Saying an opening prayer at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. was both an honor and a blessing for me. The theme of the homily, by my good friend Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, was “it ain’t over until God says it’s done.”
I sat there listening to those words from an African American gospel hymn in the midst of my own circumstance of being on the ninth day of a water-only fast for comprehensive immigration reform. In my weakened condition, I was grateful that I had done the opening prayer and wouldn’t have to do the closing prayer! But fasting focuses you and it made me consider how Nelson Mandela would feel about a broken immigration system that is shattering the lives of 11 million immigrants, separating parents from children, and undermining the best values of our nation.
In our nightly meeting at what is now a packed fasting tent, I could imagine Nelson Mandela there with us, telling us to never give up until we win this victory for so many vulnerable people reminding us, "it ain’t over until God says it’s done." Or, as he would tell cynical pundits and politicians, “it is always impossible until it is done.” Today, following a procession from the Capitol which will now include many members of Congress, we will go to that tent and proclaim that immigration reform is not over, and we won’t give up until it’s done.
Congress ends its December session tomorrow, and we will break down the tent. But this is not the end of the Fast for Families; it is only the beginning. Some of us in the faith community were asked to “commission” the core fasters 30 days ago. And as they began to weaken after many days, we offered to pick up their fast, and they passed it on to us: they commissioned us. So today, we are not ending the Fast for Families, we are passing it on to you. We are commissioning you, commissioning a movement, commissioning the nation to take the moral force this fast has produced to the U.S. Congress at the beginning of the New Year!
Beginning in January, we will take the Fast for Families into every congressional district in America. Why? This fast, and all the prayers that have gone with it, has taken each of us to a “deeper” place. We are told by the many members of Congress, Senators, Cabinet members, White House officials, and even Vice-President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama — who have all visited the tent — that it has taken them to a deeper place. And this fast has put immigration reform back in the news across the country.
In the tent, we also went deeper into the heart of this issue, deep into the painful stories of real people — with names and suffering families — people dying in the desert trying to come here to make a better life for themselves, like so many of us and our families. These human stories get lost in the political debate, but when the political leaders hear them they often cry — right here in this tent.
It’s time to take our movement deeper, take this nation deeper, and take our political debate to a much deeper level. This has never been a hunger strike, but rather a movement going deeper by using the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer to take us all to a deeper place. So we will take this tent’s sacred space through the rest of the country in 2014. Thousands have joined this fast across the country and many more days of fasting are planned for January.
Finally, for Christians, this is the season of Advent. And it seems to be a divine conspiracy that this fast began in Advent. Because Advent is not the end, it is the beginning of the church year and the liturgical calendar. Advent doesn’t end things, it begins things. And Advent means a time of waiting — expectant, hopeful waiting — and that’s what we will continue to do.
Because we will win immigration reform! We will win! The only question is how many more lives will be shattered, how many more families will be separated, how many more will die? That’s really all the Congress has to decide — how many more people will they let suffer until they pass immigration reform.
Though weak in body, we are strong in spirit, and have had spiritual food that has sustained us for all these days. So we now pass this fast on to you, and you can pass it on to others, and they to others, until this debate goes deep enough to change our broken politics. Can we pass this on to you? Can we commission you? We will fast and pray and act — until we win. Because it ain’t over until God says it’s done!
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.