Reflection: It Takes a Village

by | Feb 21, 2020

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . .

Ephesians 4:11-12

Last week I mentioned that Steve Wiebe and I were on our way to Adelanto to be at a court hearing for our Cameroonian friend Bertrand.

So we did get there on time, and felt good that there were only two cases scheduled for that courtroom that morning.  The first case was a father of three daughters.  His wife had come to the USA from El Salvador with the two elder girls long ago, and now they are all US citizens; the third daughter was born here.  The father came in without documents to join them, and was detained.  This was to be his last court hearing, and the oldest daughter said they expected to hear either that he would be released, or deported.

After four hours of tense waiting, the family came out in tears.  They said the judge, who was “mean,” told them they had to come back in March for another hearing because they didn’t have all the documentation in order.

What that meant was Bertrand’s hearing was rescheduled to the next day.  Unfortunately, neither Steve nor I could come on Tuesday, so Bertrand was going to court with no attorney or supporters.  But he is a very resourceful person, so had spoken with friends about how the hearings go, and he had Scripture, so he kept the following text in his heart and his mind:

[Jesus said,] “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12

That evening—during the Presbytery Executive Commission meeting—I got a call from Bertrand.  He said the judge apologized to him that his hearing was delayed, and then asked some questions based on his declaration, especially about the NGO he worked with.  They used a web search to confirm the legitimacy of the NGO, and his connection with it.  The judge said she was sorry that she was banned from granting asylum, and gave him another form of leave, with her own blessing that God continue to guide and protect him.  Because Bertrand waited in Tijuana (for three months!) until the Border Patrol allowed him in, he did not have to pay any bond, and was to be released the next day!

So Bertrand called the next day, Wednesday, during our Presbytery staff meeting.  Now it has been said (certainly not in THIS presbytery) that there’s no need to contribute to shared mission giving, because it only goes to pay Presbytery staff, and what do they do with their time, anyway?  So let me share what your staff and Presbytery friends did in the second half of this last week.

Bertrand was being released that afternoon, and it was expected for someone to pick him up by 6:30 pm, at Adelanto.  He had heard about a group who was arranging for pickups, but he couldn’t reach them.  ICE gave him one (completed) office phone call, and that ended up being me.  Now it was 4 pm, and given east-bound rush hour traffic, we knew it would take 2.5 hours just to get there.  And here’s my confession of my Californian bourgeois life—not only were my dogs at the groomers, my little electric car didn’t have enough battery power to get to Adelanto!

Kristi Van Nostran started organizing for the release, and gave us the voice of experience.  Ally Lee gave me her car key to drive to Adelanto, and offered to house Bertrand.  And thank God for family as well as staff, as my nephew agreed to pick up the dogs.

Hitting the road immediately, I got to Adelanto right at the time for Bertrand’s release.  By that time it was 42 degrees in the high desert, and Bertrand was wearing a sweatshirt that Adelanto gave him.  His bag had been taken in Tijuana the night before he was allowed entry into the US, and since they took him straight to Adelanto, they gave him clothing and toiletries during his detention—but who wants a prison jumpsuit in public, and they wouldn’t let him take his toothbrush.  So he was released with a white plastic trash bag with the jacket he was wearing when he came in, his Bibles, and little else, and that was it.

Thursday was busy, and he spent the day with Steve Wiebe. I have to share the sweetest moment when we arrived at PPC.  As Bertrand and I walked into the office, Elder Ellen Harkin was volunteering at the front desk, and she smiled and said, “You must be Bertrand!  Welcome!”  It was like the voice of heaven blessing Bertrand, and I got to witness it.

The only thing Bertrand asked for was a haircut.  Ally knew that the chair of Knox’ immigrant ministry is a barber, so she and Steve arranged to get his haircut, as well as other needed supplies.  Kristi contacted the circle of support organizations to arrange for Bertrand to get a cell phone and a ticket to North Dakota, where his sponsor lives and where he needs to report next week.  Kristi got him a ticket through Miles4Migrants, a non-profit that works with people who donate their unused frequent flyer miles.  And Steve and Kristi got to witness the heartwarming phone call when Bertrand spoke with his sponsor, a family member who somehow settled in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Kristi and Brian Lee said farewell as he left for his new life.

Through the lens of this one person among thousands, I hope you get a glimpse of this largely invisible network of people seeking to offer welcome and safe passage to so many.  Last week I mentioned Claremont’s Refugee Ministry Team, who have been active in this network, as has Knox.  I know that Pomona Pres and Mideast Evangelical, as well as all our Latinx churches, have given safe harbor and support for people fleeing violence in the Middle East and Latin America.  And for Bertrand, I thank God for the people of Knox and Pasadena Presbyterian, and for my staff colleagues of San Gabriel Presbytery.  Thank God for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, whose grant pays for Kristi’s work, and for Pacific Presbytery, who helped us get the grant.  Thank God for all of them, and thank God for your support.  And continued prayers for Bertrand as he settles in his new home, and for all who are still seeking family and safety in this world.

At the same time this was happening, another staff member, Lauren Evans, has been with the family and at the bedside of long-time minister member and former interim executive presbyter Rev. Barbara Stout.  Barbara, former pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Pasadena, fell and broke her hip last a week ago, and her health seriously deteriorated since.  Barbara went very peacefully home to her Lord on Saturday night at 11 pm.  Please pray for Barbara‘s family, and give thanks for a lifetime of love and ministry.  We will send details about the celebration of her life as we get them.