It was a typical Friday in January. I went to work, excited about the dumpling party we were hosting that weekend to celebrate Lunar New Year. I wasn’t really paying attention to the news, since it was Friday. Nothing happened on Friday.
The next morning, I happened to check my work email. To my surprise, there was an email from our Chief Legal Officer addressed to all company employees. The president had issued an Executive Order banning entry of refugees and immigrants from seven countries. Our Chief Legal Officer wrote that 76 of my co-workers and their families were impacted and that the company’s legal resources were committed to helping them.
A wave of immense sadness came over me. I thought of what it must be like for my co-workers and the many others who were stranded at airports, not knowing what just happened. The news showed people protesting at airports across the country. One picture in particular surprised me. Amidst the chaos, lawyers showed up at airports, lending their time to help those impacted. Lawyers whose weekends got interrupted, but felt compelled to show up in their weekend clothes, armed with their law degrees and experience, to help.
On Monday, our company CEO and our Chief Legal Officer held an all-employee meeting, stating their commitment to help “our people.” They didn’t see the 76 and their families any other way. Our people. Other tech companies including Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google expressed similar commitments. Some of the best legal minds working at these tech companies brainstormed that week and came up with lawsuits, exception programs, and finally, an amicus brief that was submitted to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Executive Order interrupted ‘business as usual’ for these companies. But instead of passive compliance, I saw my industry resist and speak up against injustice. They even joined forces to appeal and petition, leveraging their combined bargaining power. The cynic would say it’s because of selfish reasons – talent recruitment, innovation, etc. Though businesses will have their self-seeking motives, there’s a difference in many of the statements made by the executives that speak to their experience and relationships with immigrants that have changed them. These experiences and relationships compelled them to act. Like our company CEO said, these are “our people.”
Not my People
On the other hand, I have seen a different response from people who say they are tired of seeing “political posts” in their social media feed. These aren’t the folks who are necessarily for the ban. These folks just can’t be bothered. They want their lives in a bubble of their making. They want a ‘business as usual’ life with no unwanted interruptions. Besides, these are not their people, why should they care?
They want their old lives back – before all the “political posts.” They want to go to church and not hear anything about the marginalized and the oppressed.
Where to go from here
Seventy-five years ago, there was another Executive Order that was unconstitutional, racist and unjust. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing the exclusion of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps. On Bainbridge Island in the state of Washington, there’s a memorial for Japanese Americans with the inscription, “Nidoto Nai Yoni” – Let it Not Happen Again – a chilling reminder of the past, a warning for the present and future.
I believe God is interrupting our ‘Business as Usual.’ The American church has largely ignored movements like Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL, immigration rights. But time and time again, God interrupts our weekend plans, our dumpling parties. He shows us images of suffering, in hopes we would choose to be present and enter in. He brings the marginalized to our doorstep, in hopes we would choose to welcome them.
In the weeks, months and years to come, there will be more interruptions. Just like the lawyers that fateful weekend, we can choose to offer ourselves to help. We can choose to lend our talents – whatever they may be. Or we can give the gift of our presence. If we are open, there’s a part God wants us to play.
Let us not go through life ‘Business as Usual.’ Nidoto Nai Yoni.