A Christmas Wish for the Undocumented

This article appeared in the Pasadena Star-News and Pacific News Service in December 1998.

“The first time I tried to enter the United States,” says Luis, “I went all the way to Tijuana without asking God’s permission. When I got off the bus, the police stole my money and sent me back to Mexico City.

“I went to a huge church in Mexico City and had some of the brothers there pray for me. As they prayed, I knew everything would be fine. So I tried a second time. As I stood at the border with the coyote, I saw that each person – the coyote and the fifteen other people crossing with me – was scared. But I had peace in my heart because I knew the Lord was with me.”

If I were running for political office, I would not tell that story to any voters. It is too complicated. Here’s a guy violating U.S. national sovereignty and claiming God Above is guiding him. The other problem is that Luis is sincere. Either he’s a little unbalanced, or there is some unseen force operating — neither is a good explanation when the public wants an accounting.

But I am not running for office, and I’m convinced Luis means what he says. I know he is not lying because of what he is about to do.

This Tuesday, Luis (not his real name) will board a bus near his home in the San Gabriel Valley. He will take the bus to the Tijuana border. Carrying his laptop computer and other items stuffed in a suitcase, he will find another bus to take him to Mexico City, his hometown.

The crossing is the thing.

For an undocumented person like Luis, crossing the border into Mexico means an expensive and challenging return trip.

Luis himself has yet to re-cross the border since arriving six years ago.

But this crossing is all the more momentous because Luis has vowed that the next time he enters the United States, it will be with proper documentation.

What Luis says is similar to kids in my neighborhood saying they will play in the NBA: It’s almost impossible.

Because the bulk of immigration – legal and illegal – to California in the past twenty years has been from Mexico, our government is likely to deny or give a long delay to Luis’s application. 

I am staring at Luis as he tells me his story. He sits calmly in front of me, spouting details and confessing dreams. His eyes are red and puffy, but he’s upbeat.

“I’ve been living a lie,” he says in English. “To be here the way I’ve been, I have to tell one lie after another.” A sincere Christian, Luis reached an inflection point this summer. After an Evangelism Explosion meeting at his church, he walked outside, looked up at the sky, and thought, “I’m lying to God.”

For five months, Luis agonized over whether or not to return.

A return means a return to very little.

He came north in 1992 to support his mother and younger brother. At the time, Luis was a university student. But often, there was no food in the house, and he could not pay for his books. Meanwhile, his mother would drag herself home every night, bone-weary and exhausted. “I couldn’t take it,” Luis says.

I know what he’s talking about. I’ve been to his hometown. It is near the smoking volcano, Popocatepetl. Many children who cannot afford elementary school linger in the streets. Jobs are scarce, and many available jobs pay less than a dollar a day. People display a specific type of inertia when there are few ways to make money – every day, they conserve the money, materials, and energy they have.

Like any person released into a free environment, Luis shed his conservationist mode when he crossed the U.S. border. He has been busy building his wealth. Working nonstop, Luis has sent back lots of money to his family. He has also acquired a car, two computers, and many other benefits of our robust economy. He has even volunteered as a tutor, helping children learn to read by reading the Bible.

He has done what he believes God allowed him to: come and make money to care for his mother and brother back in Mexico. But now he believes God is sending him back. He has talked with many friends and advisors and has concluded that God is personally moving in his life. “He will show me what he wants me to do when I get [to Mexico City],” Luis says.

The members of his church are not sure his decision will stick.

“They all say, ‘You will be back in a month,'” Luis says. “To be honest, I’m scared. But I pray that God will use me because that’s all I want, to be used by Him.”

There are an estimated 3 million undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States today. Luis says every family in Mexico has at least one person, legal or undocumented, over here.

I have a Christmas wish for each one of them.

It is not that they come and go as Luis is doing.

My wish is that they receive the gift of faith that Luis has.

My wish is that they know God has a purpose for their lives, no matter where they are or where they are going. 

— by Rudy Carrasco

Kurt Vonnegut: Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance

I saw this Kurt Vonnegut quote on Vala Afshare’s Twitter.

Maintenance is so important and so overlooked.

Plain old management has created a lot of good in the world. Through proper management a lot of justice has been achieved. My sister raised me using employee management techniques she picked up from your middle manager job at the phone company. Many urban ministry peers have helped youth for many consecutive years by through proper financial oversight and careful planning.

I was a director-level staff member for 13 years at Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena. I was there 19 years in all. For seven of those years, I was the associate director focused on programs, fundraising, and operations (we were a small staff of seven). Subsequently, I was the executive director for six years with complete oversight of fifteen staff (after we merged with Harambee Preparatory School). All those years, I sought to maintain a good thing. Dr. John Perkins got Harambee started in 1982 and built a foundation of property (six contiguous houses with no debt) and relationships (long-term donors and church partners). I wanted to improve on his work. Even more, I wanted to hand over the ministry when it was my time to go in manageable shape. We incurred no debt; when we left in 2009, we handed over a debt-free ministry with property valued at about $3 million. Our budget had grown to about $750,000 per year, but we had scaled carefully – I’m not even sure “scale” is the correct term because we were not pursuing growth initiatives. We added a staff member or two, but nothing that outpaced our capacity to keep our commitments. Doing this required me to think about and commit to solid management principles.

Ulcer truth was hard to stomach

New Scientist:

BACK in 1984, a young Australian doctor called Barry Marshall swallowed a nasty-tasting bacteria solution. This was no accident. He did it to convince his peers that his suspicions about a highly prevalent disease were not as far-fetched as they thought.

