Can We Offer Rest To Weary Immigrants?

If you drive two hours south of Atlanta, you can find a small town called Lumpkin. It's a rural, south Georgia community with few amenities and one giant immigration detention center.

A few months ago, Billy and I drove down with volunteers from our church to visit with men being held in the facility. These detainees had requested visitors through a ministry of hospitality called El Refugio, the refuge.

We had no agenda. Just a simple response to the call to "remember those in prison as if you were there yourself" (Hebrews 13:3). I hope if I asked to be visited, someone would come.

As you might expect, the conversations that transpired ministered as much to our group as I hope we offered the men with whom we spoke. It was a powerful experience.

Since that visit, I've been doing research related to immigration detention for a couple of articles I'm writing. The world of privatized immigration detention (a cash cow for several prison corporations and not included in this week's declaration of soon-to-be-ending contracts) can be an icky place. How do you increase profits when your income is based on other's suffering?

In the midst of pain and injustice, El Refugio stands out in their commitment to care well for detainees and their families. One of their chief ministries is their hospitality house. Down the street from the detention center, it offers a place of rest and refuge for families who have traveled to visit loved ones. Food and accommodations are provided free of charge to these families.

Recently, I received an email that El Refugio has a need to replace mattresses in this house. And they've asked for help. I wanted to share about this ministry here on the blog because I know many of you have a heart for immigrants. This ministry is a tangible way to come alongside families walking the lonely journey of immigration detention. If you'd like to support their work, please click here to give.

I can't wait to share more with you about what I've learned and experienced in the world of immigration detention. May we all continue to pray for justice and reform for our immigrant neighbors.

How Life Got Flipped - Turned Upside Down

One of the best things in the world? Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Even better? Getting books in the mail! 

Today I received my pre-ordered copy of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield. I am so excited to jump into this collection of essays on how life got flipped, turned upside down. And I'm even more pumped to introduce you to the author in today's interview. Read on, friends!

Q: Can you share how you got involved in refugee communities?

So from a young age, I always wanted to be a missionary in a far-away country, to do good things for God, and change the world. When I was 19 and attending Bible college in Portland, Oregon, I started volunteering with recently arrived Somali Bantu refugees from with the intention to practice my missionary skills on them. 

It quickly became clear that I would not be converting them anytime soon due to language barriers and the extreme challenges they faced when navigating every-day life in America. I got sucked into their community, both because of the magnitude of need they were experiencing, but also because I was entranced by their culture and community and the ways they revealed America to me.

Eventually, because of my years of relationship with them, I began to question the easy narratives I always had about my country, my culture, and my religion. Though I never ended up converting any of my friends, my own relationship with God was revealed to me (and ultimately strengthened).

Q: I'd love to hear some background about the title of the book and what it means to you?

When I first met my refugee friends, it was clear that one thing we had in common was that none us fit into a secular, individualistic Western world. As someone who wanted to be a missionary, I had long struggled with religious fanaticism--desperate to please God and to be of some use in the world. My friends were both ethnic outsiders and also religious outsiders in a country that is kind to neither. 

It seemed like everywhere we went we were being asked to tone it down or change who we fundamentally were in order to fit in--to assimilate or go home. The tragedy for refugees, however, is they are people for whom their home was lost to them, and it will never be recovered. 

From my friendships with refugees, they taught me how to move forward in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for you, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Q: Your book write up includes the sentence, "The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my refugee friends, the more I experienced it for myself." Can you offer an example of where you saw God's love at work?

Living and working within refugee communities for the past decade has opened my eyes to the realities people on the margins of American culture experience. There is so much pain and suffering in the world, and I have heard so many stories from my friends. 

Eventually, I had to grapple with inequality and injustice and my own privileged place in the world, which brought me into conflict with God. I had to ask all my questions, to get out all of my despair, and I had to fail miserably at the one thing I thought I could do (convert others) in order to get to an authentic place in my relationship with God. 

Ultimately, I realized that there is so much work to be done in the world in order to see the upside-down kingdom come, but it doesn’t make God love you any more. You already are known and seen and loved, just as you are.

Q: We hear talk of the "refugee crisis" and the challenge of immigrants coming to this country. What's one thing you wish people knew about refugees settling in the U.S. for a new life?

Refugees are distinct from immigrants in that they cannot return to their home and their country, no matter how much they would like to. They have been forcibly displaced by trauma and are struggling to come to terms with their new normal. 

While the global refugee crisis can feel overwhelming, I encourage everyone to seek out already resettled refugees in your neighborhood, city, or state. The biggest need refugees have (and honestly, I think this applies for most American families too) is that they are extremely culturally isolated. They need friends! 

