In 2006, our church answered God’s call to begin a Hispanic ministry. We embraced this as an opportunity to take the Gospel to, “Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
God has blessed this effort, and in 2013, we called Rev. Amanda Aristondo to be the lead pastor of this congregation. She is married to Jose and they have 2 beautiful daughters.
In the last 4 years, we have seen spiritual seekers drawn closer to God, believers baptized, marriages saved, and significant spiritual growth as a result of Pastor Amanda’s ministry.
Our leaders affirmed my decision to appoint Amanda to this position, knowing that she was an undocumented immigrant. Consequently, she has pursued her calling mostly in a volunteer capacity, which has presented many challenges for her family. Their testimony has always been, however, that God will supply all of their needs. And he has.
I am thankful for a leadership team and congregation that was able to see what U.S. immigration officials could not: a gifted, genuine and beautiful family who enrich our community and church in so many ways. Since coming to the U.S. in 2001, the Aristondo’s have worked tirelessly to acquire work permits and legal residency.
Without going into detail, their story is a highlight reel of the glaring deficiencies of our immigration system. After being denied a path to legal residency, they were granted a “stay of removal”, which had to be renewed annually. It always had been until this past February.
Tomorrow, March 14th, Amanda and Jose have an appointment with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. The immigration attorney our church hired on their behalf believes this appointment is for their deportation, although the official summons was unclear. As a proactive measure, we filed another “stay of deportation,” but it was denied.
I shared this story with our congregation yesterday. We gathered around Jose, Amanda, and their daughters and prayed. We prayed desperately that God would change the direction of this appointment. We prayed earnestly that God would open a door of legal residency, that ultimately would lead to citizenship. The thought of these parents being separated from their daughters is unbearable. Equally unbearable, is the thought of one of our pastors being handcuffed, detained, and denied certain rights and privileges as they await the execution of their deportation orders, a process that could take weeks or months.
Amanda and I have not only worked together to build a great church, but our families have become friends. There are many others in our Bentonville congregation who would call the Aristondo’s their friend. Friendship isn’t dependent upon a document or one’s citizenship. Friendship is built on love. Jesus taught us that:
“Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
As I think about what this family is facing, I felt the Lord asking me this question, “What would you do for an amigo?” The Lord has given me some things that Pastor Amanda does not have and some opportunities that were not available to her. I’ve been given much, which helps me to realize the weight of something else Jesus said: “to whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) I’ve been given a voice and an influence that not everyone has.
If you’re an American citizen, you’ve been given a precious gift that not everyone has. What will we do with this gift? Will we speak for those with no voice? Will we stand in solidarity with those without the same rights and privileges that we have?
Tomorrow, March 14, I will accompany the Aristondo’s to their appointment at 9am along with their lawyer. We have some leaders from the church who will also be gathering in the parking lot to pray for this family as their future in this county hangs in the balance. We hope this gathering of friends demonstrates the support the Aristondo family has in Northwest Arkansas. I pray that it influences decision-makers to allow them to stay in our community. I truly believe we are better with them! If you would like to join this demonstration of support, click here for the address. People will start to gather around 8:30am.
What would you do for an amigo? Just as Jesus laid his life down for his amigos, I believe God is calling me to lay some things down. I’m laying down that which is easy. It’s easy to not care until it’s your friend that’s in need. It would be easy to dismiss so many of the issues we see on the news, but John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” That was his way of saying the brokenness in the world is MY brokenness.
I’m laying down comfort. Immigration is an issue that is not easy to talk about. It makes us uncomfortable, but privileged people like myself need to talk about it if anything is going to be done.
I’m laying down safety. I lead a congregation with a lot of wonderful, but different people. They may not feel the same way I do about this. It would be safe to not talk about this or to let things run their course. The only problem with that is that’s NOT “what Jesus would do.”
What WOULD Jesus do? As we approach the Easter season, the resolute actions of Jesus help us know what to do in these moments. He left heaven and came to earth for us. In death, he entrusted his life to the Father and his resurrection power. There is nothing about the story of Jesus that is easy, comfortable, or safe. Jesus did all that for us, because he calls us “amigos.” (John 15:15)
I’m convinced that a faithful response to this grace we have received is to wrestle daily with this question: What would you do for an amigo?