I’m 99% sure I was cured of this same bacteria. I don’t say 100% because I don’t remember the exact name the doctor gave to my condition. But Helicobacter pylori sounds close enough.

Here’s what happened: About 4 or 5 years back, I went to the hospital with signs of internal bleeding. My stomach had been hurting for a day. I thought it was because I gorged myself on Mexican food during a day trip into Tijuana. I was with some Harambee staff and interns. Lying down on the way back eased my pain. But later in the evening, after we returned, I felt bad enough to go to the emergency room. I was admitted after I blacked out in the intake room (I woke with IV tubes in both arms). This all happened at Pasadena’s Huntington Hospital. I don’t know what gave the doctor the idea to test me for this stomach bacteria. But he did, and he said it was present. He said that most people have this bacteria but that it only affects some. I stayed in the hospital for two days; then, I was discharged with a prescription for medicine that would kill the bacteria.

Wouldn’t you know it, the medicine healed me. And when I say healed, I mean that I was cured of a unique stomach pain I had since high school. I used to get these mean stomach aches, ulcerous ones. And indeed, they were ulcers – the doc said X-rays revealed the presence of scar tissue in my stomach, indicating ulcers. But since taking that medicine, I have had zero – I mean ZERO – stomach aches and pains. It’s over. It was just that stupid bacteria. So a word to the wise – if you have persistent stomach pain, get your doc to check for this bacteria.

Four ways to increase your luck

Richard Wiseman writes in The UK Telegraph:

And so it is with luck – unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

I wondered whether these four principles could be used to increase the amount of good luck that people encounter in their lives. To find out, I created a “luck school” – a simple experiment that examined whether people’s luck can be enhanced by getting them to think and behave like a lucky person….

One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier. While lucky people became luckier, the unlucky had become lucky. Take Carolyn, whom I introduced at the start of this article. After graduating from “luck school”, she has passed her driving test after three years of trying, was no longer accident-prone and became more confident.

In the wake of these studies, I think there are three easy techniques that can help to maximise good fortune:

1. Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully.

2. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.

3. Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.

via Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn – Telegraph.

Nehemiah, Social Entrepreneur

Nehemiah – from the biblical book of the same name – used the skills and methods of a social entrepreneur to get that wall built and Jerusalem back on track.

I preached on this topic at the 2011 Michigan Men’s Weekend.

Definitions of Social Entrepreneurship:

  • Muhammad Yunus says: “Social Entrepreneurship relates to a person. It describes an initiative of social consequences for a social purpose. This initiative may be a non-economic initiative, a charity initiative, or a business initiative with or without personal profit. Some social entrepreneurs house their projects within traditional nongovernmental organizations while others are involved in for-profit activities.”
  • Ashoka says: “Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.”
  • Rudy says a social entrepreneur uses business skills and community-building methods to make a social impact by achieving a specific goal.

So let’s consider Nehemiah.

Social Impact: The wall around the city of Jerusalem lies in ruins. Rebuilding the wall will remove the disgrace of the Jewish people.  (Neh. 2:17)


  1. Nehemiah identified the need (Neh. 1:3)
  2. Nehemiah affirmed a vision (Neh. 2:4-5)
  3. Nehemiah sought partners (Neh. 2:16-18)
  4. Nehemiah approached regulators and funders for support (Neh. 2:1-9)
  5. Nehemiah secured resources (timber for the walls and buildings) (Neh. 2:8)
  6. Nehemiah won the support of the authorities/officials (the King) (Neh. 2:6)
  7. More resources (escort, security, legitimacy from army and cavalry) (Neh. 2:9)
  8. Developed a plan with a timetable (Neh. 2:6)
  9. “Exegeted the community,” i.e., made a personal assessment of the need (Neh. 2:12-15)
  10. Gathered community leaders, won community buy-in and secured project partners (Neh. 2:16-18)
  11. Project management: Divided up the work among partners (Neh. 3, all)
  12. Project management: Addressed external threats (enemies) (Neh. 4, all)
  13. Project management: Addressed internal challenges (usury) (Neh. 5, all)
  14. Was brave and courageous when faced with a threat to his person (Neh. 6:10-13)
  15. Completed the project in 52 days (Neh. 6:15)
  16. Addressed sustainability of the wall by addressing root causes: The root cause was the disobedience of the Israelites and their failure to follow the Law of Moses (Neh. 1:5-11)
  17. Held a public reading of the new (old) contract (Neh. 8, all)
  18. Secured a public agreement from the people to follow the contract (Neh. 9-10, both, all)
  19. Set up leadership to follow through on the new agreement (Neh. 7:2; ch.s 11-12)
  20. Returned to his previous work, leaving the indigenous leadership in charge (Neh. 13:6)
  21. Came back to Jerusalem to assess the progress of the “root causes” section of the overall project (Neh. 13:6-7)
  22. Got the project “back on track” by addressing sustainability (Neh. 13, all)
  23. Back on track: throws out Tobiah from the Temple (Neh. 13:7-9)
  24. Back on track: gets the tithe to the Levites (paying the priests/clergy) (Neh. 13:10-13)
  25. Back on track: reboot on honoring the Sabbath (Neh. 13: 15-22)
  26. Back on track: dealing with intermarriage (Neh. 13: 23-28)

The entire book reads like a report on a grant. But the report is not to some foundation, nor the King, but to God.