Guest Blog by Ashley Moy-Wooten
Editor’s Note: We often run blogs here at g92.org that focus on immigration as a missional opportunity for the Church. Today’s guest blog—a personal testimony of a journey to Christ—serves to remind us that when we are faithful to the biblical command to seek justice, we also lend credibility to the gospel message that we preach, and that many of the immigrants arriving in our country may be bringing the hope of the gospel to native-born citizens already here.
This piece is longer than our normal guest blogs, but we wanted to be able to bring you Ashley’s story in its entirety.
God reaches us in many unexpected ways. Two of the key ways he led me was first through my anger, and then through my love and relationships with the immigrant community leaders I worked with. I would have never guessed that the people I felt I was fighting for would actually end up being the biggest blessing to me that I would ever receive in my lifetime—the gift of faith and encounter with God.
As a young woman, at age 24, I felt God call me to community organizing around immigrant rights. I was not a Christian at the time. I firmly believed in God, but somehow I just knew. Now I can say and see clearly—it was the Holy Spirit!
The Spirit propelled me forward like a jet into organizing: I had to quit my job, take a 50% pay cut, buy a car, learn to drive, and learn a whole lot about the suburbs and politics in just a few months’ time. One of my co-workers at the time laughed at me and told me that I couldn’t do it. I hesitated for a little bit, but then that rebellious streak kicked in, “Yes I can, and yes I will!”
I threw my whole mind, body, and soul into the work and everything about my life and self changed. Whereas before I was cynical to the point of depression, through organizing I became convinced that continual hard work, organizing and political action would change things—that I would change things. It wouldn’t be until later that I would realize this was only half true.
So I worked my little heart away going from church to church, recruiting leaders to work with me to pass immigration reform. God blessed my work, and I was very successful. I helped to get tens of thousands of people registered to vote, and hundreds of thousands to vote; my work made the difference in the elections of a Governor and two Congressmen; I helped to keep one young person from being deported; I helped to get another person reunited with their family; and I trained hundreds of awesome, amazing community leaders.
Still, I came to a point where I stopped to look around and discovered that still nothing had changed. Not really. The world was still basically the same. And my life and soul somehow were empty and hurting.
What I thought had given me life then began to drain it.
All the pain of all those I had walked with just rolled together on top of me—all of my anger, all my personal pain, insecurities and frustration. I slowly fell apart. I was exhausted. Every moment and interaction became painful to me for one reason or another. I could not enjoy anything. I could not be still and conscious at the same time: I was either working like a maniac or sleeping. And no matter what I did or accomplished, I always felt horrible about myself and the world.
I would look at the community leaders I worked with, though, and stand amazed by them. Carmen and Fernando worked 60+ hours a week at manual labor jobs. They’d both been injured on the job and were suffering quietly. They had basically sacrificed their arms in order to support their four children and two grandchildren. And yet whenever I would be at their house, grace and love abounded. They were devout followers of Jesus, and would so kindly feed me and love me and talk about how they were walking with God, obeying, and begging His help in everything they did. They struggled in their marriage, but they held fast to God, and to everyone else after over thirty years of marriage they seemed like newlyweds. I said to myself, “If I could have a faith like theirs!”
I also attended Catholic churches nearly every Sunday—because it was part of my job. Most of the time, I would walk in at just the right moment to make an announcement, and then leave. When I started getting very tired, though, I would attend the full service, sometimes multiple. I loved kneeling together with everyone.
My office was also inside a Catholic Church in the room where they kept a bunch of Bibles and extra seats. One day while talking to another community leader I worked with, Barb Linek, she mentioned and explained the Holy Spirit. It struck me. I thought to myself “Hmmmm. I think there’s something to that. I should look it up.” So I opened up a Bible concordance, and probably opened up to John 14. It was an ‘aha!’ moment. God showed light upon the unending maze I was trapped in. I was on my way.
Somewhere down the line I also reconnected with Matthew Soerens and found out that he’d written a book about immigration from an evangelical Christian perspective. After our meeting, God moved me to try to convince him to come and work with me at my organization a short while. He accepted, and we started working more closely together. He would tell me little things—about Christians in the jungles of Burma; about his community in Wheaton and their deep relationships with their refugee neighbors; about his friend Ben who was passionate about the environment and our command to care for it, who would later run against all odds as an alternative to a well-financed incumbent who had opposed immigration reform; and finally about the Evangelical Covenant Church’s involvement with justice work. I thought to myself, “Wow. Matt and his friends are the real thing. They live out their faith, not just preach it.” The real thing.
Soon I came to New Community Covenant Church, where Pastor Peter Hong’s sermons gripped me and finally brought me to Christ. I finally found a place, I arrived. And looking back I am amazed at how God used organizing and my immigrant brothers and sisters to show me the way. I thought I was helping them. Now, though, I see how God flipped things and how really they were ministering to me.
What continues to astound me every day, though, is how powerful our God is, and how easily He can turn a top on the other side as it continues to spin. What many of the people I’ve worked with will never know is just how indebted I am to them. They will never know how much of a blessing they have been to me, to have known them and to have been welcomed into their lives.
So take a moment for me right now and ask yourself this: How might those that I help be salt and light unto me?
In our ministries to the most vulnerable and oppressed, let’s never fall into the trap of feeling that we are actually the saviors. Jesus is King and he will show us one way or another. Let’s keep asking ourselves: Are we treating those that we minister to as agents, men and women truly made in the image of God, or as objects? Are we listening to them, enabling them to take ownership and lead?
God’s peace, blessings and mercy upon all of us!
Ashley Moy-Wooten is a community organizer and native Chicagoan dedicated to working with immigrants and the poor. She spent four years working with immigrant communities in the suburbs with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and is currently working on economic and racial justice issues across all communities with the Grassroots Collaborative in Chicago, Illinois.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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