Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE FROM BEING IN THE ARMY By Marlow Carrels, Final Year M. Div., Captain, U.S. Army

For many this claim might be problematic, but for me it is true that the Army places no gender in one’s title. Now do not misconstrue my meaning here, yes the Army presents different restrooms, maternity clothes, and there are some occupations that are still “male only” (though that battle wages). Instead I am speaking of your title, your name, your identity. Upon entering the Army I stood in a little room surrounded by others and we all raised our right hands and took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After that day we were no longer individuals, punks, hicks, popular kids, brains, geeks, freaks, music nerds, or kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Instead we were very much a body that went by one name; we were an Army of O.N.E. We were an Army of Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Enlisted personnel. But we were, all of us, soldiers first and foremost.

From that day forward we were no longer male or female, instead we were very much a body that went by one name. We never got our gender back in our titles, because it didn’t matter. For my entire career I have been a soldier, a warrior, a hero, a Sargeant, a Sar’int, a Cadet, an Officer, a Lieutenant, a Captain. Members of the Army have no gender when they are spoken to, when they are praised, when they are admonished. They are called their rank or their specialty. Their place in our ranks has nothing to do with their gender, but how well they do their job. Granted, I say all of this as an Army Officer who is male, Caucasian, and straight, who may not be fully privy to what many female service members experience. Challenges remain. Although much progress has been made since the days of exclusion or segregation because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, people still face discrimination and sexual abuse. I speak here of inclusive language and its potential for working together.

With this in mind I look to God and cannot think of gender. The Officer Corps has no gender; the NCO Corps has no gender; the Lower Enlisted has no gender. Your gender does not matter to the Big Green Machine, nor does gender matter when we speak of the Godhead. The Godhead simply is. The Godhead, the Great I Am, the infinitely named and edified calls us to become one. When we are baptized we are baptized into the Body of Christ and our titles are not to be gendered. We are simply Christian, baptized, sinners, and saints, ministers of Christ. Called by the Holy Spirit, we come, regardless of our names, our titles, our very self-identity, and bow down before the God who cradles our lives.

 

WHO GIVES VOICE TO ABUSED CHILDREN? By Victor I. Vieth, 2nd Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI

In the 28 years I have worked with and for abused children, I have learned three things.

First, I learned that love and courage is often found in the midst of great sorrow. I know children who wrapped their bodies around a sibling to absorb the blows meant for a brother or sister. I know children who risked their lives by sneaking food or toys into the room of a sibling being tortured. I know children who bravely testified about sexual abuse even though their entire church had condemned them for speaking the truth. In many of these instances, the children expressed forgiveness, even compassion for those who hurt them.

Second, I have learned to see Jesus through the eyes of children. A survivor of abuse once told me she loves Jesus because he is a descendant of a sexually exploited woman (Heb 11:31; Mt 1:5; Josh 2). A boy told me he knew it was OK to flee his abusive parents because Jesus fled those who tried to kill him (Mt 2:16). Many survivors have told me they found the courage to stand up to their churches because Jesus challenged religious leaders who failed to practice “justice and mercy” (Mt. 23:23). Many survivors have found understanding in a God who was also a victim of abuse. To the survivors I’ve known, the radical words of Christ concerning children (e.g. Mt. 18:6; 18:10; 21:15-16; Luke 10:21), take on a much deeper meaning than for most of us.

Third, children have taught me to look for the “faithful remnant” (1 Ki 19:1-18). With the possible exception of the earliest days of Christianity, the church has seldom been a friend of abused children and, in many instances, has directly contributed to the abuse of children (e.g. Michael D’Antonio, Mortal Sins). Nonetheless, maltreated children have helped me see that although the church has largely abandoned them, there are often individual Christians who will extend a hand or go the extra mile even when doing so jeopardizes their career. This is the invisible church known only to God and those who are suffering.

