In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:1-4, 14 (NIV)
Unless you’ve been trying to avoid it, I imagine you’ve heard about the group of refugees known as the “Migrant Caravan.” The group of several thousand moving north from Honduras and other Central American countries toward, they hope, asylum in the U.S. has been a media talking point and political football for several weeks now.
Chances are, someone has told you what you ought to think about it. Someone at work, at school, on social media, or maybe a stranger at an airport — it seems like everyone has an opinion about this group. Some call them an “invasion.” Some hysterically claim, with little to no evidence, that they’ve been infiltrated by terrorists. Others, with maybe more sober views, recognize that many or most of them are people fleeing with their families from violence and danger in their homelands, hoping to make a new life in America. Maybe you’re having a hard time knowing what to believe.
If so, I suggest you believe Gavin Rogers.
Gavin is a San Antonio pastor who wasn’t exactly sure what to believe either. But he didn’t settle for Googling it, or for trying to make something coherent out of the competing views of the talking heads on TV. Neither did he wrap himself in the security and certainty of his own prejudices. Instead, he went to see for himself.
He joined the migrant caravan.
I mean, for four days Gavin traveled with them, ate with them, slept with them as they walked, hitchhiked, and rode trucks toward Tijuana, Mexico. Gavin has posted extensively on Facebook during his travels, so I won’t say too much about that here. Suffice to say that you should check out his page if you want some information about these refugees. He shares many stories of the people he’s met and lived with, including the teenager who held on to him to keep him from falling out of a truck, and the strangers who rushed up to him as they walked to return his wallet, which he’d unknowingly dropped.
Gavin says that many of the migrants he met have family members in the United States. Many want to get legal help in applying for refugee status. (I hope that, instead of more soldiers, our government will send some immigration lawyers!) He says some of the travelers he’s met have taken offers from Mexico, but that many are wary of seeking asylum there because they doubt that the country’s unstable political situation and threats of violence will be an improvement over the lives they’ve walked away from.
Refugees who were willing to share their stories with Gavin told him of having their children kidnapped and other relatives killed in Central America. Their journey, he says, is “not about a better life in American terms, it’s just about living.” They want their kids to be educated. They want to “be free from violence and rape and murder.”
Is everyone in the “caravan” a saint? No. Are there people there who might take advantage of the situation? Almost assuredly. I don’t know exactly what the U.S. should do, nor does Gavin. But what you take away from looking at his photos and reading his posts is what we should already know: that from a distance you can’t know people. That arguing about policy seems inappropriate after you put faces on the faceless horde that some in our country would like to use to scare us. That when you walk with people, learn their names, and hear their stories, things come into much clearer focus.
In other words, don’t knock the inner city until you’ve spent a few nights there. Don’t demean those on welfare until you’ve tried to put dinner on the table for minimum wage (or spent some time with someone who has). Don’t waste a moment trying to solve other peoples’ problems from a distance; if you really care about them, you’ll have to do it close up. And if you won’t get close, then all you’ve got is an uninformed opinion.
Gavin Rogers reminded me of this. But I didn’t learn it from him, originally.
When God acted to save us, he didn’t do it with words. Not really. Oh, I mean, I know we have Scripture, and I believe its words are from God. I know people have preached the gospel through the centuries using words. I’m writing words right now. I believe God has given us words, and I know that he’s used the words of his servants to do his work in the world. The last thing I want to do is devalue words.
But that’s actually sort of my point: as useful and as powerful as words can be, the only One who can literally create worlds with his word didn’t act to save us with words. At least, not spoken or written ones.
John goes to great lengths to describe God’s word. “If you know the Genesis creation story,” he says, “then you know how powerful God’s word is.” God’s word can’t be separated from him. It’s always been, just as God has always been, been there from the beginning. It’s the creative force behind everything that exists, even human life. When God speaks, what he speaks just is.
Even so, God didn’t save us with words. He didn’t speak our salvation into existence from a distance.
Instead, John says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Everyone in our world has words to share. Words to speak, write, post. Words to shout and growl through clenched teeth. Words used as projectiles to hurl at one another, words like knives in the back, whispered about one another. Words that carry lies, empty promises, fake news. We use words to proclaim our wisdom, our power, our superiority. We employ them to get other people to do what we want them to, or what we think they should, or what we believe is best.
There is no shortage of words about the “migrant caravan,” or whatever other issues you might think of. No shortage of words in our world, about anything.
There is, however, a shortage of words made flesh. That’s what Gavin’s example reminds us of.
May those of us, especially, who praise God for his word made flesh in Jesus, not hesitate to make our dwelling with those we would save. Let us be known for fostering children, feeding those who are hungry around our tables, visiting those in prison, spending time with people forgotten in nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. Let us be known more for walking with the refugees of this world’s sin and death than giving our opinions about them. May we do it for no other reason than that our Savior did.
And may we do it knowing that through our words made flesh, they might very well come to know the Word made flesh. They might see his glory.
Next time we feel like speaking about something, let’s be sure we put flesh on our words first.
Who can you walk with today?