Just yesterday afternoon, the second day of school, I was introduced to this young immigrant from Guatemala who speaks not a word of English! Apparently, the previous day he had accidentally gotten on the wrong bus and had no clue how to communicate anything, never-mind his new address, etc to the new bus driver. After he wound up at the bus office with frantic parents and school officials trying to sort the situation, you can imagine why yesterday the whole family was standing in front of the house, visibly relieved, when I dropped him off at the right place and time. Smiles, waving and the littlest children leaping for joy. Wilfredo was home!!!
I was an immigrant once. Growing up as the eldest son of missionaries in the jungles of South America, I remember not knowing anyone, the language, culture, etc. I learned, but it took time and I never felt like I fit in. Even today, being a ‘third culture kid,’ I never feel quite like I fit in, so my heart really went out to Wilfredo as he boarded my bus. Brave!
“Buenos dias, Como le va?” I greeted and he replied, amazed as are a few other Hispanics on my bus that I speak semi-fluent Spanish with a correct accent. I am so glad that I can help him adjust and feel safe and secure in this transition.
After I dropped him off, as we began rolling I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion recalling the difficulty of my life in transitioning to living in Colombia, S.A. as a little tyke, then later a much more challenging readjustment to the United States as a fourth grader. It was a transition that took years, and in essence, determined a huge part of who I am today and why.
Suddenly our recent discussions on this blog about the ‘ger,’ grafting in and the place of the ‘alien/sojourner’ within Israel came into sharp focus and clarity!! I ‘get it’ like never before, and I want to share some thoughts and parallels using the example of Wilfredo, the ‘alien/sojourner.’
Wilfredo is new to so much, but seems simply excited to be here. He has language, culture, and ethnic obstacles to meet and deal with. I can so totally relate! There will be those who lend him a hand and welcome him to our country, that though it has ‘issues,’ is still arguably a great place to grow-up. Others will ignore him or give him the short end of the stick simply because he is an outsider and in their eyes a threat. And then, some will tell him either through actions, attitude or direct statement that he ‘does not belong here, go home.’
Wilfredo’s in a tough spot, but I trust he’ll overcome. It builds character, though he’ll have hidden scars that will tease at the corners of his mind. Scars largely inflicted by the ignorant who don’t take enough interest in him to understand that there are dialect, culinary and cultural differences between Guatemalans and a hundred other Hispanic sub-groups. Rather, in most people’s minds, he is just another Hispanic, a ‘stranger’ in the land.
His parents will have it harder. Being older, they will have significantly greater challenges to overcome and will always stick out as outsiders. Life will be better than where they came from, but poverty will be their lot as they struggle to make a way in this nation for their children. Society will only marginally accept them and usually talk around or over them. Only a few will ever accept them as equals.
And, the parallels to the ‘alien/sojourner’ debate and how they are to be received, treated, taught, etc comes screaming into focus!!
In a perfect, or completely redeemed world, one would expect everyone around Wilfredo to welcome him and reach out in every way possible to encourage and improve his lot. But, this isn’t a perfect world. Selfish and sinful motives cloud the vision of many and they miss a blessing; the blessing of sharing with him the wonders of this new place, people, culture and language. They miss the joy of hearing about other cultures and what can be gleaned. And, sadly, fewer than one in a thousand will remember that their own parents were immigrants at some point!
How closely this all parallels the Gentile ‘ger’ coming to be grafted into Israel. Non-Jews coming to Torah, at the bidding of the Spirit, are met with a broad spectrum of responses, most of which are identical to the ambivalent or negative attitudes Wilfredo will meet. Even some non-Jews who have been on the walk for a while can be ambivalent or forget the wonder of it all. Only a very rare few Jews reach out their hands and with great honor, love and joy say, ‘Here, let me show you around! Let me help you with the language, culture and challenges. I’m so glad you are part of us now!!’
Most Americans around me have forgotten the immortalized poem of Emma Lazarus as she put words on the lips of the Statue of Liberty,
“….Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Rather, they now have a sense of ownership and entitlement that seeks to bar the door to freedom from daring intruders, both young and old. Funny how a number of generations removed from our own immigration, we somehow think nobody else has the right to join the party. Such is the plight of human traditions.
Doesn’t the Torah admonish the same thing in multiple places? One such:
Deu. 10:19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
I’m going to get off the soap-box before I get rolling. But, first…
I have been reading Tim Hegg’s Fellow Heirs; Jews and Gentiles Together in the Family of God, and my head is swimming with deeper understanding and more detailed thought regarding the whole issue. Expect some thought-provoking posts in the coming weeks. I’ll close with a quote from page 33-34,
But that the ger is considered a covenant member, receiving both the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant, is clear from the activities in which he engages, and the covenant consequences assigned to him. He participates in the Sabbath and yearly Festivals and is required to observe the statutes of the Torah (Deuteronomy 31:12). The ger brings sacrifices to the Lord (Leviticus 17:8; 22:18; Numbers 9:14; 15:14); is not allowed to eat blood (Leviticus 17:11-13); becomes unclean when eating meat from animals dead or torn (Leviticus 17:15); participates in the ritual of the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19:10); receives the death penalty for idolatry or cursing God (Leviticus 20:2; 24:16); participates in corporate forgiveness (Numbers 15:26); and may be cut off from the community for defiance against God (Numbers 15:30). In order to be “cut off,” one must be “part of.”
I loved Wilfredo the minute I met his determined smiling face as I spoke to him in his native tongue. While protocol doesn’t allow, I just wanted to hug the little guy and tell him I would help fight for him as a big brother. He is now part of my ‘family,’ and I’m so glad he is here, despite the challenges he’ll face! In our circumstance, he may be the ger, but as the native-born, I’ll love him as myself.