 

TEN THINGS THE CHURCH CAN DO TO HELP ABUSED CHILDREN By Victor I. Vieth, 1st Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI

 

“It is to the little children we must preach,
it is for them that the entire ministry exists.”
–Martin Luther

The academy awarding winning movie Spotlight has again focused attention on the relatively recent and widespread failure of the church to protect children from abuse or to respond with compassion when abuse is discovered. Although the church has made important strides in the past twenty-five years, church policies and training continue to lag behind research and what many national experts consider best practice. Although this article includes a checklist for improving church responses to the needs of maltreated children, it begins where it should–with the teachings of our Lord and an exploration of early church views on the maltreatment of children.

Jesus, child abuse and early church history

Jesus scolded the disciples for keeping children away from him and warned that it would be better to be drowned in the sea with a millstone around our neck than to hurt a child (Matthew 18:6). Jesus also had strong words for those who preached in His name but failed to care for those who were suffering—promising to one day tell these false Christians “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:41-45).

The early Christians took seriously the words of Jesus and distinguished themselves by opposing the abuse and neglect of children that was common in the Greco-Roman world. In his book Bad Faith, Dr. Paul Offit writes:

Jesus’s message of love for children was embraced by his followers…the church was the first institution to provide refuge for abandoned children [and] the church put pressure on the state to legislate against practices that endangered children.

Ten things the church can to do help abused and neglected children:

  1. Make sure church child protection policies meet minimal standards 

The Centers for Disease Control has promulgated guidelines to assist churches and other youth serving organizations in developing and implementing child protection policies. The CDC guidelines, published under the heading Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth Serving Organizations, are free and online. All churches should review and adhere to these guidelines.

  1. Make sure child protection policies address all forms of abuse

Most child protection policies, including those promulgated by the CDC, focus only on preventing child sexual abuse within a church or another organization. Although commendable, these policies exclude from protection children who are physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected. These policies also fail to protect most sexually abused children since the vast majority of these children are violated in their own homes. Since it is inconceivable that Jesus wanted his followers to protect only a fraction of the abused children in our pews, churches must expand their policies to include all the children in their care.

  1. Require pastors and other called workers, as well as all staff working with children, to be rigorously trained in recognizing and responding to child abuse and neglect

According to numerous studies, the vast majority of clergy and other mandated reporters fail to report even obvious signs of child abuse. When working with survivors, clergy often fail to make appropriate referrals or to coordinate pastoral care with medical and mental health care. In these and other failures, a lack of training plays a significant role. Seminaries should work with child protection experts in addressing this issue before graduating clergy or other called workers and major denominations should require continuing education on these issues.

  1. Provide personal safety education to children participating in church programs 

According to several studies, children are more likely to disclose abuse if they have received personal safety education. This instruction is easily provided and numerous organizations, including the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, have a wealth of information to help churches in providing this essential instruction.

  1. Develop effective child protection and faith collaborations 

The Office of Victims of Crime encourages churches to collaborate with child protection agencies. In Minnesota, for example, an organization called Care in Action helps churches connect with child protection agencies to meet the needs of abused and neglected children in their communities. When an abused child has a need the government can’t provide, such as the entry fee to little league baseball, faith communities share this need with their parishioners and, invariably, one or more Christians agree to help. It is a simple way for churches to share their faith—and to make at least a small difference in the lives of maltreated children.

  1. Have church resources for child abuse survivors 

Clergy and churches should have brochures and other information for families seeking counseling or other services in response to maltreatment. Church libraries should have books and other materials families can easily access. Church websites should include helpful links that will aid families seeking help discreetly.

  1. Address the spiritual impact of child abuse 

Dozens of studies, involving more than 19,000 abused children, document that many abused and neglected children are not only impacted physically and emotionally but also spiritually. This may happen when religion is used in the abuse of a child or simply because the child has spiritual questions such as unanswered prayers to stop the abuse. The American Psychological Association has noted the importance of addressing the spiritual impact of abuse and numerous experts have called for coordinated medical, mental health and pastoral care. The church should be front and center in meeting this critical need.

