She sat next to me on the platform of a dominant culture, suburban, evangelical church and began with this:
My name is Antonia Alvarez. I’m an undocumented mother of Dreamer children and I’m here to talk about what that’s like.
Because they’ve dared to believe that restoration is the mission of God, Genesis Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN is on a dangerous journey. They’re becoming an instrument of peace that not only creates space for stories like Antonia’s to be heard, but they’re allowing themselves to be changed by what they’re hearing.
The journey they’re on is why I knew that they could handle her story.
Antonia and I met, very briefly, in D.C. on a cold December day. I was there on invitation of The National Immigration Forum representing the Central Oregon faith community who is awakening to the vulnerability of our Dreamer neighbors. She was there advocating for her three Dreamer children. My action involved meetings within Congressional offices. Her action was a 10-day fast outside the Congressional complexes. My request was for a timely, just, permanent legislative solution on behalf of our nation’s Dreamers. Her request was for Congress to see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in her children.
What caught my eye was the sign she was holding. It read, “I stand with Dreamers.”
There was a magnetic force that drew me to her that I soon discovered was the maternal desperation that had brought her to D.C. from Minnesota. Listening to her story, I recognized that her desperation had long ago converted into the kind of courage that I had only ever experienced deep in the trenches of the marginalized. Here she was, broadcasting her lack of status and risking her own safety in order to gain a listening ear with national power-brokers.
She stood there for ten days, either unseen or ignored by the very women and men who could change the uncertainty that traumatized her dreaming children.
So moved was I by our brief interaction that Antonia and I exchanged information and intentions to remain in touch. With so many friends and allies in Minnesota, I immediately began conspiring links that could result in dynamic alliances in the Twin Cities. Because of the journey that Genesis Covenant is taking, that church and its influencers was on the very top of my list.
Did you catch that? Because of the peacemaking journey they’re on, a dominant culture, suburban, evangelical church had become a top candidate for alliance with an undocumented mother of Dreamer children.
In the days that led up to my time with Genesis, the pastors reached out with a request:
We’re used to hearing from white males. Will you help us learn how to learn from the marginalized?
This question represents a moment of deepest significance for dominant culture leaders and churches. It means we’re waking up to the possibility that our perspective is not 20/20 vision, that a constant diet of white, male teaching and leadership has become counter-productive, and that, in order to be found and formed by God, we need to learn how to learn from folks who are not like us.
Because of the trust we share and the confidence I have in Genesis’ capacity for generous hospitality, I sent Antonia an email. I included a picture of the two of us that I had taken in D.C. to jog her memory of who I was and indicated that there was no reason for her to trust me. Nonetheless, I hedged my bet that the same courage that drove her to D.C. would compel her to an unfamiliar platform. So I invited her to join me in a moment of storytelling in front of a group of people who, statistically, were most against the very story that she would share.
On Sunday, I began by reminding the community that if we follow Jesus rather than simply admire him, then our shared life will become marked by a love that transcends boundaries, borders, orientations, and even documentation statuses. I shared a bit of my own journey of recognizing my blindness and how, in relationship with the marginalized, Jesus had been healing my sight. I recounted the story of the brief interaction Antonia and I shared in D.C. and expressed to her the gift that her presence was to us.
That’s when, to the sound of extended, enthusiastic applause, she joined me on the stage.
The community was ready for her opening lines, but they weren’t prepared for the unfiltered, raw, unscripted, authentic, emotional telling of her story. She described the experience of being extorted by the cartels in Mexico, an attempt on her life, and the harrowing journey she took to cross the border. She revealed what it was like to go from an oncology nurse in Mexico to a house cleaner in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. She described the jubilation of DACA and what it meant for her kids. That’s when she looked at me and said, “I’m going to stand up now.”
When all four feet and two inches of her stood up we realized that we were in the presence of a giant. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she recounted the moment when she received news that DACA would expire. She screamed on the stage like she did in the living room that she was vacuuming:
Why God? Why my kids? I’ve done everything I can do for 18 years. Will you please protect my kids?
After sharing her experience (listen to the message ‘A Boundary Crossing Love’ 2/11/18 HERE) of what it’s like feeling hunted again, she invited a room filled with dominant culture, suburban evangelicals to join her in a barefoot walk from her home to Minnesota’s state capitol on March 5th, the very day that DACA expires.
Her invitation to take a 20-mile pilgrimage, barefoot, on cold pavement has provided an opportunity for Genesis not to offer charity, but to walk in solidarity.
I have no doubt that some of what Antonia offered last Sunday was met with resistance. She was deeply critical of the current administration, got political, and offered some risky historic comparisons. But one thing cannot be argued: the gift that Antonia gave us was the telling of her authentically lived experience.
If the extended, enthusiastic applause that escorted her off the stage revealed anything, it’s that a dominant culture, suburban, evangelical church sees more clearly today because she contended for us.
I wonder how many of them will take their shoes off on March 5th.
Wondering how you can walk in solidarity with Dreamers between now and March 5th? Access Global Immersion’s guide HERE. To take your next steps in learning how to learn from the marginalized, pick up a copy of the award-winning book, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World.