People do not move because they want to. There is always a reason to make the difficult decision to migrate.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines a migrant as a person who moves from one area or country to another, especially in search of work.
The circumstance was not much different for Elimelech and Naomi and their children (Ruth 1:1-10, 19-22a). Living in a rural economy hit by a drought, they were left without food and jobs.
Naomi’s family looked east to the country over the Jordan: a land of opportunity and possibility. So, despite the real difficulties ahead, Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, with their two children, braved the desert, crossed a river and risked detention for looking alien – and they surely looked alien.
Yet, despite the sleepless nights, lack of food and moments of fear, these Mexicans – no, sorry, Ephrathites – crossed the border into Moab. There they were able to provide for themselves, and perhaps some folks back home, as they had not been able to in a while.
And then, life happened. It might have been a congenital ailment or a job-related accident (we don’t know), but Elimelech died, leaving Naomi with their sons, Mahlon and Kilion. The sons took Moabite spouses, but then life happened again. Mahlon and Kilion died, leaving not one, but three women, one of them a foreigner, alone to fend for themselves in a man’s world.
Where is the love? Where is the love in the lives of men and women who cross borders daily, at whatever cost, not with the purpose or intent of breaking a law, but in seeking an opportunity, a chance to better their situation in a country that preaches itself to be a place of opportunity, prosperity and freedom?
Yet they find themselves in a place where laws are enacted, not to support law enforcement and safety, but to intentionally persecute those that do not look like the mainstream.
Where is the love when working men and women, despite their “legal” status, cannot access proper heath care? Where is the love when women, still in a patriarchal society, not only from where they may come from but also in the United States, are left all alone to raise children and provide for them?
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The love is in the attitude of many immigrants toward work, laboring in whatever they may find, whether their trade or not, glad for the mere opportunity to work with their hands, despite the hundreds of thousands of “natives” seeking every opportunity to live out of welfare.
The love is in single immigrant parents who are able to moonlight at work and to feed their children and to encourage them to better themselves. They do this for their sake and the sake of the society in which they live that gives them the opportunity to study.
Where is the love? The love is in that many hold fast, not only to the promise of a region or a country, but to the promise of provision, strength and possibility they have known in Jesus Christ.
The love is in witnessing liberation, like Naomi did to her daughter-in-law Orpah, despite Naomi’s own rights and welfare.
The love is in hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, who are an integral part of the resurgence of Christian worship (both Protestant and Catholic) throughout the United States, worshipping and witnessing to a God who is with humanity, despite the circumstances.
The love is in Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Ruth, who left the comfort of her homeland to become herself an immigrant with its hardships and challenges.
The love is that despite Naomi’s predicament – in which she told many to call her Mara, meaning “bitter” – she was able to recognize the power, strength and sovereignty of the Almighty God. That is real love.
There is love. There is love if, as immigrants, we hold fast not to what we think we deserve, but to what we ought to do, in the words of 1 John 4: “The one who loves God should love his neighbor also.”
Amaury Tañón-Santos is president of the American Baptist National Hispanic Caucus. A longer version of this column first appeared on the American Baptist Churches-USA page that houses immigration resources, where it is also available in Spanish. The column is used by permission.