  1. Tell parents God allows them to discipline their children without hitting them

According to the CDC, as many as 28% of children in the United States are hit to the point of receiving an injury. Often-times, this is done by parents who were lead to believe the Bible requires corporal punishment. Numerous biblical scholars, conservative as well as liberal, have concluded the scriptures do not require parents to hit their children. Unfortunately, pastors are often afraid to make this clear to their parishioners because corporal punishment is deeply ingrained in our culture. Every major and medical health organization in the United States discourages hitting children as a means of discipline and it is time for the church to join this chorus.

  1. Deliver a sermon or conduct a Bible study on child abuse 

Over the years, numerous survivors of child abuse have told me they left the church not because clergy or other faith leaders abused them but because these leaders never spoke up about abuse. One survivor told me that during the years her father was sexually abusing her she desperately wanted to hear a sermon or a Sunday School lesson condemning the abuse of children. She never heard that message and, when she became an adult, she walked away from a church she deemed indifferent to the suffering of children. Still another survivor told me “I used to spend my Sunday evenings listening to the podcasts of all the area churches desperately hoping to find a message about child abuse. I never heard that message and I finally just gave up.”

  1. Listen to the needs of survivors 

Many survivors want the simplest things from their pastors and churches. A woman abused while her father hummed a certain hymn wanted to return to the church but was afraid of hearing that hymn and losing control of her emotions. Another survivor was abused on a church altar and needed to be ministered to in a facility without altars or the traditional symbols that comfort others but were used to violate her tiny frame. These and other survivors are not asking for much but, in order to meet their needs, we must first hear their voices. 

Conclusion 

Although millions of child abuse survivors have fled the church, many of them tell me they still cling to Christ. “I love Jesus,” one survivor told me, “because he knows what it is like to be abused.” Another survivor told me that when he feels abandoned by his church, he recalls that Jesus was also rejected by the religious leaders of his era. The fact that so many survivors align themselves with Christ, but not organized religion, is a stark reminder of how far the church has fallen away from the teachings and example of Jesus. It is also a reminder that if we truly desire to find Jesus, we will need to look among the children.

BEING PART OF THE BEAUTIFULLY COMPLEX AUTISM COMMUNITY By Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv

Hi! My name is Alexandra.

I’m a second-year, Masters of Divinity student at Wartburg Seminary. I grew up in rural Minnesota. I graduated in the top tier of the honors program at Augustana University. My favorite movie of all time is Jurassic Park. I’m no good at dancing to music or socializing at parties. I can’t do a somersault to save my life. My favorite part of scripture is the Psalms. I am obsessed with the color turquoise. I believe cats are God’s gift to differentiated academics. I’m equally parts introvert and extrovert. My favorite kind of ice cream is rum raisin. Autumn is my favorite time of year. And I’m one of many representatives of the Autism Spectrum Disorders community.

I always get excited when April rolls around every year, as I think about the fun things that I could do to differentiate myself as a part of the ASD community during Autism Awareness Month. Should I host an anime marathon every Sunday? (Too cliché). Should I host a dinner full of sensory-friendly, or sensory-aversive, kinds of foods? (Lots of applesauce.) Or should I just mind my own business and move on, trying not to attract too much attention to the fact that I identify as someone from a different neurological heritage and community?

Does it really matter that much?

The official terminology for ASD includes the word “spectrum” for a reason: no two people are alike in this world, especially people who are influenced by the neurodiversity of Autism. This truth goes not just for ASD, but for people who are any part of any group that we have created.

I think human beings love to categorize, because we love to think that we are in control, and that we can know what is going on. There is something comforting for me about organizing our reality into something manageable—it gives a feeling of security, wisdom and safety from the unknown. But, truly, it’s just another way to distract us from our mortality: we are dying. Nobody escapes that.

All nihilism aside, the question still stands: what does it mean, in generalized terms, to be loosely collected into the broad spectrum of ASD? And why does that matter?

