Arike van de Water
Mountain View Lodge #244
Here in Mountain View Lodge #244 we are trying to give hands and feet to the call to “relieve the distressed” by holding fundraisers, for detained immigrants and refugees, among other things. Isn’t that too political a cause? some critical thinkers in our lodge asked. So it may seem.
Governor Gavin Newsom rang the death knell for private prisons in California by signing bill AB 32, a jubilant newsletter announced Friday, when I checked my inbox. Yesterday, a press release reported that hunger strikes were escalating into mass suicide among asylum seekers in one such private prison New Mexico, because they felt it was the only control they had left, the only way to make a statement. Beneath the political push-and-pull are a lot of people, many suffering, more living in fear of suffering.
Realising even dimly how many lives were so much more screwed up than mine gave me what in Christian circles we call a burden, a calling. An acute realisation that evil is happening in the world and one can do something about it. Such a realisation equals getting an assignment from God, which one can refuse… but I wanted to accept.
You see, I feel this fear, but I can ignore it. I am privileged, as a white, middle-class person from Europe with legal status and a support network. To the point where I have been told, to my face, I am not an immigrant, after I said I was one.
Even I wonder, each time I visit my doctor, whether it means my green card application might be rejected under the public charge rule. I wonder, if I get a speeding ticket, if that misdemeanour might count as felony for me too. I study with a bitter aftertaste, because the higher degree might just be what will let me stay here, just that bit more indispensable. I dread the goalposts will shift for my application, every time the news is on.
From there, it’s easy to imagine how that fear could grow, if one removed a hundred little safeguards. My grandparents’ war stories dog my footsteps lately, their echo eerie. During the first year of the German occupation of Holland, minorities’ rights and public support were stripped away in small increments that nobody protested too much, because taken individually they didn’t seem too bad. Disregard and willful ignorance, not hate or malice, enabled the deportation – and decimation – of Jews, Roma, queer folks, disabled people, the young men who refused to be conscripted.
I have encountered many who consider immigrant detention, and other efforts to close the borders, an impolitic subject. My church certainly avoids directly referencing it in an effort to uphold a neutral appearance in front of a politically diverse congregation.
That taboo’s an effective silencer, even when a third of the church members are directly affected by the constantly changing rules. It curbs us in submitting prayer requests, in discussing a big source of our stress and anxiety with friends. Most importantly, it prevents us from ministering to a very vulnerable group in society. It was one reason I started searching for other places to serve and found the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
I liked the Order’s explicitly welcoming a diversity of members, as well as their promise to help any group that needed help, unhindered by a religious or political agenda. I liked the answer they had to the dilemma: is it too political? That being, we do not choose sides and we choose not to let sides stop us. We just help people. Relieve the distressed.
I joined the lodge this summer, hoping it would support me in this calling. Imagine my delight when one of the first events I helped out at was for the benefit of immigrants. The third weekend in September, the Mountain View Lodge hosted a pop-up gallery fundraiser. People held their phone up to scan one of five QR codes. In that way, they donated directly to a charity helping immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers currently in detention or running that risk. In exchange they took home a framed landscape photograph. Word of them inspired similar fundraiser pop-ups to be held in October and November.
When I finish this article and the tea that has grown cold while I edit it, I will take up my calling. I will write a card to person currently in detention and, God willing, relieve some of their distress. If I can, I will drive over to visit them. I am finding out there are many ways to help.
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