In my work with immigrants, there are certain stories that stick with me because they reveal some aspect of God. Usually, the stories of the poor are too similar to those in the Bible to ignore. They are almost literal, revealing the ways in which God actually identified with the poor and the oppressed. As we observe advent, I’d like to share with you the story of a hardworking family that came from Mexico 22 years ago.
Like many migrants to the U.S., they were seeking better opportunities for their children. I saw them because they had been assaulted at gunpoint at the convenience store they owned in Washington State. While sharing about their background the mom told me about their epic immigration pilgrimage through the desert, 22 years ago, carrying their 2-year-old son and their six-month-old baby. As the mother of an infant I could not help but think about the practical details; ‘What about diapers? Was your baby on formula? How did you wash the bottle? Where did you find water!?’ Calmly, and as if it was not a big deal, the mom explained how she walked miles carrying the infant in her arms while her husband took the two-year-old on one hand and the water jug on the other.
The liminality of the desert. The discomfort. The infant and toddler. The hope… The image quickly evoked Mother Mary, in the late stages of pregnancy, laboring through the desert to Bethlehem and later escaping to Egypt with a newborn as a refugee. The stakes were high. Mary and Joseph found themselves in the cross-roads of life and death and risked everything to save the gift that God had given to humanity—Jesus. In the same way this family, escaping hunger and abject poverty, engaged in a journey of faith leaving everything they deemed as familiar, walking through the desert pregnant with hope for a better future, a future that to them meant salvation from destitution.
Once in the US this family established a thriving business that created jobs for the locals. Their children went to school but unfortunately could not pursue higher education because of their undocumented status. They continue to work hard. They continue providing jobs. They continue walking a different kind of desert—the arid lands of an undocumented status.
May their journey inspire us this advent season to be pilgrims of faith, pregnant with hopes for a nation that welcomes the stranger and the poor in our midst and allows for their prophetic voice to be heard.
Maria-José (Coté) Soerens is a Mental Health Counselor working with immigrant brothers and sisters in Seattle, WA. She is a graduate student at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and is particularly interested in the articulations of cultural memory and identity transformation of immigrant women affected by violence. She is originally from Chile and lives with her husband Tim and her son in Seattle, WA.
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