Speaking in culturally-normative, scientific terms, Autism Spectrum Disorders is a term covering five different major categories of pervasive development disorders: PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delay – Not Otherwise Specified); Autism (sometimes referred to as Classic Autism, Early Infantile Autism, Childhood Autism, or Autistic Disorder); Asperger Syndrome; Rett Syndrome; and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

The Autism Spectrum part of ASD is paired with the word “Disorder” due to some shared traits frequently recognized within this community, which are divergent from and frequently cause strain with normative society: generally, Social Impairments; Speech/Communication Deficits; and Repetitive Behaviors / Specific Interests.

In my brain and body, for example, something is happening where my sensory system volume is turned way up: sounds, sights, textures, touches, all these inputs seem louder, more exaggerated, to me. This is just one example; for another person on the ASD spectrum, the sensory system may be turned to a low volume (where one does not seem to feel much of anything!). For another, these neurological connections might impact the way that the brain connects topics including muscles, cognition, and more, leading to larger-scale physical delays such as cognitive function and development.

But personally, speaking in the terms of a fellow human being, I like to think of the ASD community as a diversified group of humans with specialized skills and particular sensory awareness. Such a definition affirms the strength and uniqueness of persons on the ASD spectrum in relation to what we culturally view as normative, rather than the deficits or struggles that separate people from those expectations.

We don’t know for sure what causes ASD characteristics. Some research seems to indicate that the structure of synopses connecting in the brain impacts the neurology of how the mind and body connect, resulting in unusual patterns of human development. Most research concludes that ASD has a biological component, showing up here and there across patterns of family history.

What we do know for sure is that people who have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum are people first—full of richness, complexity, and potential—and are primarily fellow creatures and children of God, worthy of the same dignity and respect allocated to peers.

I went through the process of self-diagnosis while I was in college, affirming what I understood about my social, cognitive and sensory self from a young age. Typical for someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, I recognized that there was a pattern and a structure going on with my reality–but I did not internalize that this pattern had a great deal to do with how I encountered the world, and perceived it around me through my senses and interpretations of these senses. For example, a course about the diversity within the ASD community released me from feeling like I was not the only person in the world with synesthesia, the trippy ability to perceive music through the medium of color in ones’ mind. I realized that there were others like me who also consistently craved the familiarity and security of rituals within a daily routine, and who felt the compulsion to make sure all their writing utensils corresponded to each day of the week in color, shape and size.

As I began to know myself better and more wholly through my ASD diagnosis—as one who is fearfully, wonderfully, and intentionally made in the image of God—I began to take courage in who I am. I learned how to manage my need for controlling aesthetic environments, and how to prepare for anxiety about social situations.

And then, ultimately, I realized that these unique gifts and struggles did not make me that much different from all of the other people who surrounded me in this world, who were not in the diagnosis of Asperger’s. We are all entrusted with different gifts. We all find ourselves in the corner of our growing edges. We are all beloved of God.

And while my life may not involve the same gifts and struggles as those that are most common within our society—while my biggest crisis of the day may be that I cannot match my soft-textured Digimon T-shirt with my favorite jeggings—that does not make me, or anybody else!—that much less of a person.

As I celebrated Autism Awareness Month April 2016, I celebrated my life, which is a life that lives honestly and vibrantly into God’s mission. Part of this life and identity includes who I am in the ASD community. Part of this life has very little to do with Asperger’s. Regardless, I thank God for a human community of wonderful weirdness, beautiful complexity, and wide welcome.

