“BUT WHAT CAN I DO?” – 7 IDEAS FOR SERVING ASYLUM SEEKERS
By Ashley Jennings
August 29, 2019
Since April, my world has been turned upside down by the border crisis in our country. I realize that even though I live very close to the border, it is easy to dismiss issues that seem bigger than me, irrelevant to my life and ministry, and that stoke political arguments between my friends. I don’t like confrontation, and I try to share bible verses and pictures of my baby on my social media feed. In the midst of my ignorance, I was invited by my mentor and spiritual hero, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, to spend a week in El Paso, TX with six other clergywomen. It felt random, but if Jo Anne asks you to do something, you do it. We interviewed border patrol, pastors who are hosting shelters, lawyers, migrants and historians with the intent to learn all that we could about immigration in the United States. The Holy Spirit was after me and since has opened my eyes to a startling truth. Scripture is crystal clear. As Christians, we are to welcome strangers, treat them with love, provide for them and give them a voice. It’s not just a compartmentalized aspect of our faith in Jesus. Welcoming the stranger and showing hospitality to the foreigner are commands woven all through the bible. Author Rosaria Butterfield goes as far to say, “It is deadly to ignore biblical teaching about serving the stranger – deadly to the people who desperately need help, and deadly to anyone who claims Christ as King.” How could I miss such a vital part of God’s heart and our faith all these years? (That’s a whole other blog post). My guess is that many of you can resonate with my ignorance.
Since then, I’ve tried to diligently share what I know about this issue with others. I am not an expert on immigration. I still learn new things every day about why things are the way they are in our country. My thoughts sometimes feel scrambled, and I’m well aware that there are people more qualified to speak to the issue. Does anyone else often feel like they are looking for the adult in the room to speak up and lead? Surely there is an “expert” of some kind who is ready to take the stage. I’m realizing I can’t wait for the expert to take the stage. So, here is my small attempt to educate on what we can DO to love asylum seekers the way God has asked us to.
As I’ve shared migrant stories, I’ve seen more and more people admit that God has changed their hearts about immigration when they realize the humanity of it all. This excites me! The Holy Spirit is still in the business of transforming our hearts and revealing the truth. When someone has their hearts changed, the first question they ask is, “So, what can I actually DO about this issue?” Here is a potential pathway for getting involved.
1. LISTEN AND LEARN
Start by learning all you can about the crisis at the border. There is endless information you can seek out, but some questions you can seek to answer at the start are:
- What is the pathway to citizenship in our country?
- What is asylum and how do people “seek” it?
- Why are people coming here in droves from Central America?
- What is the current administration trying to do in the way of immigration?
- What have other administrations done?
- What are the policies in place now?
IDEAS FOR ACTION: I’m ALWAYS willing to set up a zoom call with you to share my findings. I highly recommend the National Immigration Forum as a resource for education. The BEST way to learn is to see it for yourself. You can also participate in a border immersion trip like I did with an organization called Ciudad Nueva. If you’re serious about this, email me and let’s plan a trip together! ashley@
2. LAMENT AND PRAY
Please don’t overlook this option for getting involved. It can seem hands-off, but in reality, it’s the most hands-on you can get. Sometimes we focus on solely producing results, but we don’t empathize well. Our country has lost the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to “take pity” like the Good Samaritan did on the man who was beaten. Lamenting has a great purpose. When our hearts are broken for what breaks God’s heart, we find ourselves surrendered to His agenda. Lament and prayer is the way to rid us of pride, ignorance, political bias, and fear around this issue. Action plans birthed from lamenting are more likely to be effective and have a lasting kingdom impact. Dr. Lyon reminded me that William Wilberforce focused greatly on starting little prayer groups all over the nation as he tackled the issue of slavery in our country. It was those prayers that brought spiritual breakthrough into the politics of that time. We need a spiritual breakthrough again!
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Start a prayer gathering focused on immigration and the border. Incorporate fasting as a way to empty yourself of pride and truly mourn over the injustice in our country. Pray for our political leaders, our border patrol agents, migrants, and the churches that are tirelessly providing for these vulnerable people.
3. STUDY THE BIBLE
Welcoming the stranger is not a conversation isolated to this time and space. It’s a core value of our Creator! Jesus was a refugee after all! Take some time to study about God’s heart for the marginalized and vulnerable. What does He say about foreigners? The poor? The stranger? Once you see it in Scripture, you can’t unsee it! God loves immigrants, and we must love them too!
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Download the free bible study from the Evangelical Immigration Table. As you read through the verses each day, take a moment to reflect on what the Holy Spirit is asking you to do in light of your findings. How might you reflect this core value of loving strangers in your own life?
4. VOLUNTEER AT A SHELTER
I’ve been spending time at a local migrant shelter as often as I can. After an asylum seeker spends time in a detention center, they are released into the country with a court date and a plastic bag of belongings. They don’t speak the language, and they are vulnerable to many evils. Churches are stepping up to serve as transition points between detention and where they are headed for court. At these shelters, migrants are given clean clothing, showers, hot meals, help with transportation, love, and prayer. If you have a shelter near you, contact them! Be persistent as many are drowning in a long to-do list! The time I’ve spent with migrants has forever changed my life. I’ve met beautiful people; many who love Jesus! I do not speak Spanish, but am able to limp along with google translate and friends that help! Also, be ready to just step up wherever they need help. There isn’t a rubric for running a shelter for asylum seekers, and so everyone is different. Just be ready to jump to whatever task is given you! (One time I grouted a tile floor!)
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Find out if there is a migrant shelter near you! I haven’t discovered a network for shelters, but if you find one let me know! A good google search might steer you in the right direction. You can always come to visit one in Phoenix with me on a Tuesday!
5. DONATE MONEY OR ITEMS
Shelter needs range from food, cleaning products, hygiene items, clothing, crafts for kids, shelving and more! Don’t just assume you know what they need. Be sure to contact them and ask. Also, give money! The reality is that most of these shelters are local churches running solely on their own tithes and offerings. Power and water bills are through the roof, and the financial needs are great!
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Want to donate items to the shelter I work with but don’t live near me? Schedule a grocery pickup that I can grab for you and take with me! It’s easy to coordinate!
Also, you can donate money to my specific shelter by sending a check to:
The Wesleyan Church, 13300 Olio Road, Fishers, IN 46037, Note: Migrant Ministries
Once you sit with a migrant family and hear their story, it won’t take you long to realize that the church HAS to DO something about this. There are some fantastic organizations at the frontlines. They share often about ways you can advocate to congress for both border security, and a fair pathway to citizenship.
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Go to the National Immigration Forum or Evangelical Immigration Table and learn what they are advocating for. Support these organizations where needed, as they are the front runners in a lot of ways for seeing change happen in our government! You can take it one step further by calling your local senator to communicate these ideas and goals. I also suggest checking out if there is an Immigrant Connection near you that you can partner with or direct people to for legal services.
7. SHARE STORIES
It’s simple but so important. When you hear someone’s story, they become more than a policy or a label. They are human beings who deserve being treated as such; children of God. Sharing stories disarms political polarization, and leads to more people rallied for the vulnerable.
IDEAS FOR ACTION: Follow @tsosrefugees on Instagram for a steady stream of stories to share. You can always share one of the stories I’ve shared on my platforms as well. If immigration comes up in conversation (and it often does), be quick to disarm polarized political opinions by simply sharing how you’ve been challenged by what you’ve seen and heard.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I’d love to add to it! What other ways can we get involved? What has worked for you?
Pastor Ashley Jennings is a church planting pastor, mother, wife, & photographer from Red Rock, Arizona