Immigration detention breaks families apart and goes against our American values of welcome. Fortunately, there are leaders across the country who hold vigils and radically welcome the stranger. I’m honored to share an interview today with Pastor Diakonda Gurning, one of these compassionate leaders. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the interview over email.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): You say you’re involved in ‘radical welcome.’ What does this mean to you?
Pastor Diakonda Gurning (DG): A ‘radical welcome’ to me means more than sharing kindness to other people, but it goes further by recognizing God in other people. It is an action where I trust God and allow those who are strangers to host. Just as the disciples who allow Christ, the stranger, to host at the end of their journey to Emmaus.
CP: You are a co-founder of the Washington New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith group committed to protecting the rights of all migrants. What motivated you to found this movement?
DG: I have seen how fear took over the heart and mind of our society. A fear rooted in “not knowing” the other people, a fear that brought us to wars, a fear that distances us from God within those who are strangers in our midst. This fear grows faster in our society and congregations where we don’t have the answer to the question of who are the strangers in our midst? What does it mean to welcome the stranger?
People who are migrating to the United States are most likely trying so hard not to be seen, or known as the stranger, because they do not want to be rejected. This reality creates a deeper division between those who are citizens and those who are non-citizens, and this reality brought us back the practice of second-class citizens in the United States.
CP: For the past six years, you’ve held vigils in front of the North West Detention Center. How have these vigils changed over the years?
DG: When we started the vigils six years ago we only needed to bring refreshments and informational printed materials because most of the detainees were young people: under-table workers, the people who are living out of the breadcrumbs that fell off the table. Today, we bring balloons, quilts, cookies, hot cocoa, and other things for children.
There are more American citizen children visiting the Northwest Detention Center. These children are now walking, and talking, and angry. We can only imagine the pain and hopelessness that these children have to go through when they see their family members, who work honest jobs to make a decent living for their families, taken away. Almost 90% of the children who visit their families at the Northwest Detention Center come from these under-represented communities.
This is an edited version of the original interview.
If you’re in Washington and would like to radically welcome, check back to the blog soon for further information about how you can visit immigrants in detention and support those impacted by our nation’s harsh enforcement measures.