Monday, July 21, 2014

The Promise Land!

It was the summer of 2009. I had been in seminary for a year, had open heart surgery, and was now volunteering at a summer day camp held at one of the local Lutheran churches for Refuge children while waiting for the fall classes to begin.

The children at this day camp lived in the Columbia SC area and all were sponsored by one church or another. A lot of the children couldn't even speak English. Most of them lived in a very run down trailer park in a high crime area of the city. I rode in the van to pick the kids up and I was reminded of my Social Work days going into the Projects checking on abused and neglected kids. These children looked a lot like most of my clients. How could these families still be living like this if churches were helping them????

It was lunch time and I looked around and saw one little girl sitting all by herself. I took my tray over and asked if I could sit with her. She nodded her head and I sat down. We ate in silence. When she had finished eating, she picked up a crayon and began to draw. She was from Mexico and was 10 years old. As she drew she told me her story. I want to share it with you! (Her name was hard to say, so I have forgotten it, which I am very sorry for, but her face will never leave my heart!)

(I am going to tell the story as if she was telling it; thus the "I" and "we" pronouns)

****I lived in Mexico with my mom, dad and two little sisters. My dad would leave for long times looking for work. My mom would do other people's laundry or try and clean houses, but there was no work. We lived in a wooden house without a door and dirt floors. It had two rooms and we went to the bathroom outside in the back yard in the dirt. My sister and I would have to cover it all up. It was one of our jobs. My mom couldn't pay all the bills and they would shut off our electricity and water.

My sister and I would take our clothes to the market and sell them so we could help her pay the bills. Sometimes we had to get into garbage cans to have something to eat.

We are Catholics and at night my mom would tell us about the Promise Land. She would tell us that one day we would all live in the Promise Land and have jobs, and get to go to school, and have plenty of food and not have to sell our clothes. She told us that one day we would be happy and never be sad again. She told us this Promise Land was America.

One night, my sister and I were asleep and our mom woke us up and told us to be very quiet. Outside was most of my family; uncles, aunts and lots of cousins. We couldn't take anything with us; not even my stuffed rabbit that I slept with all the time. Our relatives kept whispering that it was time to go to the Promise Land.

We made it to the water and I knew we had to swim to get there. The water was very rough and cold. I was trying to hold on to my uncle so my mom could hold on to my little sisters. My uncle could not swim and he finally let go of me and went under the water and drowned. Another uncle caught me and helped me in the water. When we got to land 2 aunts and some cousins had drowned.

We ran through lots of trees and bushes and got cut up a lot. But finally we were able to stop and rest. I was so hungry and wanted to go to sleep but they told me I couldn't. We kept going and going until we stopped at this house. We went inside and our family began to cry and thank God that he had brought us to the Promise Land where we would have money and food and clothes and a nice house to live in.******

At this point she stopped talking and I was doing all I could not to sob. I asked her if her life was different now? (remember I picked her up in the van from the run down trailer in the high crime area). She looked into my eyes and for the first time smiled. She said, "Oh yes! We live in a very nice house, and have food and water and I don't have to sell my clothes. My mom cleans "rich" people's houses and they will send her home with clothes for us and sometimes food. And the nice people at the church come and get us for Sunday School and we learn about how good God is to bring us to the Promise Land and tells us to be thankful for all that is being done for us."

THE PROMISE LAND! The United States of America....THE PROMISE LAND!!!!

So when you hear of those who want to ship the kids who are running to our country BACK...remember why they are coming here. It is NOT to deal drugs, steal jobs, or any other sundry of evil reasons (although I am not naive enough to think there is not that going on too)....they believe in their hearts what they hear and see....THIS IS THE PROMISE LAND! The Land of Milk and Honey! The Land where every one has a job, a house, food, clothing, education, and enough and more of everything you will need. AND everyone is HAPPY!

Yes, I am sure on any given day, this little girl feels she is in the Promise Land. Living in the run down trailer where there is a bathroom, running water and electricity is that Promise Land to her. Living where her mom can go to work (she never mentioned her father), and she and her sisters can go to school is the Promise Land. And yet, there are many who desperately want all the refuges/immigrants "to go back from where they came from." Too many of these people are the same ones who go to the churches that sponsor these families.Too many are followers of their Jesus.

Whenever I hear the debates over immigration, whenever I hear about the need to build huge fences around our country to keep all these blood suckers out of our country; I think of this little girl, drawing and tell her story to a white woman who does have more than enough, lives in a very nice place and has never been without what I needed to survive.

I thanked her for telling me her story and told her I was sorry about the relatives who had drowned that night trying to get here. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said nothing. Who wants to be somewhere bad enough that they will get in an ocean of water not knowing how to swim; trusting that god will get them there? Desperate people do that. Hungry, homeless, scared, desperate people do that.

The Goddess I know weeps!

Interesting enough; the next day this little girl did not get on the van and did not come back to the day camp. No one went to ask why or to check on her. I was told; "This is what Those People do." The Social Worker in me cringed. And I would ask over and over again: What would Jesus do? Don't you think he would go and check on her (remember I was in seminary)? I never got a clear cut answer and I was not allowed to go and follow up myself.

I think of this 10 year old child from Mexico and wonder if the Promise Land is all it was portrayed to be. And I reflect on the number of times the President and others in charge remind us that this is The Greatest Country on Earth. Yes, the Promise Land. And then I think about that great statue in the New Harbor. This is what she says:

 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

(Poem on the Statue of Liberty)

Blessed be!