FOOD, FAMILY AND FELLOWSHIP FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NONE Excerpts from “Stories of Hope” ELCA Central States Synod

 

Childrens Memorial - Lunch Line lr

In the midst of a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Kansas City is a tiny church community where a pastor, outside volunteers and highly-engaged church members have come together to create a sense of hope and joy. . .in spite of their surroundings. The church has been through some very rough times as the surrounding neighborhood has declined. But Pastor Ann Rundquist sees hope. While Ann was at Wartburg Seminary she was asked to do part of her fieldwork at Children’s Memorial. “I bit,” said Ann, “and then I didn’t want to leave.” The church is under synodical administration with an oversight board consisting of the community and synod representatives. “We really are the synod’s church. . .a mission outpost. . .with nontraditional ways,” Ann remarked.

Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church is an ELCA congregation in northeast Kansas City, Missouri that was established in 1884. The church’s name describes the story of its origination. Back in 1882 a capital campaign was conducted where children across the U.S. sent money to the congregation so they could buy land and build a new church. The church and neighborhood prospered into the 1950’s and then declined as its families moved to the suburbs.

Childrens Memorial - Earl Tony Ann lr

Ann was consecrated as a diaconal minister and installed as pastoral leader on May 9, 2013. Because of the needs of the people and as an expression of her diaconal service in this unique ministry setting, she completed additional classes and was ordained and installed as pastor on March 14, 2015. “I am so thankful that ELCA congregations’ support our unique ministry in what many think is an ‘undesirable’ location. Isn’t that where Jesus lived?” Though she serves only part-time, she is breathing new life into an area that is comprised mostly of people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. “One of my roles is to develop leaders who love to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, welcome others, and serve one another. Our consistent message is ‘come and see.'”

Even in such a poor area, where the total weekly offering might average $5, God is doing something extraordinary. When the plate passed by me during Sunday morning worship, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of the widow’s mite:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” ~ Luke 21: 1–4

“Gone are the days of just a handful worshiping and serving on Sundays. Thirty faithful disciples come together consistently as a Christ driven community,” Ann said. Retired pastor and church member Bill Pape suggested a Saturday morning worship, which gathered 30 people to word, sacrament, service and lots of singing. And the church’s street corner worship on Fridays attracts about 10 people. Bible studies are on Tuesday and Fridays. Two hundred hot nutritious meals are prepared and served each week. Holiday diners (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) number about 300.

ThriftStore

The church also has a volunteer-run Thrift Store chock full of clothing bargains that helps offset the church’s expenses, and a Clothes Closet that provides free clothing for those in dire need. Pastor Ann is hoping to add a licensed Food Pantry in the near future to meet people’s requests for food to take home. Food can be bought from Harvesters at a discount, but the Pantry needs funding.

Thirteen synod congregations partner with CMLC to serve lunch, donate clothing, provide financial support and prayer. Generosity USA, a local nonprofit agency, funds all the food expenses and in 2015 MLM volunteers donated Christmas gifts. “It is amazing how adults and students come to serve lunch and before long they match their talents with our needs. An Eagle Scout built shelving units and a Girl Scout just brought us twenty Easter baskets. The Chamber of Commerce and Northeast High School partner with us, too. And we look forward to Youthworks volunteering, again, this summer,” Pastor Ann commented.

Childrens Memorial - Earl and Freezer lr

“I’m spoiled rotten!” said Earl the Church Caretaker.
Earl has served as Church Caretaker for three months now. Before that, he lived under a bridge on I-70 and Truman Road. Earlier this year, Children’s Memorial had several robberies of items used in church services, one being the altar cross. The members of the community were quite upset and organized a search. One night they found the cross in the middle of an abandoned lot, shining in the light of the moon.

“It’s a pleasure to volunteer here at the church,” said Earl. “It’s amazing and I’m still getting used to it. I get to help people who have needs most people can’t imagine. I get to use my skills around the church and make dinner for people. I get to sit in a pew and pray early in the morning and late in the day. It’s so peaceful. I’m spoiled rotten! The only thing I don’t like is having food for the kitchen but not being able to hand it out to people to take home. But we are working on setting up a Food Pantry so I won’t have to turn people away any more.”

