The Menders are honored to lead worship at The Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation’s annual Summer Institute. The conference is a gathering of leaders and activists from around the world for an intensive retreat and journey through the cycle of Reconciliation. We will be posting our set lists each day, as well as some reflections on the different themes. We
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also lead a worship and reconciliation talk and will post our notes from that as well. Lots coming this week so stay tuned!
Imagine with me for a moment…
Imagine that you are a musician and a small but popular theatre performance company in Great Britain wants to hire you to work for them full time. They promise you two years of guaranteed employment with them and directly after you finish you would be hired by their parent company to work full time. This seems like great work and the perfect opportunity for you to do what you love and expand your platform as well as an opportunity for you and your family to start life in a wonderful country. You discuss the terms and conditions with the company and they sound good. Upon the approval of a two-year temporary visa, the company will pay for your living expenses in exchange for your work. In addition, you will get a set amount every month to use for groceries and other things you and your family may need.
Soon after the company brings you and your family of four over from the United States to Great Britain since you cannot afford it. Being a musician has been rewarding but has also been a struggle. You are not wealthy so a guaranteed contract and fresh opportunity for you and your family sound great. You begin working for them and love it. Your family loves it in Great Britain and all is well.
After a few months of working with the company you realize that they do not have as much money to give you as they promised you. They take care of the basics but the other needs of your family are taken care of sparsely. You did not sign a contract with them because the contact for the company is a family friend and you agreed to move and work based on his word alone.
Your two year employment had its high and low financial moments but you made it through! You are ready to work for their parent company and upon a renewal of your visa, you can begin work immediately. But the visa is taking longer than expected. You applied for it half a year out just in case it would take that long. I did not take that long the first time so you imagine that six months ahead of time should yield a response. But it doesn’t.
Luckily at the same
time, half a year before your contract ends with the small company, they agree to raise support in case your visa takes longer than expected. It will be transition money for about three months or so. This sounds good as you should have certainly heard back from the government before then, so you agree to it.
It is thirty days
before your contract with the small company expires and you have heard nothing about your visa. Then it is two weeks. One week. You hear from the government. They inform you that it will take another four to six weeks before they can process your paperwork. They do have some good news that as someone affiliated with the arts, your paperwork should be approved as soon as they get to it. But you do not have four to six weeks. You do not have that time because your visa is expired. The small company only raise one-tenth of what they promised you. It is not even enough to cover the impending month’s rent.
You cannot legally work anywhere and no temporary work license or visas are available as options to you.
You cannot drive anywhere. You had a temporary driver’s license but if you are caught by the police (who can seem intent about catching people like you), you will be arrested and deported back to America. Going back to America is not an option. You sold everything you had for you and your family to come to Great Britain for a new life.
Now you have rent to pay on your own now and utilities, you have groceries that you need to buy and your baby needs diapers. You have needs but no income.
With the help of churches and friends you have made since being in Great Britain you get all of your expenses covered for the month! But the government hasn’t gotten back with you yet about an update. Next month’s rent and bills are approaching soon.
By the grace of God through the generosity and kindness of friends, churches, and strangers your family is able to make rent payments for the next six months. All the utilities are not always paid so just before they are shut off, a little bit of money comes in from someone to help. It is just enough to keep the lights on or buy groceries for the week.
But this entire process has been taxing. The government keeps pushing back the date of your visa decision. Even when they presented your new boss with the impossible task of proving that he had your first year’s salary ready in only two weeks, they still have not delivered any news to you. Your boss raised the remaining funds needed and yet two months afterward the only contact made was “It will take another four to six weeks.”
You are tired. You are helpless and at the mercy of the British government to determine whether you can stay in Great Britain and work or whether you will be deported to America to find a life that currently is not there for you and your family. You have nothing to go back to in America. Great Britain is your only option – unless the government states otherwise.
Did you do
it? Did you imagine the scenario? Isn’t it difficult to get your head around?
Can you imagine what this feels like?
I can’t imagine. I literally cannot. And I think that this is something to consider. I think the fact that I cannot imagine this for my own life says something about my status. I have not had to imagine because I was fortunate enough to be an immigrant at the right time. For many Christians who are and who are not immigrants, this is hard to imagine because this level of hardship and difficultly is not on our radars.
Two years ago this was not on my radar until during a summer reconciliation conference held at Duke Divinity School called the Summer Institute. The band that I am in, Menders, was leading worship and a vibrant young man named Rene Lopez came up to us afterwards. He expressed his love for worship music and reconciliation and from that moment on became important to the life of the band.
Rene has shown me that reconciliation is so much deeper than a musical offering to God. Reconciliation and worship happens in how we treat people, who we notice, and who we choose to continue not noticing or helping. Through our friendship I have seen that music is invaluable in helping lead people into God’s presence, but so are relationships, because when the music stops, the only thing we can do is be church together.
Rene has become my friend and his
family, my family. When I first met him two years ago, his situation as a minister working for a church was rough but manageable. But now after finishing with that ministry, Rene and his family are in limbo. For the past eight months they have relied on donations alone to meet their basic needs. And until they get word from the U.S. government about their visa status, they cannot work. He has been a minister for over fifteen years and has work ready for him to minister to children in the urban context. He is ready and willing to work to provide for his family, but legally and literally cannot. As a Mexican in America, given the recent controversy around immigration, I wish I could say that the hardship Rene and his family are facing is an isolated incident but I am afraid it is not.
So what does immigration have to do with worship music? Everything! If worship helps us connect to God, then connecting to the body of Christ in multiple ways can and should be the joy of the church!
Worship music helped Rene find Menders and within a conference on reconciliation, some lasting friendships. But I would even go further and say that worship music helped me find out where God was calling me to be ministered to, in an unlikely and invaluable friendship.
Rene’s presence proves that worship music has the power to connect people from all walks of life and bring new relationships to our attention. And even more, worship music can do the work of calling God’s children to respond to the needs of others – those within and outside of our typical circles. Rene and his family are intentional about being siblings in Christ and beacons of light to all people, not just their own people. And this is admirable as the immigration situation in this country forces many to live otherwise, close-together with their own, trying to find out ways to help one another. This is a tough way to live, and I don’t blame communities that form and live this way for doing so. It is critical to surviving. My parents did it; in many ways, it is the easiest way to get through the difficulties of American life.
The presence of Rene and his family is absolutely a witness to the possibilities of the church, I am positive that I still have a lot to learn from the ministry that is simply their presence. And I hope that their presence and ministry in America will continue; please pray with me for it to be so.
Rene and his family would love your thoughts and prayers as they still await word from the government. Until they get word, they would also love contribution that you can give towards meeting rent and utility needs. You can give HERE if you feel compelled to. And if you would like to learn more about Rene, you can read more about him here.
I ask for your prayers, thoughts and gifts to help a wonderful family continue to be examples of love and grace, pure joy and peace to those of us who need it but did not know or imagine that it could come from such an unexpected place.