Monday, April 27, 2020

Open My Eyes: Reflections on Immigration

One of my favorite Sunday School songs when I was growing up was “Open My Eyes.”  That was partly because it was easy to play. At age 9 I was the piano player for my church’s Sunday School junior department.

Its lilting melody and the allusion to the eyes, ears and voice also made this hymn ideal. Having sight in just one eye since birth made eyes very important to me. Hearing music and singing were also high on my list of favorite things. I was singing solos in church as soon as they could get a robe on me in the Cherub Choir.

The words and tune to this hymn were written by Clara Scott (1841-1897) She was a 19th century Midwesterner who taught music at a Ladies’ Seminary in Lyons, Iowa. Ms. Scott wrote and published many such hymns before her untimely death in a buggy accident.

According to Dr. C. Michael Hahn, “Scott has not only given us a list of organs (of the body) through which we may receive and project truth and love, but she also provides the method in her refrain: ‘Silently now I wait for thee; ready my God, thy will to see. Open my eyes, (ears and hearts), illumine me, Spirit divine.’”

When I began serving an all-Deaf congregation in Baltimore years ago, I quickly learned that talking about the use of ears, voices and mouths in hymnology did not translate so well for people who did not physically hear or speak verbally.  We substituted words like “understand and proclaim” in order to be conceptually accurate.  However, it is a fact that for all of us, no matter our physical abilities, the eyes, ears and mouth offer little more than mere senses without the discernment of the heart and mind. These allusions in poetry and hymnody actually speak of the deeper sense of spirituality and response.

Plight of immigrants in this country

Recently, I have been “seeing” with my eye’s heart the plight of immigrants in this country. This week our administration halted all immigration to the United States.  Our country is also excluding all DACA recipients from COVID-19 relief packages.  (DACA recipients are those young people with only temporary legal status in the United States, who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents.) 

I am seeing that a large number of people on immigration journeys in this country are doing menial jobs and providing “essential services” in this country now during the “stay at home orders.” Many are doing the difficult and dangerous labor of cleaning, preparing and serving for long hours and getting sick themselves.  I see the injustice here.  The hymn is calling for us to see “glimpses of truth.”

Then there is the concept of “hearing voices of truth.” Recently I saw a documentary film titled “The Unafraid” which traces the lives and struggles here in the U.S. of three young adult DACA “Dreamers.” I heard their voices of pain from not knowing what their future will be.

Our federal government proclaimed an end to the DACA program; and the U.S. Supreme Court will announce any time now (by June at the latest) whether it was legal to end this program. Or the court could also say that they have no standing to rule on this case. 

If the program ends this group of about 800,000 young people, who have grown up in our country with no prior knowledge of their birth country, may face the unthinkable specter of deportation or endless years of being processed in our immigration system at best.

In this documentary I heard the voices of undocumented parents who came to this country illegally because of impossible oppression in their countries of origin. I heard their fear of immigration authorities, their dire poverty, their inability to get lifesaving health care, their sadness for their children who face extreme difficulties getting into institutions of higher education, their difficult and low-wage employment options.

Voices of truth, compassion, justice

The “voice of truth” of their situation called me to the “voice of Truth” in the Word of God that in numerous places calls the people of God to show compassion and justice to immigrants.

Leviticus 18:33-34 says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.”

Similar wisdom is found in Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5 and numerous other places in Scripture. Could the Word of God be any clearer?  We often quote Leviticus with great veracity when dealing with other social justice issues. I wish this one could be seen as equally worthy of our obedience and creative response.

Then there is the mouth.  “Open my mouth and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere.”  The warm truth of salvation through faith in Christ is our Great Commission.  I would say using your mouth to speak truth about the plight of immigrants is also a responsibility of the sons and daughters of John Wesley. His movement was based on personal and social holiness.

Social holiness calls us to work for justice. Wesley fought against child labor, prison evils, slavery and any place where money and greed trumped mercy and equality. We can open our mouths by speaking to our lawmakers and our churches about the plight of people in our country who are literally starving for food but also dignity and respect.

