Harvesting from Afar

One of the crappy things about moving from one appointment to another is that there are many seeds that have been planted that haven’t quite sprouted. We leave them in hope — hoping that the congregations we are leaving will keep up the watering and fertilizing; hoping that the folks that are following us in ministry will recognize these as plants and not see them as weeds; hoping that something large will grow, but knowing very often that we will be absent from the harvest.

One of the seeds that I left at Antioch UMC was the situation of a young woman in our church that I will call Annette. Annette was 19 when she called us out of the blue to ask if we would be willing to have our bus drop by her house on Sunday mornings so that she could attend worship. She was a large, beautiful woman of African descent who generally came to church alone (she lived with her mother). By all normal indicators, Antioch UMC was an odd place for her to land. While the congregation was open and welcoming, it was generally a white congregation with southern roots, generally older with a “traditional” worship style. But folks embraced her and she continued to be a faithful presence.

Over time I learned that Annette didn’t have a driver’s license, nor meaningful employment. She was bright enough to attend college, but her story is one that is far too familiar in the U.S. today. Annette was an undocumented immigrant, not through any willful act on her part, but through whims of a complicated system that allows kids to fall through the cracks. Without going into all the details, Annette immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a young child. Her parents had gone through all the procedures to have legal documentation, but they had never recognized that Annette would have to jump through all the hoops and procedures that they had to go through. This wasn’t a problem when she was a child, in public schools, for the public schools provide education and services to folks regardless of immigration status. However, when she graduated and turned 18 “becoming an adult in the eyes of the law” she discovered her status as undocumented and ran into a brick wall. She couldn’t get a driver’s license without drawing attention to her status. She couldn’t enroll in college. Job’s were hard to come by, and her options were limited.

Once we learned her story, we hooked her up with “Justice For Our Neighbors,” a United Methodist affiliated ministry that provides free or cheap legal counsel for undocumented folks. They were wonderful and very helpful in wading through the issues but there was one problem: the filing fees for the immigration forms. It turns out that applying to become a legal immigrant ain’t cheap, in fact is costs several thousand of dollars. Annette wanted deeply to resolve the issue, but her family simply didn’t have the financial means to pay the fees. So she called me one day in tears, uncertain where to go and what to do.

At that point I went to one of the saints of our church. I did so with some hesitation, for immigration issues are a point of contention in the Red State of Tennessee, and I frankly wasn’t sure how some folks in the congregation would react to the situation. When I told her the story, her response was immediate: “Well of course we will help her! She’s one of our own now!” She went to her Sunday School class and took a collection and they donated all the funds to pay for Annette’s filing fees and her transportation to Memphis.

That was where things stood when I left Antioch. I knew that all was in process, but given the Immigration Service, who knew what would happen. What I knew for sure was that Annette had found a family, and they were standing with her as she went through the process.

Tonight I was doing the dishes when the phone rang. It was Annette. “Pastor Jay,” she said, “I wanted you to be the first to know! I went back to Memphis last week for my final interview. They gave me my green card. I’m now legal!”

Obviously I am overjoyed to see the harvest come in, the fruit of the love and care of a congregation that I had the privilege to lead for a season. Congratulations Annette! Welcome home!

However I also know that there are many other kids in the U.S. who are experiencing similar situations. These are kids brought here by their parents who know of no other home than the U.S. When they hit 18, they discover that the place they call home suddenly rejects them and says that they don’t belong, in fact, at least one state legislator called them “rats” in public.

Currently in the U.S. congress is a bill called the DREAM Act. I frankly don’t know all the details, but you can Google it. What I do know is that it addresses situations like Annette’s, offering the hope of further education and legal residency in exchange for community service. Now is the time to pass that act, and I encourage you to learn more and contact our political leaders regarding the bill.

Friends, the harvest DOES indeed come. Sometimes it happens in the midst of our ministry in a place. Sometimes it happens far after we leave. But, it comes.

Photo by Craig Camp via Flickr

3 thoughts on “Harvesting from Afar

  1. A season of Thanksgiving for Annette, Antioch UMC, Annette’s pastors, and for our country. Welcome home Annette!

  2. Thanks for the inspirational story, Jay. It reminds me of the notion that it’s not the birth date, nor the death date on a given tombstone that tell the story, but the dash in between them. That seems to be where the blessings are found. It was also nice to hear how possible it was for the older saint in your church to humanize one that many would simply discount as “an illegal.” This is definitely an appropriate tale for the Advent message of “hope!”

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