The Embassy Episode
by Callie Jackson
I went with my friends Esthela and Miguel to the U.S. embassy so that they could apply for tourist visas to visit friends and family in the United States. From the moment of our arrival, every part of the visit was unwelcoming and discourteous, reaching its apex during the interview. Esthela had brought her passport, marriage certificate, deed to her home, confirmation letter of her employment and salary, school registration, birth certificates for her children, and similar information about the cousin she wanted to visit in California. I thought she was overreacting, that it was obvious that she had no intention of staying either permanently or illegally in the U.S. I was wrong.
The interviewer looked at Esthelas employment letter and asked why she wanted to go to the United States. He also asked, What family do you have here in Nicaragua? Who will watch your children while you are gone? How long has it been since the last time you saw your cousin? What is your job? What is your income? What is your cousins job? He then stamped a piece of paper, put it with Esthelas papers, and handed them all back to her. He never looked at her or offered any comment. A bit bewildered, I asked what was happening. He said that there was no way that he was going to grant a tourist visa to a woman who only earns $200 a month to visit a relative she hasnt seen in years. He said he was sure that she would not come back.
It did not matter that she had her own house, was happily married, or had $200 a month in income, a very comfortable amount in the Nicaraguan economy. He said that she might have a chance of getting the visa if her economic situation improved and that I really had to be realistic: she could do better for her family by staying in the U.S., working illegally, and sending them the money than she could by living with them. Finally, he asked me to leave.
The fee for this rude treatment and cursory rejection of visa applications is $45 per person. In the Nicaraguan economy, that is the average income for two weeks. My visa to visit there, however, only cost me $5 and was issued automatically upon my arrival at the airport in Managua. If a country as poor as Nicaragua only charges our citizens $5 for 90-day tourist visas, how can a rich country like ours charge $45 for mere applications?
Based on the number of applicants being rejected the day I was there, I calculate that the U.S. embassy collects a minimum of $4,500 per day from visa applications that are rejected without even an explanatory word. I was furious and embarrassed and immensely sad that my country treats good-hearted people so callously and inhumanely. I remain outraged that my homeland continues to drain more than $4,500 per day from the already desperate Nicaraguan economy.
The question that persists for me is, What is the faithful response for a Christian? As one who understands God as the lover of all people and the epitome of hospitality, how must I view the operations of my countrys embassy in Nicaragua?
Throughout history, God has been a God of hospitality. In the beginning
God fashioned a suitable and abundant dwelling place for humanity. In the desert
God provided for the sustenance of the people and for their movement into a fertile and abundant homeland. Through the law, God established a code of conduct that welcomed the kinsman and the stranger, the native-born and the alien. Through the preaching of the prophets, God set before the people images of the harmony and abundance that flow when the children of the Lord live in compassionately just relationships with one another. The ministry of Jesus included feeding people and tending their psycho-social and emotional needs. In the early church, Gods people shared and sold possessions so that none should be needy among them. Our God is the author of hospitality, and, as such, calls the people of God to the practice of welcoming and embracing the stranger and the needy.
Moreover, God is the enemy of exploitation. The Lord God Almighty, who heard the cry of the children of Israel and delivered them from the hand of their oppressors, is the same Lord who set before them laws to insure that they never again treat one another or the outsider as they had been treated in Egypt. The Lord God Almighty, who decried the sale of the poor for a pair of sandals and despised the dishonest scales of the rich, is the same Lord who anoints preachers of good news to the poor. The Lord who proclaimed blessing upon the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the merciful also proclaimed woes upon the rich and the well-fed. The Lord of the beggar rejected the rich man whose comfort had blinded him to Lazaruss poverty. Our God is both a lover of hospitality and an opponent of exploitation.
The implications for the people of God seem clear: extend hospitality and oppose exploitation. Such thinking has some very tangible implications for my lifestyle. That I serve the God of hospitality means that I must be a person of hospitality: a generous, welcoming, embracing, feeding, loving, nurturing member of the body of Christ. As a disciple of Christ, growing in the ways of the Lord, I must call others to do likewise, to imitate me even as I imitate Christ. The implications of serving a God who abhors exploitation are that I, too, must abhor exploitation:
I must refuse to participate in exploitative behaviors, companies, standards of living, etc., no matter the cost or inconvenience;
I must denounce exploitation publicly and relentlessly when it is apparent;
I must ask the right questions when exploitative practices are covert; and
I must call upon others to join me in the straight and narrow path that leads to life for all!
May we embrace the very high calling of the Lord God Almighty may we do so with our hearts, our hands, our minds, our resources, our very lives! So be it.
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