During our first day in San Diego with The Global Immersion Project, we met with a young woman named Nohemi. Although she didn't know it until she was older, Nohemi came to the US undocumented as a young child. She worked hard in school to earn straight As and a college scholarship only to then learn of her reality. Her undocumented status prevented her from accepting her scholarship. Left with no other choice, she applied for and was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – an immigration policy that has allowed her to remain in the United States legally, but with no path to citizenship. Like so many others who have been granted DACA, Nohemi's life literally hangs in the balance this year, dependent on who will become president.
After listening to Nohemi's story, one of the youth on my intergenerational team approached me and said, “I've heard one person's story and already my mind is changing about immigration.”
That's the kind of power the Global Immersion Project's Immigration Learning Lab has for those who participate in it. Through a week in San Diego and Tijuana, we met and interacted with those who are most directly impacted by immigration. We heard stories, wept, prayed, learned, and wrestled with what it means to see, immerse, contend and restore in our own lives. We built nothing... Other than a new way of seeing the world around us and our place in it.
A few weeks after the trip, my team reconvened to debrief. As part of this conversation, I asked the team to reflect on how their perspectives had changed as a result of our experience. One adult member reflected, “I used to think that peacemaking was for big organizations like NATO and the UN. Now I know it's for individuals like me.”
A week later, my junior high and high school students – some of whom had also joined in the immigration learning lab - participated in another, more traditional mission trip to Milwaukee. One night on the trip, an African-American leader shared an experience she'd had in Milwaukee – one of the most racially divided cities in our nation. She'd been returning to our site when a group of white men had hurled ice at her car and shouted racial slurs at her. She was rightfully distraught. She urged the teens at our site to do something about this; to work towards reconciliation.
Later that night when my team gathered to process what they'd heard, a middle schooler bemoaned, “I want to do something. But what? The problem is SO big. I can't possibly make a difference!”
In response, one of the high school students explained, “I used to think that way too. But Jesus calls us all to be peacemakers. God's heart is for reconciliation. It starts when we come into a community like this one and see what's actually going on here, listen to and immerse ourselves into people's stories, get creative in love, and then work toward restoration – theirs and ours. It may not seem like much, but we can actually do a lot.”
The student who spoke learned that peacemaking framework on our trip to San Diego and Tijuana. He was then able to translate and apply it to an entirely new community and explain it to others in order to help them do the same.
That's transformation. In a nutshell, it's what my team gained from our experience with The Global Immersion Project: Not just a week's worth of before and after pictures but an entire paradigm shift in how we think about immigration and our role as everyday peacemakers.