Migrants, Caravans, and Reimagining the Advent Story

This past week, many of us were outraged and heartbroken to hear stories about U.S. border officials firing tear gas and rubber bullets against migrants at the border fence.

Kim Kyung Hoon- Reuters

For the past few months, we have heard about the resilience and boldness of our Central American family, migrating north in search of refuge from desperate poverty, political instability, and widespread gang violence. I have personally heard stories, from an unaccompanied immigrant youth from Guatemala who came to Hayward recently, of the ways that he was extorted, beat up, and threatened on a regular basis. When asked about the reasons why they are coming, many have responded by saying “Hambre y muerte”- hunger and death.

Many Americans are also increasingly cognizant of the ways the United States has been complicit in creating many of these conditions, whether through Cold War policies that created civil wars and social breakdown in many Central American countries, support of political and economic figures who have eroded democratic institutions, or the deportation of criminals and gang leaders back to these countries. We have contributed to crisis in nations like Honduras, by supporting the coup of democratically-elected President Mel Zelaya from power in 2009 and legitimizing the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose economic agenda has displaced and harmed many indigenous and poor Hondurans.

While these migrants have been repeatedly vilified by our current President and his Administration, calling them a group of “criminals and middle Easterners,” they are part of a bigger saga that the U.S has actively been intertwined with. The reasons they are fleeing their homes and even their families are often consequences of U.S. policies.

Yet they have not be deterred.

United Methodist Building- Washington, D.C.

A recent group of evangelical leaders who traveled to Tijuana to support Mexican churches in ministering to these migrants spent time with member of the caravans. They found them not to be gang members, terrorists, or criminals, but to be ordinary people filled with extraordinary faith, resilience, and hope in God. Their determination was a supernatural one, coming from an unwavering belief that their suffering was not the end of the story.

According to the testimony of brother like Jose Velazquez, some of these migrants are also encountering Jesus in powerful, life-changing ways.

What a testament these men, women, and children are to the power of unwavering faith. What a gift they are to the American church. It is time for us to view them not as a burden but as a potential blessing, and to learn from their courageous public witness.

As we enter into the Advent season, let us not forget our migrant family who are part of this caravan. Let us consider how the realities of the Nativity story and the birth of Christ are not far off from the realities of this faith-filled community.

Jose y Maria- Everett Patterson

Take Mary, for instance, a young, poor, uneducated Jewish girl, living in the midst of Roman occupation, and exhibiting extraordinary faith to not only believe the promises of God but to proclaim a radically upside-down kingdom- a kingdom where the powerful are brought low and the poor are lifted up. Or consider Joseph, a working-class man who risked his reputation, his family name, and his future, to obey God and be part of something unknown and mysterious. Consider them fleeing their home in order to protect their newborn son. Imagine them being displaced, living in a liminal state as refugees, without a true place to call “home.” And as we reflect on their role in the Christmas story, let us remember the many mothers and fathers who are a part of this caravan, showing tremendous faith, love for their children, and sacrifice. Remember the babies and young children who are part of that caravan, and consider how the Lord Jesus was once part of a similar caravan.

Or imagine the political realities of that time- the extensive reach of the Roman Empire and its suffocating grasp over the poor and vulnerable. Consider economic policies, like a census decree, which was enacted by Caesar Augustus to tighten the Empire’s grips of political and economic control over its people through tax rolls and a census that benefited the powerful, especially the military. Consider the influence of leaders like Caesar Augustus, who used his power to form a dictatorship and declared himself divine. Or the character of Herod- a puppet king driven by fear and anxiety- so desperate to hold on to power that he enacted policies of mass violence and genocide. And as you consider these political and economic realities, reflect on how many of our Central American brothers and sisters live in similar conditions- of being squashed, exploited, erased, and even brutally murdered- by their political leaders. Remember the ways they too have been vulnerable to the whims of inept and anxious political leaders. And consider how the light and hope brought by the promise of a Savior came in the midst of these political and economic realities.

The announcement of a “Savior being born” is an announcement of radical resistance. Not only does this birth repudiate the claims of Caesar being the “savior of the world” but also brings forth a movement of hope- that the current crush of the Roman Empire might not have the last say.

The central role of poor, marginalized, and displaced peoples in salvation history is a reminder that God’s redemption most often comes to and through the poor and powerless. God’s promise is to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty (Luke 1:53)

So this Advent, as you prepare for the mystery of the coming Christ, let us continue to lift up our migrant family in prayer, and stand in solidarity with them. And as we do so, let us consider where Christ might be born today.

Will we find Christ in the middle of our megachurch stages, under professional lighting and amidst extravagant fanfare? Or will we find him in the midst of a makeshift camp at the border of Tijuana, huddled under a temporary shelter among dirt and crowds?

If you’d like more information on how you can support the migrant caravan, here are a few links you can click on for more info on ways to give, volunteer, or serve, here are a few resources:

For those who are local to the Bay Area, check out this event on December 8th.