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Passage to a Safe Harbor

Passage to a Safe Harbor

©istock.com/Michael Ver Sprill

A while ago two members of this community tearfully left, with our blessings, to resume a heartfelt calling to serve migrants in a Catholic-sponsored shelter on the US-Mexico border. While they had been working there part-time, they had heard a summons to give their total effort in the support of families that had been forced to flee the terrors they had faced mainly in Central American countries These refugees had come by the thousands with no money, no food, and no hope, save only a confidence in the benevolence of the United States.

These frightened refugees came to the U.S. seeking the safety and hope promised by that marvelous lady holding high her torch at the entrance to the New York harbor. However, on their arrival, they were greeted with the bigotry being fostered by a tyrant who had decided to confine them in new versions of concentration camps and prisons. To support these refugees, Joe and Linda, along with many others, have flocked to the border offering the humanity the American president has denied. They have gone there because for many that is what they believe their God had asked them to do. They had heard Her voice in the cries of these despairing pilgrims. Joe and Linda responded to the cries of these refugees, as have many others. There are now both churches and secular agencies offering the hope our government has failed to give.

Many other members of our retirement community travel weekly to the border or to a nearby detention center in an effort to support those who have no other responsible help. Worship services at the border are held each week, congregants separated by a metal fence. Others have been trained as counselors, advocates, or observers. In addition, churches throughout our area have posted large signs offering welcome and support to immigrants and refugees who now are faced with an existence without hope, homes, jobs, or national identities. It strikes me that these responses show the American people at our best.

Wendy and I once spent our summers in Castine, a small community on the coast of Maine. Approaching Castine from the sea one first sees, high on a cliff, a great old lighthouse that for many decades guided sailors to the town’s marvelous harbor. But a problem was encountered as ships approach the half-mile inlet to be traversed from the open sea to the harbor. This narrow rock-strewn passage remains treacherous, particularly at night. 

In recent years the Coast Guard has installed on either side of the inlet a series of electric lights and other navigational aids, making the transition from sea to harbor somewhat less risky. But old-timers tell the story of the pre-electrified years. Back then each family with property along the inlet had been supplied with an oil lamp, and it was each family’s responsibility very evening to light it and set it on the shoreline. Failing to do so would make that portion of the inlet all the more dangerous. Vessels approaching from the sea would first see the lighthouse, but from that sighting until arriving at the harbor, they had to depend for survival on the families who had placed lamps all along the shore.

Back to Joseph, Linda and all the others offering hope and support to those who otherwise might suffer the heartless abandonment served up with the words: “America first!” As we often sat on our cabin’s back deck from which we could see a few of the now electrified life-saving lower lights, we were reminded of an old gospel song. While the lighthouse in the song below refers to God, I have often thought of it as depicting the lady with the torch who stands just outside the New York harbor. But what of the lower lights marking a safe passage from sea to harbor?

"Brightly beams our Father's mercy from his lighthouse evermore. 
But to us, he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore. 
Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!  
poor fainting struggling seaman, you may rescue you may save."

Or as the American poet Emma Lazarus poem put it, comparing the long-gone Colossus of Rhodes to the Statue of Liberty: 

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exile. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'"

Joe, Linda and so many others — Bless you for keeping these lower lights burning. You are saints and heroes!

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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