Immigration Office: A Cultural Melting Pot

micah6-8

Sitting, waiting.

When will our names be called?

Cultures and languages diverge.

What are you seeking?

Time, money.

Is this how it is everywhere?

We’ve been to the immigration office in Francistown too many times to count now. We are filing for both residency and work permits. Each time is a different experience filled with various representations of language, ethnicity, and culture. Each person has a different story. I sit and wonder…I know why I am here…why are you here? What’s your story?

Asher and I are privileged. We have the resources and energy to file for permits, extensions, and appeals. I wonder to myself, what do individuals do when they lack the resources to make an appeal or file an extension of stay? Where is the justice for those who are fleeing an unsafe country of origin? Where is the mercy for families that must choose between being together or being safe? This should not be a question that a family must ask themselves. And yet individuals and families ask these questions in immigration offices all over the world.

The voices ebb and flow between quiet stillness and nervous chatter. What is one’s internal dialogue?

“Will we get good news today?”

“My fate lies in this office’s hands. Are they having a good day?”

“What will they say today?”

“What now?”

“I’m tired and exhausted.”

“I feel like giving up.”

“Do they enjoy seeing me cry?”

“Where will I go now?”

“Is this just? Is this right?”

The last time we sat and waited at immigration, I laughed out loud at a little boy who was hamming it up in the waiting room. He had not a care in the world, except that he could not sit still and was literally all over that room. And he quickly became enamored with another little girl; he couldn’t keep his hands off her. That day we also ran into a friend, chatting for almost an hour as we passed time catching up. Neither of us got any answers that visit.

A familiar Bible verse comes to mind from Micah 6:8-

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

It has a nice ring to it and is catchy, but I often don’t stop to think about what this verse really means. So I resorted to the wonderful internet to help me understand this Micah text better.

Right before this popular verse, the Lord is reminding the people of Israel what He has brought them through; fleeing Egypt, wandering through the desert, giving them leaders to guide them. And what does the Lord want in return? He doesn’t need or want grand gestures or sacrifices. He simply wants us to ACT justly, LOVE mercy, and WALK humbly. “The answer to Israel’s sin problem was not more numerous or more painful sacrifices. The answer was something much deeper than any religious observance: they needed a change of heart.”

The site goes on to define the three things which God highlights wanting from His people.

Act justly– Micah’s audience would have understood this as living with a sense of right or wrong. “Judicial courts had a responsibility to provide equity and protect the innocent.” Injustice was a problem then…and it still is across the globe. So what can we do about the stories we see and hear? Often we feel small and insignificant- we can’t do anything because we are just one person. So why even bother? Yet God calls us to act with justice. To meet people where they are at- the rich, poor, American, Batswana, Zimbabwean, South African, child, elder, disabled, outcast, sick, healthy, etc. Acting justly isn’t easy or comfortable. It comes at a price…which is often our pride and our comfort. 

Love mercy- “contains the Hebrew word hesed, which means ‘loyal love’ or ‘loving-kindness’”. Mercy means showing compassion or forgiveness to someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. God wanted His people to show mercy and kindness towards each other. Hesed not only is something that people “feel”, but it’s something that people do for other people. “Love is something we do, not primarily something we feel.” We show people we love them through our words and actions, not just by feeling it or telling them.

Walk humbly- “is a description of the heart’s attitude toward God”. We have been blessed with many things from God including our skills, abilities, and passions. He wants us to use these abilities with humility, not pride or arrogance. He also wants us to do so through peace, love, and justice in our hearts.

What does all this mean in the context of the immigration office we have become familiar with? I suppose it leads me to ask more questions. How does one act justly when dealing with an immigration system which seems terribly flawed and inconsistent? How can loving kindness be shown to the refugee or asylum seeker? What does humility and compassion look like towards  those who are refused a place to stay? What change of heart needs to happen in us? How can we change the hearts of those in power?

I apologize for all the questions, but I know that the system here is likely not too different from others. I honestly am not sure that I can do much here in Botswana concerning the immigration system. I am a bit powerless. But I see people fighting every day to stay together as a family. And this brings me hope. Hope that, while it may seem cliché, maybe love can conquer it all. Maybe God’s love, mercy, peace, justice, and hope will prevail. Maybe a small kindness to a stranger does matter. Maybe a short email or card to an old friend does matter. Maybe standing up and saying “no” to an injustice or discriminatory comment does matter. It may feel small at the time, but I would like to think that the small gestures we partake in DO matter. That God our Father sees these and continues to pour love down.

God, our Father, have mercy on the injustices and troubles that we see day-to-day. Let your love and peace continue to flow. You hold our hearts and we pray that we continue to be filled with humility and passion. You are the lover of all things and all people. Continue to help us show love, even in small ways, to those around us. –Amen-

Kagiso (Peace),

L

P.S. We just received our residency permit today. So grateful for this news! 

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