BY BISHOP PEGGY JOHNSON
In Jerusalem is the famous “Via Dolorosa,” the road where it is believed that Jesus walked on the way to Calvary. It literally means the “way of suffering.” Nothing can compare to our Savior’s suffering and sacrifice for us on Good Friday.
His willingness to give his life for the sins of the world is the bedrock of our faith. He came in person to give his life for the redemption of humanity out of love.
When I visited the Holy Land years ago it was important for me to walk those streets and experience first-hand that road of suffering. It reminds me of my responsibility to love and suffer like Christ.
The way of suffering is not an unfamiliar road for most of humanity on this planet. Globally there is untold pain because of wars, disease and natural disaster, and with it comes migration. A fraction of the world experiences the benefits of this nation’s freedom and wealth, and often we don’t see people on this difficult road face-to-face.
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet a young Honduran woman who was walking the way of suffering. She came to this country out of love for her son. She knew that if the family did not leave the country he would be recruited into a murderous gang or be killed if he refused to join.
What mother would not sacrifice everything for her child’s safety? As I sat with this young woman and a translator, she told her story of her family’s travels to this country, the great physical suffering, her kidnapping, and her final arrival in Pennsylvania. She came out of love for her child.
She joined one of our churches and found a way to make a living, just barely enough to survive. Then her husband was deported, and it is likely he will never be able to come back to the United States.
They depended on the advice of an immigration lawyer who took their money but gave them no help. In fact, he gave them bad advice. As a result, the husband was picked up by immigration agents, detained for months and then sent back to Honduras.
This is another part of the “way of suffering”—those who exploit desperate, fearful immigrants without status, promise legal help but then leave their unwitting clients in worse shape. Using lies and false promises to entice their victims, they reap large sums of money from their human pain and benefit from their plight.
To see this young mother’s tears and hear of the difficult ordeal she faces, with two young children who miss their father, causes deep sorrow in me. I am well aware of our country’s immigration laws; but we must all acknowledge that this system is inadequate and less than humane. And with the draconian policy threats and decisions being made these past few weeks, it will get worse.
Our United Methodist Social Principles state: “We recognize, embrace and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin as members of the family of God. We affirm the rights of all person to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”
The Word of God says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
It is hard to turn our backs on these mandates and allow continued suffering to occur. This young woman told me that she did not come to take things from America but to work hard, contribute her part and offer a better, safer life to her children.
Surely, we must find a better way. I am happy to report that her church and other churches are assisting her with humanitarian aid. More support would be appreciated for her and for our churches that have large numbers of immigrant sojourners traveling this road of suffering.
What else can we do to help? Our conference, along with two other neighbor conferences, are initiating a program known as Justice for Our Neighbors. JFON is an immigration legal assistance and hospitality ministry of The United Methodist Church, with 18 chapters across the country. For the past 20 years it has been a free/affordable legal service that is ethical, affordable and safe for immigrants to use.
To help us start up this vitally important service donations can be sent to “Delaware Valley JFON” and mailed to Historic St. George’s UMC, 235 N. 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. For more information, contact: Rev. Mark Salvacion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can also advocate for more humane laws in our country with regards to the number and treatment of those seeking asylum and for the “Dreamers” (young people who are undocumented and who were brought to the U.S. as young children).
We can contact our elected officials and ask that the number of refugees allowed to resettle in this country not be limited to just 18,000 people. The average number of refugees allowed to come into this country over the last four decades had been 95,000. People are fleeing violence and religious persecution and need a place of refuge.
The road of suffering is real, and it is in our neighborhoods, and they are members of our churches. When you see their faces and hear their stories it becomes a call for us to do something, say something, and to offer our prayers.