Despair and hope. It seems like these two little nouns could pretty well sum up the Christian life of discipleship. We despair in our sin, in our powerlessness, in our finitude; yet we hope in God’s grace, in God’s sovereignty, in God’s infiniteness. We despair that some do not know the joy and fulfillment of knowing Jesus Christ, yet we hope in God’s power to “draw all people to Himself” (John 12:32). We despair that we continually fail to honor God in our words and deeds, yet we hope “that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). We despair in the face of systemic injustice, yet we hope in the redemption of all things. Despair seems to be a natural part of the rhythm of discipleship. Indeed, if a Christ-follower does not despair sometimes, chances are he is not paying attention or does not take his discipleship too seriously. Yet despair is never the end. Hope is never far behind, there to lift us up, dust us off, and send us back into the fray.
Friends, a population of our brothers and sisters is despairing today, and hope seems distant. Allow me to explain. Beginning in 1997, a number of Christians from Indonesia fled their homeland to escape violent religious and ethnic persecution that threatened churches, homes, and their very lives. They arrived in the US and found a sympathetic country ready to welcome and help them. However, upon arrival in the U.S., many of these Indonesian immigrants did not file for asylum within the one-year time limit required for asylum applications. Most didn’t know how, or were inadequately served by overburdened or inept immigration lawyers. And so, with legal tourist visas that later expired, and legally-granted Social Security cards and drivers’ licenses, they started their lives.
After 9/11, the Indonesian Christian community in the U.S. was informed that because they came from a country with a Muslim majority, they needed to report for a program called NSEERS; if they failed to do so, these peaceful families would be considered terrorist fugitives. Desiring to be honest with the government, they complied, even though they knew that many of their papers had expired. Most filed for asylum as well, but every single case was declined because they had missed the one-year time limit for asylum applications.
Registering with NSEERS alerted the government that these Indonesian Christian asylum-seekers were living in the U.S. with expired documents, and soon they became targeted for deportation. In the years since the Indonesian community stepped honestly forward and registered with NSEERS, too many families have been ripped apart, with husbands detained and deported while mothers are left to support the families’ U.S. citizen children. One terrible night in 2006, 37 fathers were ripped from the same apartment complex in central New Jersey and rapidly sent back to Indonesia. All around the country, Indonesians who reported in 2003 for NSEERS started losing their cases — and getting deported.
As fellow Christians, we join in the despair of our brothers and sisters, but we also have the opportunity to be a great beacon of hope. We have the humbling task of offering hope and comfort, in the name of the Great Comforter, to those in Christ’s body who are suffering. Indeed, we have the awesome task of joining with them in their suffering, for “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). This is the beauty and mystery of the Church.
Confession time: I am not a pastor. Though I aspire to be one in the future, for now I am simply a brother in Christ; a co-participant in the ministry of reconciliation and a fellow believer in the radical power of kinship and agape love. I am convicted by the stories of these families, because they are my stories. They are yours. They are part of the collective, multivalent, complex, beautiful, broken narrative of the Bride herself. If you too are convicted; if your heart is also breaking, then I offer you a proposition. What I humbly challenge you with is this: On Sunday, September 9, pray the following prayer during your worship service:
God of justice and love,
We marvel at the work of your hands.
We thank you for the tenacity with which you seek us.
With our lips we praise you for calling us, your people, from around the globe.
Give us strength as we seek to grow your kingdom.
Faithful God, give us eyes to see and ears to hear the needs of your persecuted church.
Grant us the tenacity to seek justice and peace for your people with our hands.
We pray in particular for the Indonesian Christians in the United States whose families are being torn apart. Protect the men who have been sent back to Indonesia. Keep them safe and reunite them with their families, God. We pray for the women and children left behind in the U.S. Provide for them Lord, and help them feel your comforting arms around them.
Lord, we pray for the efforts of Pastor Kaper-Dale and his congregation. Bless the work of their hands. Let them see the fruit of their labor to save those in danger of deportation.
Lord, move in the hearts and minds of those in positions of power. We pray that they would hear their pleas and see that justice is served.
Lord, make each of us ever-aware that it is only in you that we live and move and have our being.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, we pray. Amen.
What a powerful witness to the unity of the body of Christ to have CRC churches across the country praying in unison on behalf of our brothers and sisters. What a powerful witness to the power of hope within despair. What a powerful witness to the awesome sovereignty of our Almighty God.
For more information on the situation of these Indonesian Christians and for more opportunities to get involved, please visit our website.