Finally, this hymn would be complete if it included a verse about hands.  Hands are a symbol for Christian service.  We often call ourselves “the hands and feet of Christ.”  Our hands can give from our abundance financially to those who are without the things that are needed for sustenance and good health. 

Justice for Our Neighbors

Our hands can comfort and support those whose immigration struggles have left them with emotional stress and mental health concerns.  Our hands can extend welcome into our churches’ fellowship and loving embrace neighbors in our communities who do not look like us.

We can support the UMC immigration services known as “Justice for Our Neighbors,” which is beginning a new chapter in the Delaware Valley soon.  The possibilities are endless.  Every one of us can do something.

Open my hands that I can do acts of compassion, grace and truth.
Give me the wisdom that’s from above, to give our neighbors Christian love.
Silently now I wait for Thee, ready my God, thy will to see.
Open my hands and I will be partners with Thee.


1. Bishop Peggy Johnson is a member of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and has participated in some of its efforts to address immigration justice and mercy. She went with GBCS members to the U.S. Southwest border two years ago and saw first-hand migrant detainees locked in cages. She has talked with DACA “dreamers” she met through the Rev. Carlos Reyes Rodriguez, a deacon in the Peninsula- Delaware Conference and GBGM Hispanic Ministries Missionary. He works with the DACA community and leads his conference’s immigration justice Rapid Response Team.

2. View an April 22 GBCS panel discussion about DACA in a webinar that included viewing of film Unafraid. Bishop Johnson viewed the film and the panel discussion.

3. Here's a few other ways you can take action:

·       Host a virtual Storysharing event in your conference! Please be in touch with us if your conference is interested in hosting a Virtual Story Sharing event with DACA students.
·       Donate your stimulus checks to support immigrants. Many immigrants--documented and undocumented--are excluded from COVID-19 funding, including college student financial aid. Consider the national undocumented worker fund or a local fund organized by your neighborhood immigrant justice network, such as this one in the D.C. area.
·       Learn about DACA and educational opportunities in your state with this College Guide for Undocumented Students.
·       Purchase the “The Unafraid” documentary to share in your congregation or community.

The U.S. Supreme Court typically announces rulings on Mondays. Here are two recent articles on the DACA case:
We will report the court's decision when it is announced.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Praying Mantis

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
They greet me at the back door of my house on summer days, these long, green insects that appear to be in a posture of prayer.  Commonly known as “praying mantis,” these pre-historic, dinosaur-looking bugs are known to “eat almost anything, including each other,” according to “Gardening Know How” by Bonnie L. Grant.  Their front legs, in their classic prayer position, are such that they can capture unsuspecting insects that pass by. 
At summer’s end, the female praying mantis lays a sack of eggs on a branch of a bush or a tree before the first frost.  She covers them with a frothy foam known as “ootheca.” This foam hardens into a shell that protects the eggs from predators, winter cold and parasites. Through the cold winter the young praying mantis inside the cocoon feeds on this protein substance of the ootheca. There are as many as 400 praying mantis babies in each cocoon. (“Amazing Praying Mantis Egg Case” by Debbie Hadley).
Last week while walking around the front yard of the house, I spotted a cocoon on the bare branch of a Rose of Sharon bush.  In the late summer when the mother insect laid her eggs, it was hidden by the green leaves of the bush.  When all the leaves of the bush came down in autumn, the cocoon was easy to see, but it took this sequestered time of sheltering in place for me to take notice of it. 
Lately I’ve noticed a lot of things I was too busy to see. With warmer weather on the way, a new batch of these praying insects will soon be greeting me. And on and on, the circle of life continues.
During this time when we are ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of this COVID-19 pandemic, there are myriad emotions swirling inside my head.  These include:
·       sadness for the continual escalating number of COVID-19 cases and deaths;
·       concern about church finances and the potential remedy of bank loans;
·       adjustments to a new way of leading churches and conducting personal affairs;
·       concern for vulnerable family members and friends; and
·       wondering about the future of the church with the postponement of our 2020 General Conference. 

