By Jeff Goins, Editor
Recently, I was given one of those rare, beautiful insights into a life that has been well-lived. It was from a senior member of our church who is one of the most passionate, caring, loving women I know. She’s a spry, but aging widow, well along in her years, and often telling us how she can’t wait to “go home.” Nonetheless, she is still getting down into the dirt of life, loving her neighbor and living each day with an admirable amount of gusto.
Incidentally, we were at a young girl’s 11th birthday party when this older woman (whom we’ll call “M.”) decided to share one piece in her mosaic of rich life experiences.
Sitting in a chair in the corner of the apartment living room, M. began to tell a story from years ago — when she lived in California. She told us of her church and the youth group that she and her husband helped with. She told us of sharing a home with friends and family, and of the opportunities they had to love their neighbors.
Mostly, though, she told us about how she and her husband befriended a young Hispanic boy who started coming to their church — particularly, to their Bible class.
One day after church, she invited this boy over for lunch. She had put together bits and pieces of his story and had concluded, with a fair amount of certainty, that he didn’t get many home-cooked meals. Back at their house, after the boy’s plate was quite thoroughly “cleaned”, he politely waited for the others at the table to finish. Then, he asked, gesturing to the leftovers, “Is anyone going to finish that?” They all shook their heads. He then proceeded to consume the rest of the food there with a voraciousness that made their hearts break. “It was obvious that he hadn’t eaten in a long time,” M. said, and that this was most likely his first and only meal of the day.
M. told us that this became a regular thing, that they eventually became good friends. She told us about how he started spending Saturday nights over at their house, sleeping on the couch, and then joining them for church on Sunday. She told us of how they began to treat him more and more like family. And then one day, he made a comment that changed everything.
He said, “I like it here.”
M. responded, “Well, we like having you here.” But that wasn’t what he meant. He went on to say that he wanted to stay there all the time. “Oh,” she said. That was all she could say.
Immediately, she began to think about what she knew of his home life — of his mom or sister (one was a prostitute, but I can’t remember which) welcoming men into the home at all times of the day to service them. When this was going on, he would have to pretend that he couldn’t hear them. For the life of her, M. couldn’t bear to think of the injustice of sending him back to that. That was no home life for a boy. That was no life at all.
As M. discussed with the rest of the housemates the implications of a young boy joining their family, her husband pulled her aside and said sternly, “M., we can’t. He’s illegal.”
She shared her response with our group that was, at this point, quite intently listening to the story: “But I said, ‘He’s just a boy! This isn’t a political policy or a program. He’s just a boy!'” Even years later, her voice winced with the pain she must’ve felt that day, imagining having to send him back home.
So, they took him in. I don’t know exactly what that looked like — how they worked things out with his family, if there was even anything to work out at all. But she went on to tell us of the following years they spent together, how he ended up going to college, and how he would come “home” on occasion to visit. One time, he brought his girlfriend, and M.’s husband placed $100 in his hand, saying, “You take that girl out for a nice dinner.”
He made a life for himself that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible — thanks to this couple’s generosity and willingness to welcome an illegal immigrant into their home. As I wrote those words — illegal immigrant — they startle me. It sounds so covert and unimaginable, especially in light of what I know about this saintly woman.
When I heard this story, though, I didn’t hear any kind of political advocacy. All I heard was a tale of a couple of good Christian folks who chose mercy over law and treated a young boy, not as an issue, but as an actual person — a child of God who had innate dignity. Their politics were compassion, plain and simple. And to me, this is the crux of any political “issue” — What does it really look like if we put a face on it — not just any face, though, the face of a boy, a face that you would call “family”?
Whether right or wrong, can we agree to do more of this with our politics — put a familiar face on them and see if we can be proud of what we then believe?
Jeff graduated from Illinois College, a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Ashley. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits this silly little magazine, and loves to do new things. Check out his blog: Pilgrimage of the Heart.