How do you respond to the "stranger" among you? Do you see Jesus in everyone you meet, no matter their origin or where they are heading? Read on as Joanna Williams challenges our thinking.
Where Jesus Stays
By Joanna Williams
"Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means "Teacher"), "where are you staying?" "Come," he replied, "and you will see." - John 1:38-39
There are so many questions the disciples could ask when they first meet Jesus. "Are you truly the Lamb of God?" "Can I follow you?" "Will you baptize us with the Holy Spirit, as John promised?" Yet the disciples ask "where are you staying?"
It is a question that I grow to understand as Jesus reveals to me where he abides. I picture the disciples following him to the local overnight shelter for migrant men, where bedbugs are rampant. I see him under the bridge, where the smugglers tell people to wait before attempting to cross the desert into the US, then leaving them for days with little food and water. More and more, Jesus reveals to me how he abides in my brothers and sisters in immigration detention centers, who wait for many months and often years for immigration judges to decide whether to grant them release or legal status or to order them deported back to their countries of birth.
Jesus shines in the face of Graciela*, who was in detention for a year-and-a-half after a desperate journey fleeing violence in Guatemala and enduring near-death moments in the desert. While detained and awaiting a decision on her asylum case, she never missed her morning times of personal reflection and also led her cellmates in daily prayers. She would schedule special services and prepare a chorus of praise songs for the women to sing in worship, which reverberated within the walls. When she was released two weeks before Christmas 2016, her urgent request was to go to church. Her fervor, thankfulness, and unshakable faith renewed my own as I stood next to her in the service and understood the tenacity of God's Advent promises.
Or Rosa*, who spent two years in immigration detention in spite of reaching out to authorities to raise a concern about the situation of trafficking in which she was trapped. As a mother of two young women, she saw the face of her daughters in the women detained with her for those years. Living beyond her own struggles, she dedicated herself to being strong for the sake of the other women. She offered words of hope and encouragement to those in desperation. And she remained in detention, fighting for justice and legal remedies, because "I had a truth to say, a truth that had to be known." Now, in her life post-release, she emanates peace and hospitality and inspires others to actions of love for those in need.
When Jesus in Matthew 25 explains how he is revealed in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the prisoner, he makes a powerful statement of where he abides. While he calls us to mercy, he also calls us to allow ourselves to be evangelized and transformed by those at the margins who can express his truth and hope with clarity. Just as my life and faith have been formed by Graciela and Rosa.
May God grant me the courage and grace to remain with Jesus wherever he is staying.
Joanna Foote Williams has journeyed with migrants in Denver, Washington, D.C., Mexico, and Arizona. She is the Director of Education and Advocacy for the Kino Border Initiative, a binational ministry in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora that works to promote humane, just and workable migration through humanitarian aid, education, and advocacy.
*Names changed to protect privacy. Bio photo credit Larry Hanelin.