The Bible tells us that as followers of Jesus we must view ourselves as aliens and strangers and exiles on the earth (1 Pet 2:11; Heb 11:13). Yet simultaneously in God’s eyes we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Eph 2:19).
Yet as a US citizen whose primary identity is citizen of the Kingdom of heaven, my calling includes advocating for those suffering under actual stranger/alien immigration status so they can freely live and minister “on earth as in heaven.” The following is a prayer update on three important cases.
On Wednesday April 7 my colleagues Chris and Bethany accompanied our 52-year-old Mexican pastor friend Feliciano down to Seattle to our meeting with Claire in Senator Maria Cantwell’s 32nd floor office. We told Claire that our aim was to win her over to become Feliciano’s advocate on behalf of our Mixteco immigrant workers who need his pastoral presence. Feliciano is currently in deportation proceedings, but pastors a 600+ member church in the Skagit Valley.
Claire seemed won over by Feliciano, and supportive enough to pass our petition on to the next level—the Washington DC office. Our hope and prayer is that Senator Cantwell will choose Felicano and his family as a sort of poster family for immigration reform—which is so desperately needed in the United States at this time. Please continue to pray with us that Senator Cantwell will agree soon to submit a Private Bill for Feliciano Lopez and his family to be granted permanent residency status.
That same Wednesday I continued south to Tacoma to the regional immigration detention facility to testify in a hearing before a federal immigration judge on behalf of a 25-year-old Russian immigrant named Andrey. The detention facility is a private prison surrounded by razor wire that houses 1,200 immigrants in deportation proceedings. This was a powerful experience for me. After passing through security we met with 25 of Andrey’s Russian Pentecostal immigrant family members and the attorney before proceeding through three prison doors into a courtroom at the heart of the prison.
Andrey’s wife asked if her grandfather could pray before we entered the courtroom. He put out his hands and began to pray in Russian. I felt a strong presence of God descend over my head and shoulders, causing my eyelids to flutter and cheeks to heat up—and then I couldn’t keep from crying. Many of Andrey’s family members couldn’t hold back the tears—and I thought of Jesus before Lazarus’ tomb—lots of love, but a suffering sort of love.
It turns out I knew the judge. She had been present when I had preached in Seattle United Methodist Church years ago. In that sermon I clearly remember describing our ministry as inspired by our experience of the Holy Spirit as Advocate/Comforter before the Satan/accuser, who manifests through internal voices and external powers. I gave some examples of external powers like the Department of Homeland Security prosecutors, and county prosecutors who’s job it is stand with the laws over and against people.
I had preached about the need for followers of Jesus to stand with people before powers that accuse, defending them so they may experience relief-- more abundant grace and life here and now. A woman came and introduced herself to me after the service as a prosecutor for the Dept of Homeland Security—and there she was last Wednesday as presiding judge in Andrey’s case! She recognized me with a nod and smile as I took the stand beside her to present my testimony.
My 45-minute testimony felt like a prophesy over Andre—who has repented, gone through a profound conversion and has responded to a call into pastoral ministry during his year in our jail and subsequent year in immigration detention. The other family members testified—and I heard the hard news the next morning that the judge saw not legal way to keep Andrey from being deported.
Only one option remains—which involved me approaching the local county prosecutor here to try to get him to lower the official amount of time Andre was charged to serve from 14 months (he’s already served over 2 years) to 364 days—which according to complex immigration law would take him out of the “aggravated felon” category and save him from deportation.
Please pray for our local county prosecutor, and for me. The last time I approached him on Andrey’s case he refused to help. It would be tragic if Andrey was deported back to Russia with a lifetime bar to re-entry—as his entire extended family now lives in Washington and Alaska after a long struggle as a persecuted minority during Soviet times in Russia.
On another front, the three Guatemalan gang members made it through Holy Week without incidents thanks to many prayers from people all over the world. Please continue to pray that they will be transferred to a safer prison—and for funding, wisdom and protection for their beloved chaplains.
All of these cases involve people who God has called into pastoral ministry who are experiencing their stranger and exile status in harsh ways. While I am sure that God can work through them anywhere they end up, we pray that the ruler of this world will in no way detain them from stepping into their most fruitful lives and ministries.