When I first met Richard I was lost. On the surface I was a successful professional, had a great family, was active and healthy, and had achieved a degree of earthly security. Deep within, however, I knew I was living without passion or purpose and had given up on seeking the will of God. While I was in my mid-30s and Richard was only 21, it quickly became clear that I was going to grow from this relationship. Richard had a vision for how to live in community, reduce poverty and hunger, and share the love modeled by Jesus Christ. Richard had the vision, intellect, and passion, but what he lacked was a voice or standing in our community. As it turned out, he had approached a number of people with his ideas but had met obstacles and denials.
We decided to team together in ministry. As an adult citizen I had connections and received space and resources with nearly every request. We took over and grew the English-as-a-second-language program at out church. The attendance of the adults grew modestly, and the attendance of the children grew steadily. We began to work with the kids on increasing physical activity and improving school achievement. I noticed that Richard was a natural mentor for the kids, and they valued his guidance. We also cultivated and planted a community garden with the vegetables going to needy individuals in our community. One day while we were digging and preparing to plant, I asked Richard what his hopes for his life were. I specifically asked if he pictured himself having a family some day. His answer surprised and saddened me. He replied “I don’t want to ever have kids. I would not be a good dad. I am not sure I would even want to get married.”
I pressed briefly and he offered an answer along the lines of having so many things he wanted to do, places to visit, and not being ready to settle. I sensed there was more to the story. Richard embraced community, he was great with kids, and I knew that he pursued friendships with ladies his age. There were other factors we could not yet discuss. We moved on to the next plot.
By the next planting season, Richard and I had grown closer in friendship. We had taught, run, and dreamed together. Our ministries were growing, I was once again flourishing spiritually, but Richard seemed to be stalled. His peers were finishing college, finding jobs and mates, and Richard was hustling to find odd jobs and was being left behind. As we tended the land, I took a risk. I asked him why he had said he did not want a family. He confessed that he had reached that conclusion out of despair. He truly wanted to find a wife and previously hoped to have kids, but he did not have citizenship (his family moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old) and was not able to find legal, reliable employment. He could not afford to go to college without access to financial aid. He insisted he simply would not start a family that he could not reliably provide for. He had lost hope. But he still had integrity. I was deeply saddened. I was saddened for Richard and his loss of hope. I was also saddened that our community and nation would potentially be deprived of his vision and courage.
We have unprecedented freedom in our time and place. We can choose what profession to pursue, how to spend our time, who we love, and where to live. We embrace it. We demand it. It is our inheritance- The American Dream. But do we still pursue it? Are we still willing to put in the hours/days/years of work necessary to develop our talents? Do we persevere and make the often difficult sacrifices it takes to grow in relationship? Very often we don’t — we choose to take our toys elsewhere where we unreasonably expect a certain standing or respect without making the full investment. We then go into protectionist mode. We see the risk of a reduction to “our” potential resources, “our” opportunity, “our” birthright of success. We begin to say this is “Our Country” and “they don’t belong.” We eventually just see the risk of the newcomers and lose sight of the potential reward. Have we lost our confidence or swagger as a nation to a point that we are trying ensure our privilege by denying it to others? Are we not committed enough to pursuing our purpose that we can’t reach our potential without denying others a chance to reach theirs?
I love our country and the people in it. I admit that I have received many more opportunities than I deserve. I am ready to facilitate opportunities for others. In addition to having the privilege of being a citizen of this blessed and wonderful nation, I have had the privilege to be in relationship with several undocumented immigrants living in my community. I have observed a strong work ethic, sacrifice, and a commitment to trulypursuing the American dream. I see a young generation with passion, vision, adaptability, and creativity. I have benefitted from their presence here.
Let’s stay the course on the current immigration reform. Let’s offer a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants, including the youth, living and working among us. I want to see Richard develop his potential and see how we all benefit from it. Let’s pursue this new American dream together.
This post was featured in Sojourner’s monthly Faith in Action newsletter, which you can join by clicking here.
Jason Denton and his wife, Melinda, recently moved to San Antonio with their two sons who are 6 and 8. Jason works professionally as a Physical Therapist, and in his spare time is committed to welcoming immigrants into his local community and advocating for immigration reform.
Image: American Dream illustration, carlosgardel / Shutterstock.com