First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— MARTIN NIEMÖLLER
“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” — Ephesians 6:10f
Whoever controls the media controls so much of the soul of the people, it seems. That is why we see so many media wars. Left and Right vie for control of the narrative of the Country, knowing that on some level, the soul of the people hangs in the balance. “Words create worlds,” I have been told a great many times over the years, knowing that what we say has great power behind it. Whether we give words of life or death, it can change the trajectory of people’s lives, and it is destined to give a trajectory to the lives of the children to whom we speak. Controlling words is precisely why the Nazis burned books during their rise to power — a violent effort to silence the voice of their opponents, a practice that still goes on today.
Only the privileged get the opportunity to pen their words on paper for the masses. All other manuscripts of people’s lives and opinions live in relationships. “They are written on the tablet of our hearts,” we read. But what happens when the transcripts of would-be relationships are edited, deleted, and ignored? What happens when the words that people would speak to us never reach our ears? In our current moment in history, this happens often with our immigrant communities. The chapters of their lives are distorted by wide-ranging glosses from the media that lump them together into categories. The arguments that their voices make are lost, because we never find ways of hearing them, and if we do, we do not seek ways to translate them into ways we can understand.
If we simply look at the lives of immigrant people, we may say, “what happens, happens. I am not directly silencing their voices.” Someone is. Something is. Powers that are not named or directly seen silence the voices of our immigrant brothers and sisters. The books they would write are never read. The words they would speak are drowned in the ocean of endless work. The education that would give them ways to form their language on paper is beyond the grasp of their endless days spent hoping for a better life in this country. To be fair, this is not the story of all immigrants. But it is the story of millions of them who live in the shadows, without a voice.
Martin Niemoller’s quote reminds us of the need to speak up for those who are not given voice to speak for themselves, or better yet, to give them a platform to speak for themselved. In his day, it was not easy, but it was simpler to do so. He was called to speak up against the Nazi regime in his own country. But against whom shall we speak? The “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” are everywhere, causing pain and dysfunction in our world. And yet, they are hard to point out. We can look at globalized corporations and the lobbying of the richest 1% and see ways that these make the rich richer and the poor poorer. But what are we to actually do? (To start with, you can research where you spend your money and not spend it on fastfood that hurts immigrant workers) Be reminded, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”
Before you can help others and before you can resist the evil in the world, you must put on God’s armour, remaining strong in God’s presence. This looks like continual prayer, reading the Bible and other literature, and also fellowshipiing with people who build you up. It’s important to see how the would-be words of our immigrant neighbors are silenced. As you do something about it, you need to strengthen yourself. It is not a process of one and then the other, it is a symbiotic circle of being filled up and pouring ourselves out, just like all work in the Christian life.
Consider: To keep up with the voices of immigrants around you, consider following Student Action with Farmworkers or NC Field on Twitter, both of which support North Carolinian immigrant farmworkers. Also, consider watching the local documentary Harvest of Dignity, which is about immigrant farmworker’s rights and sharing their voices.
Pray: Dear Lord, who spoke the first Word and who speaks in and through us. We pray that you would help us to hear the voices of those who are silenced, in a way that dignifies them. Also, help us to know what we can do to hear and support their voices. Amen.