(Im)migrating toward Love 1 (Taylor Hammett)

Screen Shot 2016-10-18 at 7.20.40 AMTaylor Hammett lives with his wife Tori and their 2 daughters in Atlanta, GA and is the Lead Minister at Corners Church.  Although an avid baseball fan he finds himself watching way more princess movies these days than baseball, but according to him that seems just about right!  You can find more of his writings at www.taylorhammett.com

“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 19:34

I love those pictures – you know the kind I’m taking about, right? The ones where two people look at the same picture and only one of them sees what’s hidden while the other is left scratching their head in confusion. Confession time: I’m usually the one left puzzled not seeing what others see in those things.

They’re called Magic Eye Pictures and what makes them so intriguing is the image behind the image.

I suppose the reason I love these optical illusions is because they are, in their own way, an apt metaphor for how two folks can carefully search Scripture in general, or especially a particular text, with only one seeing what the other is unable to see.

Remember how I said I’m the one who is usually left confused by what others seem to see so clearly? Well, here’s my story about how I came to see what I hadn’t seen before. But first you need to know this: I can’t talk about me without talking about the church I work with, and I can’t talk about my church without talking about Kimberli.

I’m from the Southeast – rural Alabama to be more exact. It is a region that is as deeply religious as it is patriotic. “God and country” are more than a bumper sticker – it’s an interpretive matrix many use to read both the newspaper and the Bible.

As a part of my raising in the rural south, I attended a K-12 school that, to my memory, only had one student who was not white. She was adopted, however, and raised in a white middle class home just like mine. In fact, the only thing diverse about our community was which college football team a family cheered for each fall (and in Alabama there are really only two teams from which to choose!).

The church I attended wasn’t any different. We were as lily-white as the baptism gowns worn by those who wished to commit their lives to the white Jesus stuck posing on the flannel-graph boards throughout our church each week. We weren’t intentionally segregated. I knew of churches that were, but our church happened to be situated in a community much like the one my school was in and reflected well the demographics around it.

While my interactions with those not like me increased exponentially throughout the years following my graduation from high school, it really wasn’t until I began working at a smaller church in Atlanta, GA that I began to see something I hadn’t been able to see before.

Enter Kimberli.

Our small church is somewhat unique, but not necessarily special.

We aren’t doing anything that I believe others haven’t or wouldn’t do if the ingredients were right, but we are a church that is multicultural and that includes upwards of a 1/3rd of our church being comprised of immigrant families from Latin America.

Many of our Spanish speaking families live in fear because they are undocumented and are therefore subjected to the laws in our land and those who wish to enforce them. In January, Kimberli’s fears were realized when she was picked up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on her way to her high school one morning. Later that day she was placed in a detention center in south Georgia – some 3 hours away from the rest of her family.

Now, back to seeing what I had not seen before.

You might be thinking that what I saw was the multitude of verses throughout Scripture that call for the care of the foreigner, the overlooked, and the underserved – but that wasn’t it.

In the years leading up to this, I had spent quite a bit of time working with and thinking about how to help alleviate the pain of those whom God mentions in places like Exodus 22 or Leviticus 19 (to only name two of the many passages of Scripture that encourage us to love the foreigner among us), and those Jesus declared he had arrived to serve while standing in a Galilean synagogue in Luke 4.

As as result, I had taken several mission trips to countries in Latin America and other places around the world – traveling 3 continents to do so. I had spent afternoons and entire weeks working in our country’s inner cities and other impoverished places around our country. But what I have seen while working with our church here in Atlanta, GA for the past 2 1/2 years that I could not see while visiting many of these other places for 2 weeks at a time is this:

The ongoing commitment to see each other as family.

When Kimberli was detained, our church of 2/3 white and black english speaking Christians, alongside a 1/3 Spanish speaking Christians, did for her what it had been doing for so many others before her – we loved her as one of our own. We joined hands often to pray for her, we visited her while in detention, we wrote to her, we pitched in our own money to pay for her legal fees, we wrote congressional leaders, and on her day in court we literally packed out the room to stand in solidarity with her.

And this church located in the Southeast, with English speaking members who lean mostly to the right of the political spectrum, did what it did not because we are progressive on the issue of immigration, but because we didn’t see Kimberli as an undocumented immigrant in our midst.

Instead, we saw her as one of our own.

And here’s the thing that changed for me, the thing I saw that I had not seen before now:

For the first time I saw a church willing to embody and not just read the Scriptures urging for God’s people to love the foreigner, the refugee, the overlooked and underserved in our collective care for Kimberli.

And when someone who doesn’t look like me becomes one of my own, I see her in ways I’ve never seen before and I end up doing things I might not otherwise do.

I’m not pretending we’re doing it perfectly, or even right half the time, but what I am sure of is that we are, in such moments as these, peering into a picture of what the Kingdom of God must be like.

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