It feels like we are in a cocoon some days, not able to get out, except for trips to the food store and other essential places.
The God who tenderly cares for the praying mantis cocoon with nourishing proteins and a protective cover is there for you as well during this time.  I Peter 5:7 reminds us “Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.”
Spend time in prayer and study of the Scriptures. Read devotional materials, and view some of the many photo and video postings on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Feed on the Word of God for nourishing insights, direction, and encouragement. 

Pray fervently for those who live or work in harm’s way, for the isolated, for the confused and depressed, and for those experiencing domestic violence behind closed doors. Practice fasting, give generously to help others, and adhere to the necessity of a healthy Sabbath rest.  This imposition of sheltering can be a workshop for spiritual growth in the protracted “cold winter” of this unprecedented, crisis.
I am aware of the many among us who are not able to stay at home, those who are employed in serving their communities in many self-sacrificing ways.  I say to you as well: Remain strong in the Lord, and draw from your practice of faith disciplines the spiritual and physical resources you need for your tasks. 
Like the praying mantis in the summer sun, be a prayerful presence wherever you go, witnessing to the love of God among people who are in pain and under stress.  Praying mantis insects “catch” their prey with their praying legs. We Christians are not predatory; but Jesus calls us to be “fishers of people.” (Matthew 4:19)  We can “catch” people for God with our loving acts of mercy, patience and gentleness out in the world. 
May God bless you all!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Doing the Next Right Thing

I watched the movie “Frozen 2” over the weekend because I ran out of things to do as everything has been closed and canceled. The advice that came up frequently in this Disney film were the words, “When you don’t know what to do, do the next right thing.” 

I like this quote because it is practical and doable. Life is full of times when we don’t know what to do as we face an overwhelming problem or fear-inducing situation. Doing the “right” thing speaks of moral integrity during hardships and suffering. The “next” thing speaks of taking it slow, one step at a time, and seeing the good in every small effort. That step often leads to the knowledge of what to do next. 

This is good advice for us, as we respond to the coronavirus pandemic. We may not know what to do to solve this challenge globally, but we can do the “next right thing” locally.

The “next right thing” in practical terms includes the following:
  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Sanitize high volume surfaces.
  • Observe protocols about social distancing.
  • Keep informed about state and governmental directives.
  • Get tested if you are feeling sick, and observe a quarantine if you believe you have been exposed to the virus.
The “next right thing” pastorally brings a new window of opportunity like never before. I have been observing our churches responding to this pandemic in many creative and effective ways. It is an exciting time for the church! 

Some are reaching online unchurched people that have not been physically attending church services. People are seeking God at this time. Here are some things that are happening around our connection: 
  • Worship services webcast using livestreaming video, or Zoom videoconferencing or recorded and posted on Facebook, church websites and YouTube.
  • Print versions of sermons e-mailed or posted on church websites.
  • Daily morning devotions livestreamed.
  • Churches providing sign language interpreters in the screen box during live-streamed services, so that Deaf people, who use American Sign Language can see the sermon/devotions.
  • Starting or continuing Bible Studies, prayer meetings and congregational care groups on conference calls and videoconference calls. I even observed one church using YouTube to offer sewing directions for making protective face masks.
  • Drive-thru food pick-ups and drop offs at food banks for distribution.
  • Drive-thru donations and Communion elements.
  • Pastoral Care Window Visits, where a visiting team comes to the home of a person who has been sick and holds signs outside read “Praying for you.”
In these times of uncertainty many are concerned about the potential drop in funding for church support and ministry. Some churches are handling this concern through electronic giving, and some are mailing stamped envelopes to church members to encourage ongoing giving. 

We should be about the business of giving sacrificially and not hoarding. It seems counter-intuitive but giving when you feel vulnerable is the basis of Christian stewardship. 

Generosity proclaims your faith in God like nothing else. Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Give in faith at this time, and trust that God will supply all of your needs. One of our greatest tools for ministry is our concern for the poor during times of need.

Do “the next right thing” each day, and may God continue to direct your paths and use you to bless many people.