Deportation Tears Families Apart!

Pastor's Desk

Friday, May 18th was a great day for our denomination. It was the day when RCA General Secretary Tom DeVries visited the Reformed Church of Highland Park in order to lend support in the Indonesian refugee crisis. Weeks earlier, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States had begun urging the public “not to obey laws that counter religious beliefs.”(Fox News Latino on April 13, 2012) The corresponding document of the bishops focused especially on tough immigration laws. Thus, the Highland Park meeting was part of a wider movement.

Representatives from the following houses of worship had gathered in the Highland Park sanctuary: Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, Conservative Temple of Highland Park / CAE, Hillsborough Reformed Church, Six Mile Run Reformed Church, Spotswood Reformed Church, Reformed Church of Keyport, Pinelands Reformed Church, and the Reformed Church of Metuchen.

We worshiped and listened to the stories of some of the refugees who found sanctuary in the church in order to avoid deportation to Indonesia by ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security.

Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale delineated how these refugees had arrived years ago in the United States in order to avoid religious persecution as Christians. He listed numbers of bombed or burned down churches and showed how the violence against Christians in Indonesia continues to this day. He also said that early on in the developing crisis, he and the leaders of his church had an arrangement with ICE that would provide time for refugees to become properly documented and to apply for permanent U.S. resident visa.

“But for some reason,” Rev. Seth concluded, “cooperation with ICE has not continued. This has led us to the desperate step of providing sanctuary.”

Then General Secretary Tom DeVries addressed the gathering. He quoted John 14:27 as God’s Word for today the Indonesian refugees: “Jesus said to his disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” He continued his remarks by saying that “obedience to the teachings of God may put us in contradiction to the teachings of others.” Finally, he made reference to the Belhar Confession from South Africa, the youngest of the confessions adopted by the Reformed Church in America.

The next speaker was Rabbi Bennett Miller of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, the largest synagogue in our area. Rabbi Bennett’s opened by saying, “It’s not easy to say “No!” to any government, but it is very difficult to say “No!” to the American government.” Then he made reference to the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Book Genesis. According to him, people of faith respond to what he called “the narrowing of their lives” the way the patriarch and his wife responded on their journey: They kept the flaps of their tent wide open in order to invite the stranger into a safe place…

Later, we watched the movie “Broken Asylum” in the church parlor. It told the story of Harry, Jana and their children. The family is affiliated with the Highland Park Reformed Church, but not in sanctuary there – even though their deportation is scheduled for July 9, 2012.

Conversation following the movie made us aware that the American-born children of the Indonesian refugees suffer one of the most pressing problems of the crisis. There are currently 12 such children in Highland Park. As Americans, they will not be permanently tolerated in Indonesia. But neither can they be left behind, should their parents be deported there. Where should these children remain? A high ranking politian recently said on national TV, “That’s a choice the parents would make.” But to those of us, who have seen deeper into this situation, this statement sounds completely cynical.

As a child of political refugees from the former East Germany, I was very much moved by what I learned this day. As a Christian and pastor, I was also amazed by the absence of polemics or political bias during the event. Instead, I sensed a lot of sadness, a great will to persevere, and a yearning for justice and transparency. I left hoping that this was not just a great day for our denomination, but that it brought us further in our attempts to keep the families of these suffering Christians together.

Yours in Christ Service,
Pastor Hartmut

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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