I have been richly blessed through the years, to know believers from other countries. Often they come to America looking for expanded opportunities. In almost every place I’ve lived they have added culture, customs, creativity and a closeness to the countries they arrived from. But here in Illinois, a place overflowing with immigrants, my life has been touched in particular by a woman from the Dominican Republic.
Her name is Jannette
I had a basic knowledge of the Caribbean Islands when I moved to Illinois. Living in Chicago my knowledge and experience has expanded in understanding and breadth. I have people in my life from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the DR, and the Bahamas. We’re currently hosting a young woman from Freeport. She’s the only person I know who runs a heater in summer when it’s 85 outside. What they all have in common is a deep, deep love and attachment for their home island.
I knew that Haitians spoke French, and the Bahamas were colonized by the English. I knew the other Islands primary language was Spanish. I knew Regge was prominent in Jamaica. I knew that African slaves were shipped to the Islands. I didn’t know the ethnic composition of the people or that they could be from the same home yet look dramatically different. In that part of the world, skin colors are a rainbow of browns, blacks and even whites.
So I learned
I met my friend Jannette through BSF. I was her group leader for the study of Revelation. The first time I saw her I fell in love with her curly hair. It was a rich chocolate color, tied up on her head like a springy bouquet. She had an artistic, bohemian look…it was delightful. I would later learn that she was on her way to pick up her sister from the airport for a visit from the DR. We connected one on one, heart to heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but she felt safe with me. I would later come to understand that it was a high compliment. I treasured her gift.
Being an immigrant in America is a hard job. Insecurities, prejudices, wrong assumptions, even hatred can be leveled against perfectly legal and hard working people. Her self taught English, while perfectly understandable, was broken enough that assumptions by strangers were normal. Maybe she was ignorant (she had a business degree), maybe she was lazy (sooo untrue), maybe she was living off the welfare system (nope). Her husband and children were native citizens, yet her identity was still most at home in her native country.
She was very, very aware of the ways that Americans viewed her
We reached out to each other. We met at my house to meet our newly adopted dog, Maggy. Maggy lived in a Spanish speaking home at one time and when Jannette spoke to her in that language she responded with so many wiggles and jumps that we had to restrain her. It was a lovely visit, where I had an opportunity to hear more of her personal story. One that included unimaginable pain. One where Jesus had redeemed her life from those things in her own country.
American Christians often assume that our gospel is THE gospel…
Our relationship grew as we spent time together. Eventually husbands joined us and our families intertwined. I spent time alone with her children, going places, singing, cooking and sharing movies. We had a routine in the car. Abigail would run the sound system and Josiah would initiate the conversations. He loved the NFL, Abby loved cooking.
Once, when I picked the kids up from school, as we walked away together Josiah’s friend asked him who I was. His response,
“She’s like a grandma person”
To the outside world, these couldn’t me my natural grandchildren. But that’s what is so amazing about Kingdom life, spiritually they can be. The fact that they thought of me that way made my heart sing. “Miss Cinda” is how I’m known, as far as I’m concerned, it equals,
Personal pain birthed a passion in Jannette for mentoring and growing women. While in the DR, she pioneered and ran a ministry to that effect and held a position of influence and leadership within her church. She continues to pursue those callings here in America.
She is also an artist, (that boho look again). Mixed media is her passion and her art speaks of the healing power of a loving Heavenly Father.
When we left the suburbs for Chicago, Janette has been constant in maintaining our connection. She and her family visit often and we’ve introduced them to our neighborhood, parks and restaurants. They’ve visited our church, worshipped with us and even used our home as a getaway while dog sitting for Maggy.
Mr Bruce is a papa to her
His teasing is her love language. She waits for him to give her grief. The ensuing laughter is hearty, sometimes creating tears. Healing too. He advises her on American business and they talk about Papa things. It’s a treasure for both of them.
Here in America where immigrants have always faced discrimination, even persecution, I simply want to share the value of building relationships across the cultures. As a white American, it’s easy to avoid connecting with people from other countries. We’re comfortable in our bubble and we don’t always act intentionally toward others who are different.
We’re missing out
And while black/white tensions are running high, immigrants can become the forgotten people. Their stories are often similar to African Americans. Profiling, stereotypes, racism, negative generalities, also extend to immigrants. America has a history of treating the very people they open their arms to, with unthinkable disdain.
Even Christian Americans…
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9
Immigrants = Eternity
I encourage you to find ways to make room in your life for the diversity and perspective that immigrants bring to the Kingdom of God
You can find Janette’s art on Instagram @jannettesimmons links for purchasing will be found there.