Last Wednesday, December 1 marked the 55th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott and a movement that transformed a nation. The arrest of Rosa Parks, a woman of strength, conviction, and abiding faith, galvanized a city and inspired generations. When Rosa Parks was arrested, people realized the laws forcing segregation needed to be changed, and people began to act.
A few weeks ago, news of the arrest and planned deportation of 18-year-old Bernard Pastor rocked the Cincinnati suburb of Reading, Ohio. Bernard's friends and classmates know him as a great student, a great athlete, and a great person. He loves his friends, loves the United States, and loves Jesus. Since the age of 3, Bernard has called the United States home and speaks English as his first language.
But Bernard is not a citizen, so despite finishing fifth in his graduating class earlier this year, he may be forced to return to Guatemala within the next few weeks. The injustice and absurdity of deporting a young man like Bernard has inspired his classmates and friends to stand up and speak out, to act for their friend whom they love.
The pending deportation of Bernard Pastor, a young man of strength, conviction, and abiding faith, has galvanized a community and the nation to call for his freedom.
On Saturday, December 4, several hundred people around the nation and even the world prayed for Bernard. More than 100 gathered in person for a two-hour prayer vigil and pilgrimage. The prayers on the lips of so many are for Bernard to be free, for the undocumented young people who live in fear and hiding, and for the passage of the DREAM Act.
Like the men and women of Montgomery 55 years ago, we are calling on the greater Cincinnati community and the nation to act in three ways:
- Pray daily for Bernard and for the DREAM Act.
- Speak up for Bernard and the DREAM Act by sharing his plight.
- Reach out by learning the names and stories of young undocumented men and women in your community who are living in fear or even facing deportation.
But if Bernard is released, wouldn't that be enabling lawbreakers? Wouldn't that be, and I hesitate to use such a toxic word, amnesty? Perhaps.
But at the core of the Christian faith is amnesty. Why is this a bad word? Amnesty is not bad. Amnesty is grace. Amnesty is something we ought to be speaking into the public debate with passion, because we are recipients of God love, grace, and mercy in our lives. All who have become followers of Jesus Christ have been granted Amnesty. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23) Amnesty!
As followers of Jesus, we should want to extend Jesus' grace, not guard it, or hoard it. And, we should long for the grace and amnesty of God to extend to Bernard Pastor, and the hundreds of thousands in Bernard's shoes, who came to these shores as minors, who call this nation their home, and who DREAM of contributing to this nation.
For 381 days, the African American community stayed off the buses in Montgomery. We pray and hope with all our hearts that Bernard is free much sooner that 381 days. We pray and hope with all our hearts that the DREAM Act passes much sooner than 381 days. But we in Cincinnati, and prayerful people of faith throughout this great nation, are committed to keep praying and keep moving until every young undocumented immigrant child in this nation can shout the final words of King's "I Have a Dream Speech": "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio. To stay connected with Bernard Pastor's situation, visit the Free Bernard Pastor Facebook page.