Why We Need Different Friends Now More Than Ever

"Meh," a woman in the audience shrugged. "You care about immigration now, but you won't in a couple years."

My husband Billy and I were speaking to a group of folks about his immigration journey and the impact it had on our marriage and our hearts for justice. And this woman - based on her own, similar experience - was convinced we would soon "move on" now that our situation was resolved.

The statement made me nervous. Maybe it haunted me?

Would I eventually become so absorbed in my daily challenges of diapers, client meetings, lunchboxes, and writing that my passion for immigration would fade? After all, my husband is now a citizen, and most of what happens with politics now no longer affects us.

I've thought about that woman several times in the last week.

Because 2016 in Georgia started off with immigration raids. Families being woken up at 4 am, forced to stand outside in freezing temps while their homes were searched for "someone." When that person isn't found, the parents and children in the yard are being divided up and sent to detention or left behind.

And my heart breaks. But I also take a shaky breath, thankful that our situation is resolved and we no longer live in that constant under-lying state of fear.

But what about everyone else?

As I scrolled through these news stories in my Facebook feed, I realized I have very few undocumented friends these days. It wasn't an intentional shift, but a variety of circumstances means I'm less connected than I used to be.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the woman's words have come true. I don't think Billy and I have "moved on" simply because our personal immigration journey ended. But as we've become more socially isolated from those experiencing injustice most intensely, our urgency on the matter has waned.

Relationships are key for sustaining justice work long-term. When we're bombarded by the heart-break of the day, it's difficult to care beyond the few seconds the story flashes on the screen or the article zooms by on our phones. But when we are in relationship with those most affected by the news, we find ourselves deeply committed to prayer, to action, and to justice.

And the world is full of heart-break. I am convinced we need relationships that cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status now more than ever.

Because last month we were reminded of the tragic death of 12-year old Tamir Rice. He was playing with a toy gun in the park, and an officer shot him within two seconds of arriving on the scene.

Seeing his photo, I cannot help but think about the boys on my street. When we moved here almost seven years ago, they were mostly around eight years old, knocking on our door to borrow our air pump (yet again). We watched them go through their own awkward tween years. The ones where they were twelve year old boys playing outside. And I can't help but mourn young Tamir.

We need different friends.

Because people are fueled by fear of the unknown. Attacks on Paris and shooting in California unleashed a torrent of dehumanizing, fearful rhetoric. Syrian refugees are labeled as terrorists. And it's easy to stand by and watch it all play out... if we don't know anyone from Syria.

A Muslim woman was escorted out of a Trump campaign event when she silently stood up after he declared Syrian refugees were affiliated with ISIS. Her words later regarding her attendance struck me: "I figured that most Trump supporters probably never met a Muslim so I figured that I'd give them the opportunity to meet one."

And you know what? She described positive encounters with the Trump supporters seated near her. They had opportunity to talk, and several whispered "sorry" as she was led out of the event.

We need different friends.

Relationships with those who have different life experiences than our own make an impact. We are all changed when we have the opportunity to share life and see situations from multiple perspectives. As the news continues to prey on our fears of those who are different, we must be counter-cultural. We need to reach out and connect with others, experience our shared humanity, and learn from our unique experiences.

We need different friends.

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