I don’t adhere to any organized religion but I admire any church that helps others in the community and welcomes people who might feel less welcome elsewhere. The Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., fits that bill, with a membership that reflects a real cross-section of that New Jersey community — gay and straight, white and Asian and black and Latino, young and old, affluent and poor.
For instance, the church runs a cafe where patrons pay whatever they can afford to pay — if people eating lunch at the Better World Cafe pay a little more than the listed price for a meal, that helps subsidize meals for those who can’t pay for lunch that day. The church also spearheaded a successful effort to convert a former church building in town into affordable housing for veterans.
And, most recently, the congregation and its young pastor Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale have taken up the cause of a group of Indonesians who face deportation back to their homeland — forced to make a choice between leaving their wives and children behind in America or uprooting their families and taking them to Indonesia to face Christian-Muslim strife in their native country.
These are people who have worked hard to be contributing members of the community and society. Their kids go to public schools, including some who are already in college. They are not terrorists. They are not stealing jobs. They are not soaking social services. They like it here. They want to stay, but their visas have expired. The only obstacle in their way is a rigid and dispassionate bunch called the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
And so this church in Highland Park has taken the remarkable step of offering and providing sanctuary to a half-dozen Indonesians who are actually living in the church. Church members serve “sentry duty” every night and day (I gladly joined the effort in a very small way a few weeks ago, staying overnight at the church) watching to see if ICE agents show up to try to round up the Indonesians — some of whom have been ordered to wear ankle bracelets equipped with GPS devices.
The church and its pastor, meanwhile, have been lobbying lawmakers to support and pass HR 3590, a bill which would allow the Indonesians to stay in this country while they seek asylum from religious persecution.
How does it feel to be on your own? A complete unknown? No direction home? Like a rolling stone? I heard Dylan’s classic song on the radio today and it made me think about the plight of these Indonesians, labeled as fugitives and illegals.
I’m glad that at least one church is practicing what Jesus preached: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”