Pastor Ann found a creative solution to two problems by asking Earl to volunteer at the church. Caretaker Earl makes use of his handyman skills and has fixed long-neglected problems with plumbing and electrical, as well as an issue with the gutters that resulted in water pouring down the stairs of the main entrance people use for the Community Kitchen and Chapel services whenever it rained. He also serves as a cook in the kitchen and is proud of his homemade spaghetti sauce.

“Our ministry is word, sacrament, fellowship, meals, and clothing. Most of the people who come here learn about us from a friend on the street. Creating a safe, family environment has been key in welcoming others as many don’t have families. So we visit, eat, work, and pray like a family. Nutritious meals, which include fruits and vegetables, are often a luxury to our diners. Travel with us from the dinner table to the Lord’s table,” said the determined pastor.

Because of the support from other congregations and God’s grace and abundance, a growing church ministry has been created here at the corner of Independence and Brighton, right in the midst of poverty. Instead of children across the U.S. sending their pennies here to build a new church, local congregations and volunteers are making contributions and driving a short distance to rebuild what was once a thriving congregation.

childrens_memorial_worship_x800

“There certainly are other churches in our neighborhood,” Pastor Ann said, “yet, people tell me they worship and eat at Children’s Memorial because they feel respected, listened to, understand worship, seek forgiveness of sins, like the food, and have opportunities to participate and lead.”

“The tremendous, collaborative ministry that’s happening at Children’s is a vivid example of what God’s people can do when we work together,” said Roger Gustafson, Central States Synod bishop. “The overall theme we’re exploring as a synod is HOPE, and all of those who are lending a hand at Children’s are showing that in the midst of difficult and challenging circumstances, hope springs to life when we focus on sharing our abundance.”

“As you may guess, we have few ‘frills,’ such as a telephone, janitor, secretary, or musician. However, our followers of Jesus pitch in and take leadership roles to maintain the building, sing solos, prepare meals, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Ann. “The majority originally came for a ‘sloppy joe’ meal and stayed for the Lord’s meal. . .over and over again. Jesus instructed us that ‘when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. . .you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

Childrens Memorial - Chapel Service lr
Quick Look at Children’s Memorial Congregation
A recent survey of 53 adults at Saturday lunch found:
64% Have disabilities
42% Receive Social Security disability
17% No income
41% Intermittent jobs: scrap metal, clean parking lots, move furniture
3% Full-time employment
38% No permanent shelter
21% Live outside
21% Have transportation
55% High school diploma or GED
30% Addictions
43% Receive food stamps
34% Former felony convictions
96% Come to Children’s Memorial for food, clothing, and to socialize
87% Attend worship weekly
62% Volunteer at church

Read the article by Rick Moser in it’s entirety here.

CONFRONTING RACISM: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION By Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year M.Div.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 3:14-15, NRSV).

The Wartburg community gathered together on campus as brothers and sisters March 4th in love and fellowship for the specific purpose of participating in God’s mission (mission Dei).  Individuals entered into conversation with their own past experiences of racism and the division that it causes.  Some entered desperately seeking ways in which to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and the healing of wounds caused by racism.  People were guided by the power of the Holy Spirit to struggle together with questions of what to do about racism within our Church, our communities, and even within our own selves.

Through the teaching, sharing, and practice of some skills on how to go about carrying out a conversation surrounding the topic of racism, the night progressed quite quickly.  As I observed the group with which I shared conversation and also looked around at other groups, I felt a strong sense of passion and emotion flowing among participants.  At the end, when the entire group gathered together for a sharing of final reflections, many ideas and emotions reverberated throughout the narthex: Heartache, Hope, Determination, Acceptance, Love, Pain, Resolve… These words along with the stories and shared experiences I heard that night will stay with me forever.

