The Promise of America – A New Home
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Deuteronomy 6: 1 – 12. Focus on the promise of what America means to the immigrants of the world and why it matters. Check out the Bravo Violins following the sermon.
When I think of the fourth of July I think of parades, fireworks, picnics the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest on Coney Island, but I also think of what America represents to the world – a new home and a refuge. A place to make your mark. And a place to call home. And lest we forget like Israel soon forgot. This land is not our land. It was a land that was the Native American’s land, which we took from them by force. This thought alone ought to humble us but I came across a story as told on PBS’s The Moth – on June 17th by Dori Samadzai Bonner entitled “A New Home” that speaks beautifully to God’s command given first to Israel but a command that holds true for our nation as well.
“I grew up in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation and as a child I remember my dad being gone a lot and the subject of my dad’s whereabouts was a taboo subject in my household because my mom told us we were to never ask about him or his where abouts so we never did and sometimes I wonder if he cared about me. We grew up during the war between the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation of our country. And I remember growing up in Kabul during the war, which was very difficult because of this very distinct whistling sound that the missile makes right before it hits its target and we heard this day and night while I was growing up.
In the meantime there was a rumor about a regime change which was devastating news from my dad who was a high-ranking officer working for the current regime and historically the new regime takes over by violently dismantling the old regime. And all we wanted to do was to get out of the country but we couldn’t because of the government crackdown on everybody’s visa’s. The government wanted everyone to stand by them and so the only way out of the country was on forged papers and then early in 1990 we made a daring escape in the middle of the night – my parents and my brother and I migrated to the U.S. on forged papers.
My father requested political asylum, which meant that we could stay here temporarily while the case worked it’s way through the courts. They gave us work permits, drivers’ license, Social Security card. So we all moved to California and got settled in and started working and fast forward fives years our lives were so normal that the worst thing in my mind at that time was having to get my mom to let me stay out late past my curfew and I’m at my first job – at the Men’s Warehouse – my dad calls me and I could hear by the excitement in his voice that there something going on at home and he tells me you need to come home right away because there is a letter from immigration.
And since I speak the best English in my family my father wanted me to come home and translate. For those of you who’ve been lucky enough not to be familiar with the immigration system they don’t send you regular updates like – Hey thinking about y’all! We haven’t forgotten about you!
So my family gathers around the dining room table and they are saying come on come on what’s it say?
And it says your court appointment has been moved up to next week and it says that we need to bring all our legal documents and our family photos and things that are important. So we start jumping up-and-down thinking that this is the appointment that we been waiting for and the day of our appointment we drive to downtown Los Angeles and we go into a big government building where we check in and go through security.
We go upstairs and there’s an immigration officer waiting for us and he guides us into this room. And after a moment the doors open wide and right away I felt like we were in the wrong place. The people that were sitting there were visibly upset some of them crying but we go in and sit down and wait for them to call our name.
And after a while my dad asked me to go and ask how long this appointment was going to take because he was dressed in his uniform and he needed to get back to work so I go up and I asked the immigration officer: “Can you tell me how long this appointment might take because my dad needs to get back to work” and he says, “Your dad will go back to work alright just not in this country.”
And my heart just dropped! Going back is not an option, because we are now considered traitors. And I sit down and tell my dad what the security guard said. And my dad just lost all the color in his face. And he slumped in his chair clutching his chest in pain. And I ran down the hall and find a phone and call our attorney.
I was extremely upset with our attorney because we had given her all the money we had saved, which we did by not eating a meal each day for five years and the only thing that we wanted was to be sure that we could have our attorney with us and for her not to be here was really upsetting to me.
So I call her on the phone and this girl answers the phone and she sounds like she’s about 18 years old like my age at the time and I have to convince her to put our attorney on the phone. I tell her it’s an emergency please put Jody on the phone and as soon as I hear her voice on the other end of the phone I just completely break down and tell her that something is wrong with my dad and they won’t let us get help for him.
She tells me to just sit still that she was going to see what she could do and so we are sitting there and my dad continues to be in pain and after 30 minutes of this a man walks in and says our last name and all four of us get up and we’re following him but we’re not sure where were following him and we end up going into this small office which only my dad and I can fit in. And there is a guy working at a desk and he doesn’t look up or acknowledge that we are even in the room.
