I was standing close to the road, watching traffic as it whizzed by. I was young and surrounded by a crowd, people from my church whom I respected and admired and others I didn’t know. My youthful fingers gripped the large cardstock in my hands: Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.
I appreciatively smiled when passersby honked in support. I felt my heart jump and beat faster when people rolled down their windows to shout at me. In fact, I felt a little afraid. But of course, this was the price of following God. People would hate you. People would oppose you.
My parents involved me in these social actions from a young age, and I became passionate about standing up for the vulnerable. At nineteen I moved to downtown Atlanta and lived among the poor, and my definition of vulnerable began to expand. When I took a job in Los Angeles after grad school, my worldview broke even wider.
In 2010, I marched in my first immigrant rights parade. I jostled through the streets of Los Angeles with a few friends and many strangers. Chants of si se puede ebbed and flowed as we walked along to the sound of the drum. My fingers curled around a small rod, holding up the blue-and-white flag of Guatemala, the home country of my husband, Billy.
Billy did not walk with me because of his immigration status at the time. He was in the process of adjusting his paperwork and was fearful standing up for the rights of immigrants might cause him to be seen as a threat.
That was okay. I had been raised to stand in the gap for those who could not yet speak. I had been taught to stand up for what I believe is right and to come alongside the vulnerable. So I marched without Billy. My mother-in-law, who had repeatedly been denied a legal tourist visa to attend our wedding, thanked me.
But no thanks were needed. This is how I was raised to live as a Christian: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
More than a decade of living in poor and minority communities has delivered injustice to my doorstep, and I have witnessed how it affects real families at every turn. In particular, many immigrants and refugees have walked through crushing experiences.
As I’ve listened to stories of immigrants fleeing their home countries, and the difficulties encountered once here, it feels impossible not to speak up. Yes, I was raised to respect the role of government and the authority of those in leadership. However, my upbringing also acknowledged that often leaders turn away from God. The Bible offers many examples of kings losing their way and the people of God resisting. Daniel continued to pray after it was deemed illegal. Moses confronted Pharaoh and demanded freedom for the slaves. Deborah orchestrated a rebellion against Israel’s oppressors and ushered in forty years of peace.
My parents instilled a faith in me to turn to the Bible for guidance and instruction. And there I see Jesus spending his time with lepers, with tax collectors, with people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. And it is mostly the church leaders themselves who come against him.
A couple of weeks ago my family drove to the airport to hold signs in support of immigrants and refugees. En route my six-year-old daughter asked questions about what we would be doing and why. I reminded her of her children’s book about Queen Esther. We talked about how sometimes leaders (and their advisors) make decisions that hurt other people. We discussed how, as the people of God, we are called to stand up and say something when we see that happening.
The protest was a first for her and my three-year-old son. But in the same ways I was raised to rely on Scripture and stand up for what I believe is right, I want them to look to Jesus as an example for how to live in this world. My daughter sat on my husband’s shoulders, gripping the cardstock in her young hands: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” —Jesus.