On Friday, June 29, with only two days' notice and in 91 degree temperatures, the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors gathered three dozen people for a Families Belong Together Prayer Vigil. We met on the lawn of Brown Hutcherson Ministries' hall because it was across the street from the Refugee and Immigration Services building of Bethany Christian Services--a fitting place to pray for Bethany, for its social workers, and for the children who were separated from their families due to the United States' recent border policies.
Rev. Nathaniel Moody, pastor of Brown Hutcherson welcomed us, and Rev. Emmett Harrison, senior pastor of Oakdale Park Church, got us started:
"It's important for us to stand together and reclaim what it means to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not a political issue, but a moral one. We need to call the church to stand together in unity. We're here because we do care, because God cares. We're standing where Jesus would have us stand--on the side of justice. Justice is a hard road. It is a long road. We have to keep walking it."
From there, several faith leaders led us in prayer and in song.
Juan Carlos, Director of Hispanic Ministries for the Diocese of Grand Rapids of the Roman Catholic Church prayed on our behalf in Spanish. Unfortunately, the translator was held up, so we do not have English text for his prayer.
Next, Colin Watson, Director of Ministries and Administration of the Christian Reformed Church in North America spoke about what Jesus said when he was asked what we can do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus approved the answer, "Love your neighbor as yourselves."
"And when Jesus was further asked he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan—a man was traveling down the road and he was set upon by robbers, and he was beaten and left for dead. The good citizens of the time walked by. But a Samaritan, who was very much unlike him, had pity on him, stopped, helped him, bound his wounds, took him to an inn, and then also cared for him and made sure the innkeeper had enough to take care of him for the next period of time. This is what God expects us to do with our neighbors. Politicians and others have all kinds of reasons why we shouldn’t take care of our neighbors and our friends and our immigrants; they might be political, they might be economic, they might be social. But there is no spiritual reason why we can’t follow Christ’s commands and take care of our neighbors."
Watson's prayer focused on elected officials and those with political power:
"Our God, our Father, we come to you right now, crying out for your Holy Spirit to fall upon those in authority. Father we ask for your blessing upon those in federal, state, and local positions. We ask, Father, that you allow them to see each other as children of God. As they deliberate together in their chambers, we ask that they treat each other with the respect that is deserved of being children of God. We ask that you infect their mutual speech with grace. We ask that you give their minds new understanding. Father, may they see and understand the true meaning of leadership—leadership that always understands, always protects, is always loving. And may they see the vulnerable ones with new eyes. May they see different children as their children. May they see those crossing borders as their own family. Father we pray that our leaders may repent, that they may look at our history and find cause to repent. May we see with clear eyes our historical wrongs. May we see the wrongs that we visited upon Native American brothers and sisters. May we see the wrongs inflicted upon African American slaves. May we see the wrongs inflicted upon Japanese American communities. May we see the wrongs inflicted upon Jewish families, and now our Mexican and Hispanic families, forced to leave their homes. May we collectively say, ‘Never again.’ Never again will we stand by when people are driven from their ancestral land in the name of development. Never again will we be silent when a population of brothers and sisters are forced to work as slaves or in conditions nearing slavery, so they can’t take care of their families. Never again will we be quiet as refugees are forced from their homes and victimized anew when they get to their destination. Father we pray that never again will we fail to see another human being as less than a child of God. Father we pray that you will make us instruments of your peace: may we show to each other an active love, that agape love that you demonstrated for us on the cross. May you give us courage to do what is right. Give us strength to love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The new rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, the Very Reverend Rene Constanza, CSP, reminded us that we serve and worship a God who unifies and not separates, before he lifted up the children who have been separated from their families, over 80 of whom are in the custody of Bethany Christian Services.
"Loving Father, in your infinite compassion, we seek your divine protection for refugee children who are often alone and afraid. Lord, provide solace to those who have been witnesses to violence and destruction, who have lost parents, family, friends, and all they cherish due to war or persecution. Lord, comfort them in their sorrow and bring help in their time of need. Show mercy to unaccompanied migrant children, too, Lord. Reunite them with their families and loved ones. Guide those children who are strangers in a foreign land to a place of peace and safety. Show us how we might reach out to those precious and vulnerable children. Open our hearts to migrant and refugee children so we might see in them your own migrant son. Give us courage to stand up in their defense. For this we pray through our Lord, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, oh God, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, Amen.”
Joella Ranaivoson, Associate Chaplain for Upperclass Students at Calvin College, prayed for those at Bethany who work with the separated children, and continued our prayers for the children:
“Our gracious Father, we thank you for this day you have given to us. We thank you for warmth and rest and rejuvenation. Father we remember those for whom life is not restful or rejuvenating right now. God we pray for the children who have been sent here to Grand Rapids. We pray for Bethany Christian Services. We pray that you would be with the social workers and directors and the people who are going to interact with the children and going to play active parts in what happens with their lives, Lord. God we pray that you would inhabit those processes by your Spirit. Lord, we pray for the kids. We pray for their comfort. We pray arms and people to hold them and to hug them and that they would feel the comfort of their loving Father while they are far away from their own mothers and fathers. We pray boldly, Lord, that somehow they would be able to be reunited with their families, with their parents. We pray for the parents who are grieving being apart from their children. We pray for your protection over these children. We pray that there would be no more trauma that would be inflicted—protect their hearts, their minds, their emotional wellbeing, their brain development in light of these things that are happening to them. Jesus we pray that you would give Bethany the whole insight and wisdom, that even as they do their work of advocating for and providing homes for the children in the meantime, God I pray that you will help them keep their eyes on the vision that these kids should be with their own families, so God we pray that that would be so. We pray for the kids, Lord, that they would know that their mothers and fathers didn’t choose to leave them. We pray that you would somehow give them the assurance that they are loved by their parents and they would be with their parents right now if it were up to their parents. So we pray for your protection over that building and over the kids, and over the whole institution. We lift up all these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.”
All the participants stood together, held hands, and had a time of open prayer. A woman used this compelling image:
"God, you say that when we don't know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans--we know you hear the groans and cries of those children."
We were led in singing "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine" by Freda Watson. Rev. Harrison reminded us that, "We pray. And then there's work to be done," before Jazmyne Fuentes and Kelsie Herbert told us some of the ways to stay involved in immigration issues. Fuentes encouraged us to keep praying and to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with fellow Christians. She and Herbert noted that all our Michigan representatives have come out against family separations, but that we need to keep pressing them on legislation to ensure this never happens again, and to ensure that these families will be quickly reunited.
We had originally billed this as a candlelight prayer vigil, but with the windy weather, we were forced to get creative and hold up the flashlights on our cell phones.
Thank you to everyone who spoke and everyone who came out to pray. We joined our voices with the Sojourners prayer vigil that was held in Washington, D.C. at the same time, in advance of the Families Belong Together protests that occurred the next day at Rosa Parks Circle and across the country. Let us keep praying and keep walking that long, hard road to justice.
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