leviticus 19:33-34.