Kraybill: Awaiting an earthquake in Indiana?

Jan 15, 2018 by

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In the name of Jesus, Paul and Silas healed a slave girl at Philippi whose owners exploited her for money as a fortune-teller (Acts 16). When the owners “saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.” Officials beat the two, then clamped them in stocks in jail. There Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns at midnight, when a violent earthquake shook the prison, setting all captives free.

This dungeon at Philippi is the traditional place where Paul and Silas sang hymns at midnight. — J. Nelson Kraybill

This dungeon at Philippi is the traditional place where Paul and Silas sang hymns at midnight. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Next to the county landfill near my home in Indiana is a 1,000-inmate jail that nets a profit each year by renting space to other counties and federal marshals. Now there is the possibility of a second for-profit prison facility, this one an Immigration and Customs Enforcement complex for undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation. It would be owned and operated for profit by a private company. The new prison would hold more than 1,000 people, mostly Hispanics who made a perilous passage to this country seeking employment and safety. They have broken the law.

People at Philippi and elsewhere accused Paul of breaking the law, and he wrote his letter to the Philippians from a prison, perhaps at Rome. Speaking the gospel even in chains, Paul said his faith had “become known throughout the whole imperial guard.” His courage inspired other believers “to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear” (Philippians 1).

Christians are speaking boldly and without fear against the ICE detention center in Indiana. Mennonite pastor Neil Amstutz recently said at a public meeting, “We are here because [we] follow a Lord who, as a child, was himself a vulnerable refugee in a foreign country. . . . We are here because the Bible commands us to show compassion to the foreigner and the stranger in our midst, to treat the least of these as if we were treating Jesus himself.”

An acquaintance incarcerated in our nearby jail for failure to pay vehicle fines told me, “When you are poor, it’s bad.” In addition to locking up immigrants, the United States imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country on Earth — about 750 out of every 100,000. Prisoners are likely to be young, poorly educated and black or Latino.

Prisons have the legitimate function of protecting society from dangerous people. But locking up the poor or deporting the sojourner does not align with the Hebrew prophets or with Jesus. Like Paul, we should appeal to a higher law for justice and compassion and seek more creative responses to social problems.

God pays attention when people are behind bars. A violent earthquake shook the jail at Philippi, liberating Paul and other prisoners. Paul cared enough about the jailer to save him from suicide and to show him the love of Jesus. I am awaiting an earthquake in my city as followers of Jesus sing hymns, pray and resist powers of greed and xenophobia that make money from the suffering of others.

J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.


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