Many of my refugee friends and neighbors come from cultures where community and hospitality is the norm, and yet most of them have never been invited inside the home of an American. This is an easy way to make a difference! Contact your local refugee resettlement agency (I recommend World Relief, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Family Services) and ask for ways you can serve the families on a long-term basis.

So I'm diving into my copy of Assimilate or Go Home. Want to join me? Get yours here!

5 Reasons You Should Never Listen to Hamilton

Image credit: Rollingstone.com

Everybody was talking about Hamilton. It kept popping up in my newsfeed, and everyone was bugging out. I was like, what on earth is happening? A musical about the founding fathers? Not sure that's in my swing zone.

I have a quasi-strict "no chain mail" rule for watching movies, but tights and powder wigs runs a close second. So like most popular culture trends, I simply ignored it until I randomly encountered it on my own.

I'm not exactly sure what happened. But I was headed on a three-hour solo drive to meet my parents and pick up my children, so I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack to my tablet and thought, "Maybe I'll check this out on the drive."

It. was. captivating.

I knew literally nothing about the show, so I was taken aback by the pop/rap/hip hop sound of the musical. I kept thinking, "I've never heard white people sing like this!" I mean, these are white people, right?


"The reason 'Hamilton' works is because there is no distance between that story that happened 200-some-odd years ago and now, because it looks like America now," says writer and creator Lin-Manual Miranda. "It helps create a connection that wouldn't have been there if it was twenty white guys on stage."

I couldn't stop listening on that road trip. I had to find out what happened. Even though it's history (and maybe I should know?), I was drawn into the story of ambition, betrayal, and passion. And the music is simply exquisite.

Still, with all this wonderful-ness, there are some real drawbacks. Here's 5 reasons you should never even approach the soundtrack to Hamilton.

#1. You will feel like a terrible parent.

I let my kids listen to a few songs. Huge mistake. They are obsessed. My five year old daughter came to breakfast saying, "I just can't stop thinking about the name Alexander Hamilton." And my three-year old son requests it every single time we get in the car. He also giggles anytime they mention Peggy.

But this is not a toddler-friendly soundtrack, folks. I did find this "clean" version on Amazon Prime, but clearly my definition of clean is different than others'. It's no Kids Bop.

I'm working to ween them off of it and have even introduced other musicals to no avail. So I spend a lot of driving time suddenly lowering the volume and asking my kids, "Did you see that? Oh, you missed it." They probably think I have a disorder.

#2. You will wear out your Googling fingers.

Once the final note had been sung, I needed to know everything there was to know about this historical story and the musical version. My Google search history is like a show program: Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton musical.

One incredible interview - and the first place I started - is this one on CBS News Sunday Morning. And then, of course, one must watch Carpool Karaoke.

#3. You may feel worse (and also a little better?) about the upcoming election.

Digging into history is an eye-opening experience. Alexander Hamilton had deeply significant influence on the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Federalist Papers, which are still used to interpret it. So it's interesting to get to know him better.

And I wouldn't say the musical glorifies nor vilifies the founding fathers. Rather, it paints a more complex picture that shows a mix of civic responsibility and personal ambition, democratic process and backroom deal making, honor and scandal. Sound familiar?

I guess we can be glad dueling is not as popular as it once was?

#4. You will question whether you have a creative bone in your body.

Hamilton feels flawless. The story is so compelling and tightly written and the music gives you goosebumps. Not to mention, the way Miranda weaves narrative and musical themes throughout is stunning.

As someone who likes to write, I was like, "Welp. That was amazing. I will never write again." But actually, the more I've read about Miranda, the more I recognize the hard work he's invested in his craft to get to where he is, which is actually encouraging.

I love when he says, "Making words rhyme for a living is one of the great joys of my life. That's a superpower I've been very conscious of developing. I started at the same level as everybody else, and then I just listened to more music and talked to myself until it was an actual superpower I could pull out on special occasions."

#5. You will find yourself lovingly gazing at $10 bills.

Recently, I was responsible for counting up a wad of bills from a fundraiser. Suddenly, I realized I was just sitting and staring at my new BFF A. Ham. If someone had walked in the room in that moment, it would've been awkward.

But he and I have spent a lot of time together this summer. And I've thoroughly enjoyed it. If you're considering listening for the first time, I hope you enjoy it, too. But if things unravel, I did warn you. 

Are you a Broadway person? Have you listened to Hamilton? What's one of your favorite Broadway shows? (Bonus points if you say Newsies!)  

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.