Taking Action

A Changed Perspective: My Story by Jot Turner

Have you ever sensed that God was directing you to do something that didn’t make sense? My role at the EFCA national office is to lead the various operations departments: human resources, accounting, information technology, donor services and building services. It’s a role that matches my gift set—analytical, practical, methodical. Yet in September 2010 I found myself in Akron, Pa., immersed in an intense, semester-crammed-into-one-week course on immigration law and advocacy. How did that happen?

For several years, leaders in our movement have been talking about ministering to immigrants. For the most part, I mentally limited “immigration” to a Hispanic-only issue. The news media helped to further limit the subject to that of undocumented immigrants. I understood that the Church had an opportunity to love those here unofficially, and I welcomed that perspective. But I had no firsthand exposure to immigrants, so my understanding and interest remained intellectual alone.

This past June, I learned about EFCA’s Immigrant Hope pilot project in Brooklyn (see “Finding My Way to Immigrant Hope”), and I heard someone speak about training he’d received in immigration advocacy. Something happened during that talk. God gave me “an audible.” I believe that He told me to take that training. It didn’t make sense. Working with immigrants? How does that fit with my job? But the message was clear, so I applied and was accepted. Three months later I was in Akron with 35 others—some Christian and some not, but all with an interest in serving immigrants. I came away changed. What I learned changed both my perspective and my heart.

 

“First, I learned that my definition of “immigrant” was sorely lacking. Yes, it encompasses the undocumented, but it also includes lawful permanent residents, those seeking asylum, holders of work visas, and even those detained or in the court system facing possible deportation. It includes people of all races and ethnicities.

Second, I learned that immigration law today is unbelievably complicated, and those most deeply affected by it are also handicapped by language issues, cultural issues and more.

Third, I learned that, historically, our country’s attitude toward immigration goes through cycles.”

Simply speaking, when the economy is good, policies are friendly toward immigration. When the economy is bad—the opposite. At least half of those taking the training were first- or second-generation immigrants themselves—hard-working, family-oriented, contributing-citizens who were simply seeking a better way of life. Hearing their stories helped to personalize immigration for me and move me from intellectual understanding to sincere interest, then to compassion. Because some have chosen to bypass legal entry does not make them evil. It makes them a person in need of help to navigate the system toward lawful residency; if that is not possible, it makes them a person who still needs hope and help.

And that is where the Church fits in. Properly trained advocates working together with local churches can be the trusted people that immigrants so desperately need. People who can be trusted with physical needs can be trusted with spiritual needs. By following God’s leading and heeding His “audible” that day, I changed. God expanded my intellectual understanding of this crucial issue and then personalized it, giving me a taste of His heart and burden for the immigrant.

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