Finding Jesus at the Border – Julia Lambert Fogg

Finding Jesus at the Border Julia Lambert Fogg
Finding Jesus at the Border: Opening Our Hearts to the Stories of Our Immigrant Neighbors by Julia Lambert Fogg
Published by Brazos Press on April 21, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Racial Reconciliation, Christian Life, Theology
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Immigration is an issue of major concern within the Christian community. As Christians, how should we respond to the current crisis?
Interweaving biblical narratives of border crossing and recent stories of immigrants at the US-Mexico border, this accessibly written book invites Christians to reconsider the plight of their neighbors and respond with compassion to the present immigration crisis. Julia Lambert Fogg, a pastor and New Testament scholar who is actively serving immigrant families in Southern California, interprets well-known biblical stories in a fresh way and puts a human face on the immigration debate.
Fogg argues that Christians must step out of their comfort zones and learn to cross social, ethnic, and religious borders--just as Jesus did--to become the body of Christ in the world. She encourages readers to welcome Christ by embracing DREAMers, the undocumented, asylum seekers, and immigrants, and she inspires Christians to advocate for immigrant justice in their communities.

A 2018 Pew Research survey found that 68% of white evangelical Protestants believe that the United States has no responsibility in accepting refugees. It’s a baffling position, given the repeated instructions in the Old Testament to welcome the foreigner and the insistent commands in the New Testament to practice radical hospitality. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that 90% of all evangelicals say that Scripture has no impact on their views toward immigration reform. As a white evangelical pastor—one who has been excoriated for welcoming the refugee—the question then turns to how we might make Scripture relevant to these modern-day scenarios. How do we get white evangelical Christians to draw the parallels and develop a humane theology of immigration?

Finding Jesus at the Border is the definitive answer to that question. I don’t think that anyone could honestly read this book, truly grapple with it, and deny any of its conclusions. They may not accept those conclusions, but Julia Lambert Fogg leaves little wiggle room for those seeking to continue in theologies of victory and domination. The issue of immigrant rights requires little contextualization from ancient times to modern ones. There are no exegetical hoops to jump through. So Dr. Fogg lays it all out quite clearly, chapter by chapter, paralleling a personal and contemporaneous experience alongside a Scriptural narrative.

For example, in the book’s second chapter, she turns to Matthew 2 in order to tell us of the refugee experience of Jesus. But first, she introduces us to Santiago. Santiago arrived in the US as a baby—the undocumented child of and undocumented single mother. Maria fled poverty and an abusive marriage and found safe haven in California. It wasn’t until Santiago was fifteen that he found out his legal status. Fogg writes:

If he wasn’t American like all the other kids, what was he? Who was he? He didn’t feel Mexican—he had no memory of Mexico or his Mexican father…In grade school, Santiago has studied the US government as ‘our’ government. He had learned US history as ‘our’ history, ‘our’ democratic experiment, and ‘our’ land of opportunity—but this American identity was no longer his…

Fogg interweaves this story with that of Jesus (fleeing violence) and that of the Exodus (fleeing famine). She portrays Matthew’s story of the Flight to Egypt as a refugee story and shows how Matthew himself paints that story as only the latest in a series of refugee stories: Matthew shows that Jesus walks the same migrant path of God’s people in order to fulfill Israel’s story.

The chapter ends with the words of Santiago himself: I never saw myself this way before. I didn’t know Jesus was like me, that he was an immigrant too. We have to tell people. They think their stories don’t matter. You have to tell them their story is like Jesus’s story.

I recount this chapter in such detail because you need to know experientially and not clinically what the chapter is about. No summary or critique will do it justice. Fogg’s writing is engaging, her storytelling is captivating, her ability to move between story and theology is compelling. She breathes life into the biblical text, giving it context—both ancient and modern—and challenging readers to then act upon what is plainly presented to them.

Later in the book, Fogg writes the story of a husband and wife pastor team facing deportation by ICE. The pastors had arrived in the US over 25 years ago on a legal visa. When they sought to extend the visa, they fell victim to an immigration scam and the person hired to guarantee their legal status took their money and ran. The result of that had been over two decades of litigation that ended in deportation.

In no uncertain terms, Fogg outlines the inhumanity and unfairness of our immigration policy and the injustice of the for-profit detention centers in which many refugees are held. She absolutely destroys the immigration myths of conservative talking heads and instead presents the facts: refugees are people created in the image of God, many of them Christian and some of them pastors. We must do better.

My one criticism of the book is an exegetical matter involving her interpretation of Jesus and the SyroPhoenician woman in Mark 7. Fogg seems to conclude that Jesus used an improper cultural idiom by referring to the woman as a “dog.” I wish Fogg had been clearer on this point, because saying that Jesus did something wrong is a rather serious accusation. As is, because Fogg isn’t clear, I can’t quite adjudicate her meaning.

Finding Jesus at the Border is simultaneously disheartening and uplifting. On one hand, you’re left sickened by the injustice of our institutions is the so-called “nation of immigrants.” On the other, you see the positive work of those like Dr. Fogg and others, as well as the faithfulness of immigrant Christians. Some of my favorite stories came from the middle parts of the book where Fogg spoke from her experiences as a pastor in a bilingual church. As the former pastor of a bilingual congregation, I found myself able to connect and empathize with how her engagement in the community not only influenced her politics but her ecclesia.

Finding Jesus at the Border is a beautiful book that should never have needed to be written. It’s beauty lies in how it speaks truth to power, forces evangelicals to rethink their views on immigration, uplifts the humanity and God-imagedness of the refugee, and shows readers a path forward based in faith and not in fear. A truly incredible book.