Guest Column: Maryada Vallet: Local evangelicals join immigration-reform movement on bended knee

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Maryada Vallet: Local evangelicals join immigration-reform movement on bended kneeMaryada Vallet Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As a young evangelical compelled by the humanitarian crisis in our borderlands, I joined the faith-based movement No More Deaths about nine years ago. As volunteers we search for migrants in distress in the desert, offer water and first aid, and advocate for an end to death and suffering at the border.

In my desert wandering, I moved closer to the heart of God. This transpired through many encounters with migrants on their journey, in which I knelt before them to wash and bandage blistered feet and hear their stories. In other words, I was converted.

It became very clear to me that immigrants and migration stories are central to Scripture and the Christian faith. By walking the migrant trails and building relationships within immigrant communities, I was humbled to learn more of what it means to live that faith.

For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me ...

This posture of humility opened my eyes to verse after verse in the Bible that calls for protection, care and equal treatment for the immigrant. I had to acknowledge that I live in a society benefiting from the exploitation, abuse and imprisonment of the immigrant. With that complicity, I had sinned against my brothers and sisters.

Forgive us our trespasses ...

Similar to my journey of conversion on this issue, God is stirring the hearts of evangelicals around the country. More than 200 national evangelical leaders have come to historic consensus on principles for immigration reform, called the Evangelical Immigration Table. This list of signatories includes the leaders of major evangelical denominations and institutions, such as the presidents of the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Also, the heads of the Evangelical Free Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Southern Baptist Convention and Assemblies of God, among many others.

This groundswell has reached Tucson. Nearly 150 local evangelical ministers and church leaders recently gathered on the topic of immigration. Testimonies of immigrant pastors and church members moved the large fellowship hall to tears and applause.

One speaker was a prominent Hispanic pastor who told his story of migration from Central America and the hardships he faced. He acknowledged the tension in the room, and he extended an apology for the lines that have been crossed.

As we forgive those who trespass against us ...

In an immigration workshop that followed the large gathering, we reflected on our distinct Christian response in the community, with ideas about becoming active partners in providing services and advocacy. But most important, that we approach the issue on bended knee.

We will pray for our sister churches, this community and the country to be transformed, converted if you will, through a spirit of reconciliation on immigration.

For an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone ...

On Easter, Christians celebrate that love and forgiveness overcame the punitive consequences of the trespasses we have all committed, and we are reconciled to God.

Setting aside the doctrine and party politics that divide, we may all rise up and offer the same good news of love and forgiveness to our neighbors.

This is an important moment for a heavy stone to be rolled away, for a culture shift and legislation that can impact millions of immigrant families. There is potential for just and compassionate relationships to be built with all community members based on mutual reconciliation. How will you respond?

Maryada Vallet is a humanitarian, public health professional, and local advocate with the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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