My hope is that others left that night with a sense of purpose and hope for the future just as I did. A strong mix of emotions flowed through my very being but one thought stuck with me:  the conversation continues because it must.  The Church has everything to lose if it does not continue to address racism through conversation and action.  We must realize that we, as the Body of Christ, are not whole when certain voices are being ignored or silenced.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir within us all, not only just in the Wartburg community, but in the whole world.  Let us not be content with the state of the Church right now.  Let the Word of God continue to unsettle us when we hear it and look around us at the walls that separate us.  Let the reconciling work of Christ work in and through us all, and let us come to the fullness of glory because of it. May almighty God give us God’s own peace.

 

KNOCK AT THE DOOR By Paul Waterman, Final-Year MDiv

I love to have company. The idea of having a house full of people, laughing and conversing, makes my heart swell. Providing hospitality and sharing my kitchen, dining room, and living room to host a gathering is among my favorite things. It all starts with a knock on the door! There is great anticipation to see who has arrived. However, I have a new perspective as a result of a January term trip in 2016.

A classmate and I were invited to a house in Austin, Texas, share a meal and conversation. The pastor, Pastor Joe, who himself is an immigrant from Central America, but currently serves a Latino congregation near Austin, Texas. prepared us for the home visit. We were given some details about the people which revealed the complexity of the living situation for this immigrant family. Three people lived in a duplex: one who is a dual citizen of El Salvador and the United States, their child, who is a natural-born citizen of the United States, and an ‘undocumented immigrant.’ I struggle using words to describe this individual who has arrived in the United States from Central America because of human-made boundaries (we call them borders). For this writing, I will use “undocumented immigrant” because it is the most fitting term. For this story, he will be referred to as Bill.

The family of three, the pastor, my classmate, and I were gathered around the family’s dining room table to enjoy a meal. We prayed and dug in. The food was absolutely delicious and the conversation was deep! All was well with our souls and stomachs as we reached for seconds. Then, things all changed.

There was a knock on the door. Time stood still. People froze. Silence rushed into the dining room. The atmosphere changed. The mood had taken an about face. There was another knock. The husband/father of the house, Bill, stood up and walked to the door. All eyes followed him. I can’t speak on behalf of the others around the table, but I immediately feared the worst, that ICE had arrived. We were going to see the ‘apprehension’ in front of our eye. This beautiful family was about to be torn apart! I was speechless and uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to respond.

Being an Iowa native, I was familiar with the ICE raids in Postville in 2008 and was faintly familiar with the difficulties that immigrants face daily. Bill had talked about being employed in the United States without having ‘legal documents.’ Bosses treated him differently, often withholding pay or only paying a portion of what was owed. Work hours were long; there are no ‘safety precautions’ for people without documents. They can be replaced easily by the next person looking for a shot at a better life. The working conditions were often treacherous. But what really got to me was the fear of driving. Every trip in the car could be the last time in the United States. Every law enforcement officer poses a threat of possible deportation.

Bill answered the door, and two gentlemen were outside waiting for him. The one on the right had a hat on with the logo of a local collegiate sports team. The other one was wearing a camouflage jacket. They said something to Bill that I couldn’t hear, and he walked outside. Seconds felt like hours. The silence was deafening. The tension was thick. A few seconds later, Bill returned–smiling! The men were repossession agents who were looking for someone and they had been given the wrong address. Bill made a joke about them taking his wife’s car, and we laughed. Bill sat back down and supper continued. Things were the same, kind of, for the rest of the evening.

The thoughts and feelings I had during those brief moments of unknowingness led me to a reality outside of my own experience and into the life of the roughly 11 million ‘undocumented immigrants.’ Nothing is simple; there is no such thing as a quick trip to the store. Every element of public life is a heightened experience, with the thought of apprehension looming. I cannot fully understand what Bill was going through when he heard the knock on the door, but I am certain that it is much different than what I feel from unexpected knocks on my door. What I do know is I have been changed; I have seen my neighbor differently. Looking at this experience through Bill’s lens has changed my life. Every knock on the door now takes me back to a dining room with friends, new and old, when the rhythm of the world was out of sync for a few moments. Thanks be to God for opportunities of transformation.