Yesterday I made the three and a half hour drive to a 12:30 p.m. appointment at the Homeland Security offices in terminal five at O’Hare international airport on the north side of Chicago. As I went into the secure area, I was greeted by a rather large male Homeland security officer seated inside a glass-walled security cubicle, who between the mouthfuls of a sandwich he was eating, greeted me with the words, “passport please.” No hello, no welcome, no good afternoon, just “passport please,” and indicated I needed to pass it to him through the opening in the glass. He took my passport, realized it was a British one and asked for my Green Card. Having checked, I was on the list he had, and so I was asked to sit in the waiting area. As I sat and others came in, I realized that this man’s greeting was the same to all, “passport please.” Even when the person was asking for information about a special entry program in the USA the greeting was the same, “passport please.” After a twenty minute wait, I was asked to follow another Homeland Security officer through to his office. He took my passport, green card, and drivers license, checked a few details with me and asked for my fingerprints and thumbprints and then said I was free to go; and unless I were to chose to become a US citizen, I would not need to see them again for five years. It had taken less than ten minutes and possibly nearer five minutes. My identity was validated and my global entry status agreed. I was sent away and now I faced the long journey back to Indianapolis.
As I drove back, I couldn’t help reflecting on my encounter with the staff of Homeland Security. Why was it that the officer was required to eat his lunch at the front desk and do his work at the same time? Was that why he greeted people in the way he did or was it a way of imposing a particular ‘tone’ to the location and interview that was to come. I knew I had little to be concerned about – I had all I was asked to bring – yet the place and the ‘distance’ of the officer were unnerving and unsettling. How much worse must it be for those who have spent days and weeks walking or risking their lives to enter this, or other countries, and face the inevitable interviews that such actions will bring. Again, hear me when I say laws are laws and they need to be policed and upheld, a job that is not easy at all. People are people, no matter who they are; they and we look to find ways to avoid the laws, (or rules) and they do not think apply to them. If we are honest we have all probably done it at some point in our lives. What is essential in these encounters is to remember the bigger picture and the fact we are dealing with fellow human beings. I do think that courtesy and basic respect for others can and should be afforded in all circumstances. The Bible reminds us, ‘Don’t take advantage of any stranger who enters your land. You must treat the outsider as one of your native-born people-as a full citizen-and you are to love him in the same way you loveyourself; for remember, you were once strangers living in Egypt. I am the Eternal One, your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34 The Voice Translation).
How often we forget that we too are sometimes ‘strangers’ in this world. The word ‘strangers’ is used to translate the original text which referred to ‘aliens.’ Not just at the border, but at the threshold of our church doors, for some, it may be almost a lifetime ago, but you were once strangers here at Roberts Park. I pray we are never to busy or consumed with ‘power games’ to forget to offer a smile and a greeting that seeks to express the warmth of sentiment that being a Christiandemands of us.
Perhaps this can be your prayer this week?
Jesus, as an infant you fled to Egypt with your mother, Mary, and Joseph. You were a vulnerable family in a foreign land, looking for shelter and sustenance. Help us to welcome those like you who cross our borders today. Give us hearts of compassion, humane response, and laws that respect the dignity of all immigrants. Amen.
– Pastor Andrew