Earlier this year, I had the privilege of going on an immigration immersion experience with a group of women from around the U.S. This trip was sponsored by the Women of the ELCA and AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities).
I went into this adventure with my eyes and heart wide open, ready to see, hear, and feel what our friends on the other side of the border have been enduring over the past several years.
Now, I’m going to be 100 percent transparent. There was a time several years ago when the thought of “illegal aliens” entering our country needed to stop. I never felt hostile about it, but in my mind (and in the mind of many others I knew), it was important to keep out the “bad people” to protect the “good people” –otherwise known as my family.
Many times, I heard that I should “Christian Up” and welcome the stranger. I look back at that time in my life with much embarrassment, but also with thankfulness that I had the guts to let myself seek out the truth and open my heart. I opened up to understanding the plight of those who so desperately want nothing but to provide for their family, be with their family, and, most importantly, live without fear.
Stories of horror; stories of perseverance
The experiences I had while visiting the border wall were so mixed, not because of the physical wall itself, but because of the human touch that was around me all the time. These friends of mine (yes, they are friends of mine now) shared horrific stories of torture, starvation, rape, and loneliness. But they also shared stories of perseverance and complete faith and trust in God.
Their stories touched my heart in ways that I have never felt before. I tried to put my family in their shoes and imagine how I would feel. But, honestly, my mind had a difficult time going there.
Since returning from this immersion, I’ve been pretty vocal on social media regarding the situation I saw at the border. The feedback I’m getting has been much what I expect. I live in a rural part of North Dakota (population about 120). I drive 25 miles to purchase milk, and 50 to visit my doctor.
Happy and hopeful
When I get “build the wall” comments on my social media feed, I respond with respect. I open myself up to friendly conversation. Sometimes, I sense understanding and a “lightbulb” moment from my Facebook friends.
This progress makes my heart happy and hopeful.
Someone asked me recently where I thought Christ is leading me when my term as president of Women of the ELCA’s executive board ends: That’s an easy answer.
I’m looking forward to volunteering and working more with AMMPARO in any way possible. I intend to immerse myself into learning and educating others about the plight of the immigrants—to try and help others understand that we don’t need to fear our siblings on the other side of the border.
It’s time to open our hearts, minds, and doors to “Welcome the stranger.”
Lisa Plorin of Upham, N.D., is president of the churchwide executive board, elected in 2017. She recently celebrated her 55th birthday. She believes everyone on earth is created in God’s image and that all are siblings in Christ. Read the news story about the immersion experience here.