It was an interesting sight on November 18, 2013 as a stream of people two blocks long filed down the sidewalk of Pasadena's busy Colorado Boulevard singing hymns, carrying signs, and holding candles.
The crowd was made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni from Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as members of the Evangelical community from Pasadena and Los Angeles all out to lift up prayers and call for comprehensive immigration reform, which would allow families to stay together, and provide citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
"Evangelicals for Reform," read one of the signs held by a marcher. "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine," sang the crowd as they passed by the illuminated storefronts lining the busy boulevard. Several signs quoted Zecheriah 7:10 which says "Do not oppress…the foreigner." Honk, went the horn of one of the cars passing by. Still other signs said "Pray for Reform" and "Familias Unidas" - families united.
The rally, which boasted upwards of 300 people at its peak, was organized by Fuller student group Peace and Justice Advocates led by Dr. Tommy Givens, assistant professor of New Testament Studies. The group partnered with Fuller's Centro Latino, LA Voice, an interfaith community organization which is part of PICO National Network working through Campaign for Citizenship, and G92, a nationwide movement of Evangelical students for immigration reform.
"We begin with the confession of our sins," said Givens at the start of the event, which began on Fuller's campus. He led the growing crowd in a written prayer that said, "We have settled in ways that keep us from welcoming new immigrants to our communities…May our body and voice reach to churches throughout this land and to those in positions of power. Grant us forgiveness, we pray. Grant our immigrant neighbors justice, we pray."
As the sun slowly set in the background, Juan Martinez, associate provost for diversity and international programs and professor of Hispanic Studies, asked why people should care about the immigration issue. It's because God created everyone.
"God created us all and God doesn't make the distinctions that we make. God doesn't check passports or visas to enter into his kingdom," Martinez said. "The Bible clearly presents God's commitment to those without legal, political, social, or economic security."
He added that Abraham and Sarah were also migrants with unknown statuses in various countries, yet God used them.
"We know that we're citizens of God's kingdom and that our primary loyalty is there. We walk the values of a different kingdom. We are strangers and aliens," Martinez said.
He challenged the crowd to also be prophets of the church and society to enact change. "We work for God's justice," he said.
The crowd was then asked to form a line and begin the march. President Mark Labberton urged the participants to treat the time as a prayerful one, with prayers and thoughts of their neighbors.
Leading the march was Dr. Martinez, President Labberton, Fuller student Jennifer Hernandez, and Pastor René Molina, who were holding a large banner that read "An Evangelical Call for Immigration Reform." Women, children, and men stuck close behind, exchanging smiles, songs, and prayers. Alumni of Fuller were volunteers at the crosswalks to help the marchers across the roads safely. Officers of the Pasadena Police Department rode alongside as escorts.
Ending at the steps of Pasadena City Hall, the community of participants took up singing "This Little Light of Mine" once again. The night ended with a testimony from student Jennifer Hernandez, who described her journey as an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala and the fortuitous events that allowed her to obtain a social security number, financial aid, and education.
"Christians should test the times and seasons to see what it is the Lord is trying to tell us through undocumented children everywhere," Hernandez said. "My challenge, therefore, to you, is to have eyes to see, to have ears to hear the cries of the undocumented immigrants here in North America and everywhere. Let us be children of God who imitate the father's love and compassion."
In his comments, President Labberton noted that the whole nature of the gospel is to break Christians away from small places, things, ideas, and amounts of love. "Part of what we're here to affirm tonight is that God has the capacity to take small hearts and make them bigger than they were otherwise," he said.
He noted that current policies on immigration are, in part, kept in place because of small hearts and unwillingness to see the neighbor in the way Jesus does. Christians should have a new vision to perceive the value of people. The kingdom of God is a new sociology, Labberton said. It is defined not by wealth, gender, and power, but by God's love for us.
"We are asking for two things: We are asking for a bigger heart and a capacity to look again at undocumented people and understand the reality and depth of human suffering that is really at stake, and the significance of the need for deep and profound immigration reform," Labberton said. "We're wanting to ask specifically for a way forward in some kind of pathway for citizenship that actually moves people beyond being caught and frozen in the systems that we currently have in place. And, secondly and finally, we ask that that action be taken as soon as possible in some way by any jurisdiction that might be considering legislation…even before the end of this year."
Labberton concluded by saying that this is an appeal of the heart and the mind out of the compassion and mercy of Jesus Christ. On that note, the rally ended in a time of prayer led by President Labberton, who acknowledged that change of the heart requires the spirit of God.
The crowd was asked to respond to the prayers with the closing words from the Lord's prayer, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Prayer was given for the breaking in of God's kingdom on earth for undocumented brothers and sisters; for families divided by deportation; for a hospitable path to citizenship and the end of living in fear for the poor and undocumented; for a society of justice and peace; for the lawmakers of U.S. Congress; thanks for the resolve of members of Pasadena City Council to pass a resolution for immigration reform; for freedom from fear of immigrants; and for justice.
"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
You can read the Pasadena Star-News article on the event or listen to Juan Martinez's radio interview with KPCC here.