“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
“Comí atún y nada más. Después de eso, no comí nada. Solo camine.” I remember these words from a young man who I’ll call Hernan. He was the first friend I ever made who did not speak English, forcing me out of my comfort zone, to squirm my way through Conversations in Spanish, with the seemingly endless repetition of, “Despacio,” “slowly,” or even, “no intiendo,” “I don’t understand.” I remember those words as he described the long journey along the so-called “Devil’s Highway” — the perilous path through several countries up to the USA border.
Hernan had said to me, “I ate tuna, nothing more. After this, I ate nothing. I just walked.“ For some reason, hearing him talk about the little cans of processed fish, which my family and I used to eat while hiking in the Colorado mountains as a child, brought it home to me. Hearing him talk about the long-dead fish in saltwater that gave him energy helped me to see past the language, past the cultural differences, to a human. With my brain and ears I heard the first part of the conversation, but with my heart I heard the last part.
Like many other people, Hernan was fleeing violence in Honduras. Gangs had killed some of his friends and family in the inner-city, and they promised to end his life too. He was hungry but also scared. I was reminded, as I would be many times after that, that people who face the peril of the Devil’s Highway do so because hunger is a greater motivator than fear is a preventer. As dangerous as the road before them is, it is less dangerous than the places they call “home” from which they flee.
Unlike the stupidity of many of our conversations about immigration, in which we speak with the sweeping generalizations of the news media, I was able to see a single person and his story in front of me. Instead of thinking about immigration in terms of what I would do with a magic wand over USA policy, I thought of what I would do in my relationship with this one man.
During that conversation, we talked a little bit, walking down the road, until the woman he lived with pulled up beside us in an SUV. She made him get in, and they drove away. I did not see Hernan again. He had told me that he was in an abusive relationship, and the home life was difficult, to the point where he would often be physically hit or have to sleep outside. There was nothing I could do. Having crossed the United States border illegally, he was afraid to ask for help from the authorities. Being a man, he was not eligible for the one crisis center nearby. With the language barrier, he did not think the lady he lived with would be eligible for mental health counseling. I sat in silence, pondering these truths, and I prayed for Hernan.
Reflect: What is one story about an immigrant that you know? Can this story move the immigration discussion, even if it’s just the one in your mind, from (a) being about a group of people or an issue to (b) being about one neighbor? How can this affect the way you think about your immigrant neighbors in the future?
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, please help my eyes to look past the prejudice, the pre-judgment that I have of my neighbors, whoever they may be. Please help me to see you in them, and please see me through their eyes. Amen.