In Telling a Better Story

By Doug Stephens

It was a class I had taught dozens of times.  We would go over many Government issues and then I would ask the class what their views on it were, what the typical Democrat/Republican views were, and then I would give my personal views.  Today, the topic was  immigration: I listened as my public high school students challenged each other with their thoughts.  Then I gave my view.

I am a conservative…but I teach in a place that has a fairly high number of immigrants in the country illegally.  As the head soccer coach, I coached many of them (although I never asked about their status).  As a pastor in the community, I just wanted to minister to them.  After I cited these talking points, one of the smartest girls that I have ever taught raised her hand.  She said, “Coach Stephens, why do you think that we do not deserve a chance at freedom?”

She then told her story.  Her father was in a country effectively ruled by gangs with no real opportunity for work, for justice, for a life.  “Many of the fathers in our country ended up selling their daughters into prostitution so their families could make it.  My Dad wouldn’t do that, so he risked everything he had to bring us to America.”

While I was moved by the story, my talking point was easy, “Well, why didn’t your Dad just apply to come to the country?”  While I knew a lot about the issue, though, I knew nothing at the time about current U.S. laws governing who can be granted immigrant visas, which make it impossible for most people in her father’s situation to migrate lawfully.

She replied, “My country will not offer visas to come to the US as they think that would make us look weak.  My Dad did the only thing he could do, he brought us to freedom!  Coach Stephens, what would you have done”?

That’s what did it.  That’s the challenge that changed me.  That’s what put me over the hump of my talking points to see the humanness of my students and their families.  While I appreciated every one of them, I always had this nagging thought that somehow they shouldn’t be here.  But what would I have done?  I am the father of seven, three of them girls.  I know what I would have done.  I would have done exactly what her heroic Dad did.  I would have taken my kids to freedom, period.  I would have risked life and limb.

Now, these families meant so much more to me.  I now saw them in a different light, a light that the Heavenly Father had intended them to be in all along…the light of people that needed Jesus and needed to be loved.  Nothing else mattered.  Leviticus 19:33 says, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you” (RSV).

We had been sending missionaries to these countries to tell them about Jesus, and now God was sending them right here for us to share the Gospel.  Yes, there are many facets to this issue.  I am not for open borders. Those that are here and are doing harm should not be here.  But, we have a systemic problem when those who are seeking freedom, safety and a better life for their families—who want desperately to eventually become U.S. citizens, just like generations of immigrants to our country throughout history—have no legal possibility to do so.  While I don’t have all the answers, that day my student taught me to love better by understanding a complex situation with a little more empathy.  In the end, I think that’s what we need to better share the love of God and make an impact in our community.

Doug Stephens is the Senior Pastor at Fellowship @ Midway Church, a non-denomination church in Midway, Florida and teaches and coaches at Gadsden County High School.  Doug is married to his beautiful wife Anna and is the proud Dad to Gabriel, Alexa, Alaina, Mikayla, Jason, Angelo, and Nathan.

Photo credit: Brian Miller

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