He just hands over this paper and the paper said our visa had been extended for 3 months. So that we could get my dad some medical help.
And the next three months were the worst time in my life because we are fearing deportation every day and we dread seeing the mailman every day because we fear what the mail will bring each day. And none of us wanted to go and check our mailbox.
And my dad does something bizarre he moves out of my mom’s room and sleeps on the couch with a pair of cloths ready to go right next to him. And the blinds are drawn both day and night and anytime some one comes to the door my dad rushes to the window to look thru the blinds.
And finally at the end of three months we go for our hearing before the immigration court with our attorney. And I notice that it was a different judge who was sitting there and he was an older gentleman and he looks really intense but I remember the first time that I saw him I was so intimidated by him because he wouldn’t smile. He wouldn’t talk and I was pretty intimidated because I had to translate whatever conversation was going to happen between him and my family.
And after a few words with our attorney he gets right into it and starts asking my dad if he has a translator. My dad says I will translate for him and the judge tells me – What ever I say to you, you translate exactly what I say nothing more nothing less and whatever your dad says you tell me exactly what he says nothing more nothing less and I agree
And the judge questions my dad in a really demeaning way like do I understand correctly that you came to this country on forged papers? And my dad says well yes but then he goes on this long explanation and then he cuts my dad off and says I just want to hear a yes or no I don’t care about an explanation. I just want a yes or a no. Nothing else. And the conversation goes on like that for a while. And it’s not going well at all. And finally, he tells my dad you know we here in the United States do not give citizenship to people that break the law. We can’t and I won’t and as soon as I translate this to my dad I just put my head down and I start praying and when I open up my eyes I see my dad rising out of his seat unbuckling his belt.
At which point I’m thinking he’s completely losing his mind. I’m not sure what he’s getting ready to do but he lifts up his shirt on the right side and in his native language looks at the judge and says – This is what the communist did to me and he’s pointing at a 45 inch knife scar and then he pushes down his pants in the back and turns around again and says this is what the communist did to me – pointing out three gunshot wounds and then he takes off his shoes and takes off his socks and points to his toes and says this is what the communists did to me. He’s pointing to his toes, which have no nails and says they pulled them out with pliers.
And I remember thinking I can’t believe what I’m hearing because as I’m translating these hard things I am hearing and learning about them for the first time and I now understand why we were never to ask our father where he had been when he was away from us. And now I know where he had been all that time – in prison being tortured.
And at that moment I have never felt more sorrow. My Dad continues to tell the judge it’s easy for you to judge me. You sit in that seat and you wear this robe but if you came on this side of the table where I stand you will see that everything I did I did to save my children. I had no other choice and you might deny it right now but I know you would do the same thing. And if you have to show the American public that you didn’t take it easy on us I understand. Send me back. I volunteer. But please let my wife and children stay! Please give my children a new home.
And then he puts his head in his hands and just starts crying, like a baby. And the judge leaves. We are on a break. And he comes back after an hour. And as soon as he enters the room I notice he doesn’t have his robe on and he goes up to his bench to grab something. He starts walking back down towards us and I’m pretty nervous because we’re not sure why he’s walking towards us and his eyes were on my dad.
He goes past me, behind me and stops right next to my dad. My dad turns and looks up at him and the judge says Mr. Samadzai let me see your hand. My dad shows him his hand and the judge puts the stamp in my father’s hand and says Mr. Samadzai I would like for you to stamp your childrens’ papers! And together they stamp our papers. And when he looks down at the papers it says – Asylum granted. And then he turns the page to my parents’ papers and together they stamp their papers – Asylum granted. And the judge puts his hand on my fathers shoulder and says – Welcome to America – your new home!
It took us 18 years from the day that we arrived here to be granted American citizenship. On January 29, 2009 as I stood there I was sworn in as an American citizen and I pledged allegiance to my new flag and country – to my new home and it is through my children my two year old son and my unborn child that is in my womb that I will make sure that this gratitude that over flows in my heart every day will continue to live on long after I am gone.”
“Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Later we will sing a great hymn by Woody Guthrie, but I would respectfully disagree with his lyric – “This land is your land. This land is my land. Because this land is not your land nor is it mine. It’s God’s land. And we are entrusted to care for it and leave it better than we found it. Amen