By Sarah Jackson If you don’t think love actually makes a difference in the world, we have a story to tell you. This love story has caught the attention of decision-makers around the world. The United Nations sent a representative to study Casa de Paz as a model for immigrant support programs around the world. […]
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By Sarah Jackson
If you don’t think love actually makes a difference in the world, we have a story to tell you.
This love story has caught the attention of decision-makers around the world. The United Nations sent a representative to study Casa de Paz as a model for immigrant support programs around the world. A congressman gathers us at his quarterly immigration table. A congresswoman involves us in a monthly phone-in conference. A senator and his staff consult with us. Candidates from both sides of the aisle visit, and one left in tears.
One congressman spent an afternoon volunteering at Casa de Paz. College professors send their students to intern with us. Elementary-school teachers bring their classes to volunteer. A historic denomination asked us to join them as a congregation because they say we’re fulfilling the mission of the church: “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).
I hear a lot about the law from people. Many fellow Christians focus solely on one aspect of immigration: lawbreaking. I’ve stopped counting the times someone has threatened, “I’m calling ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to come shut you down and arrest all the illegals you harbor.” I have to tell them that ICE is one of our biggest sources for the guests we host. We often get calls from guards at the detention center when an immigrant is about to be released. Still, the objection I hear most is, “Immigrants should come here the right way.” They don’t realize that the people showing up at our borders seeking asylum from danger have arrived the right way. Anyone claiming asylum has to be in our country to do so—that’s the law.
Yet I have received death threats for what I do. I’m not sure why it has come to this. I never got a death threat when I made meals for people experiencing homelessness or when I put together hygiene packs for at-risk youth. So why for a group that’s equally, if not more, at risk?
I was given an amazing childhood by loving, sacrificing Christian parents. I was exposed to all kinds of church experiences, in a range of denominations. My siblings and I learned to serve sick people, we helped build houses for families in Mexico, we demonstrated for biblical causes. When I left home, I got a job on staff with a thriving megachurch and organized service trips to Africa. I helped start a homeless ministry. I took a position with an international children’s outreach. Today, I have a great job with a Christian-based software company that serves churches.
And yet over time, my head somehow got filled with negative thoughts about immigrants. How? Maybe because I never knew one. (Or thought I didn’t.) Or maybe because I didn’t hear sermons on how God views displaced people from other countries. From the very beginning, Christians took in migrants, a legacy rooted in Judaism, which gave foreigners equal standing in significant ways. The apostle Paul urged his readers to keep up hospitality, a word that literally means “love for the stranger” (philo = love, xenia = stranger). Hosting foreigners and strangers was an everyday, core practice for Christians over nearly two millennia. It was a calling for everyone. And they made strangers feel like family because God said they were family.
After I served dinner to a young African man just released from detention, he said softly, “It feels like home here.” He had no idea how deeply those words went into me. To know we belong, to know we matter, to know our worth in the world, even from a stranger—isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what’s behind Christ’s two-part Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor?
When we create that kind of space—one where displaced, traumatized people feel they’re home, even for a few hours—together we experience a bit of heaven on earth. I believe that every small act of hospitality is a step toward Jesus’ desire: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, my emphasis). When someone is treated the way God values them, we all touch heaven. “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in . . . ?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:37–38, 40).
A world of transformation can start with a pot of soup in a tiny apartment. It did with mine.
Taken from The House That Love Built: Why I Opened My Door to Immigrants and How We Found Hope beyond a Broken System by Sarah Jackson. Click here to learn more about this title.
“Jackson’s visionary account is a beautiful model of sacrificial love.” — Publishers Weekly Starred Review
The House that Love Built is the quintessential story of one woman’s questioning what it means to be an American—and a Christian—in light of a broken immigration system. Through tender stories of opening her heart and home to immigrants, Sarah Jackson shines a holy light on loving our neighbor.
Sarah Jackson once thought immigration justice was administered through higher walls and longer fences. Then she met an immigrant—a deported young father separated from his US-citizen family—and everything changed. As Sarah began to know fractured families ravaged by threats in their homeland and further traumatized in US detention, biblical justice took on a new meaning.
As Sarah opened her heart—and her home—to immigrants, she experienced a surprising transformation and the gift of extraordinary community. The work she began through the ministry of Casa de Paz joined the centuries-old Christian tradition of hospitality, shining a holy light on what it means to love our neighbor.
The dilemma of undocumented people continues to hover over America, and it raises urgent questions for every Christian:
What is our responsibility to the “stranger” in our midst?
What does God’s kingdom look like in the global-political reality of immigration?
What difference can one person make?
Sarah engages these questions through profound and tender stories, placing readers in the shoes of individuals on every side of the issue—asylum seekers torn from their families, the guards who oversee them, ordinary people with lapsed visas, the families left to survive on their own, the unheralded advocates for immigrants’ rights, and the government officials who decide the fates of others.
Ultimately, Sarah’s journey illuminates how hope can be restored through simple yet radical acts of love.
Sarah Jackson is the founder and executive director of Casa de Paz, a hospitality home in Denver, Colorado, serving families separated by immigrant detention. Casa’s family of over 2,000 volunteers provides hospitality for immigrants isolated in and leaving detention as well as their loved ones with visits, meals, shelter, and transportation, joining them in hope and emotional support through the arduous process of reunification. Sarah’s mission is to help end the isolating experience of immigrant detention one simple act of love at a time, which you can follow at www.casadepazcolorado.org.
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