I grew up in the country in the central coastal area of California. When I was in high school, I drove 15 miles to school, going by vineyards and fields of broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce. I could tell you about the condition of migrant workers, because I drove by them every single day.
Yet, I can tell you nothing about their conditions, because I ignored them, keeping my eyes on the road and my ears to the radio.
As I grew older and learned about how migrant workers lived, I have reflected about that drive. Because of that, I have vowed that I would open my eyes and see the people around me. I have vowed that to the best of my ability I would no longer ignore people we cast away. And I pray for God’s grace and forgiveness for the times I still fall back into ignorance.
That journey led me to spend a year working with homeless youth in Ft. Lauderdale, and then later taking youth from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on an urban plunge experience in Milwaukee. That journey has led me to reach out and get to know those from different backgrounds and religions.
In the process, I have learned that we are called to be in relationship with one another. We perhaps all are familiar with Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, loving your neighbor means knowing your neighbor, being in relationship with our neighbor. Sometimes, we do not even know our literal next-door neighbor. If we do not know the one who lives next to us, how will we learn to know the ones different and apart from us?
Something happens when we open our eyes and open our ears to another. Something happens when we listen to another and seek to understand their background and their situation. We will learn. We will grow. We will change.
As I talk with my African American or my LGBT brothers and sisters, I recognize the white privilege that created and allowed the forced removal of Native Americans, the enforced slavery of Africans, the oppression of Jim Crow policies and politics, and the slavery-like conditions of migrant workers. I realize that I need to continue to repent of continued practices where we hear of police shootings of African-Americans or the bullying of our LGBT youth.
And as I continue to hear the rhetoric that demonizes immigrants and refugees as criminals and terrorists, I hear a call to reach out and get to know them, to be in relationship with them. As I recently read, “To love the poor as God does, we must care enough to know them.” So, if I am to love the immigrant as God does, I must care enough to know them, to reach out to them, to listen to them.
Working together across any divide of race, religion, or status allows all of us an opportunity to recognize our past, while building toward a future in which God’s reign of justice and peace might take root and in which American ideals of liberty and equality become a reality for all Americans. We seek to build a place in which no one is forgotten and all will know their God-given dignity and worth.