Sarah Jackson thought immigration justice meant higher walls and fiercer laws. Then, on a church border trip, she met a deported young father separated from his US-citizen family. His aching dilemma changed everything for Sarah. She opened her heart—and then her home—to families fractured by a broken immigration system. For Sarah, Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” took on a new meaning. Her book, The House that Love Built, restores a biblical vision of hospitality—literally, “love of the stranger”—showing how your own everyday acts of kindness can transform hearts next door to you, in the highest offices in the land, and across the earth. It’s a grace to welcome Sarah to the farm’s front porch today…
From the very beginning of this whole experience, I saw faces that reminded me of my family.
Alicia, a white mom, drove in from Nebraska with her four kids to visit their dad, who was detained in Denver.
A West African, he’d been jailed for more than a year for being undocumented. He had lived and worked in the US for years, and his wife and children were American citizens.
But now the whole family was nervous, because he could be deported at any time and not be allowed back for ten years, if ever.
As I stirred a pot of soup for dinner, Alicia recounted their dilemma. With her husband gone, she and the kids had been evicted. Alicia moved them into an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. It had no electricity or running water.
After dinner, as her kids headed to bed, Alicia told me this was the first hot meal they’d had in a long time.
With no way to heat food, they’d been eating meals out of cans. She thanked me and hugged me tightly, not knowing she squeezed a tear from my eye. Her hug felt exactly like one my mother would give.
Suddenly, I realized what a humble bowl of soup might mean: that someone cares about your family.
Simple things. But they’re luxuries to a newly single parent panicked by what the future may hold for her family.
Alicia’s story was not unique. To see kids traumatized because they can’t touch their father through thick plexiglass in a detention center, to hear them say a tearful goodbye because he might be deported—it’s almost too much to bear.
In 2018, 70 million people around the world were displaced—one out of every hundred human beings on the earth. The vast majority migrate in desperation, fleeing war, persecution, disaster, violence, disease, government oppression, starvation.
In the US, about 400,000 people are held in immigrant detention each year. I’ve hosted many of them in my home—3,000 individuals—and I’ve come to realize that no one should be jailed for seeking safety or security, especially those with children.
Most people don’t want to abandon their culture—the scents, the songs, the familiar soil. And nobody wants to leave their loved ones behind.
Their stories are what led me to open the door of my cramped, six-hundred-square-foot apartment to host families like Alicia’s.
I also began hosting people released from a federal immigration detention center in my city. I decided to name my home Casa de Paz—“House of Peace.” That’s what I wanted each of them to experience as they navigate the oftentimes traumatic journey of immigration.
In eight years, I’ve welcomed guests into my home from seventy-five countries and from across the US.
Casa de Paz is no longer a tiny, cramped apartment but an actual house—a nice one, on an average block, in an average neighborhood.
It may look a lot like yours. Three bedrooms, two baths, a basement with room for guests, and a nice big tree out front. Like any house on our block, it all centers on family—joyful meals and tearful reunions.
In that short time, more than 2,000 selfless people have stepped up to volunteer at Casa de Paz, carrying off enormously important jobs: picking up bewildered people released from detention, cooking meals with them, accompanying them to court dates, arranging their travel to reunite with loved ones. And we visit with those inside detention—people like Alicia’s husband—every day of the week.
At Christmas and on Valentine’s Day we write holiday cards and include a candy bar for everyone in detention, so they don’t feel forgotten.
We do anything we can think of to alleviate their pain, to remind them they’re worthy of lovingkindness—because God says they are.
Nobody gets paid for doing this; everyone’s a volunteer. That includes me.
We all want to be part of Casa de Paz. Together we’ve heard thousands of immigrant stories, and not one has been easy to hear.
But we all keep coming because of something intangible.
I know exactly what it is.
If you don’t think love actually makes a difference in the world, we have a story to tell you.
This love story has attracted the attention of decision-makers around the world.
The United Nations studied Casa de Paz as a model for immigrant support programs around the globe. U.S. candidates from both sides of the aisle visit Casa de Paz; one left in tears and another came back to volunteer.
A congressman gathers us at his quarterly immigration table. A congresswoman involves us in a monthly phone-in conference. A senator and his staff consult with us. College professors send their students to intern with us. Elementary-school teachers bring their classes to volunteer.
Even the officials at ICE steer the people they release toward Casa de Paz. A historic denomination asked us to join them as a congregation because they say we’re fulfilling the mission of the church: “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).
Yet I have received death threats for what I do.
I’m not sure why it has come to this. I never got a death threat when I made meals for people experiencing homelessness, or when I put together hygiene packs for youth who are at risk. So why for a group that’s equally, if not more, at risk?
As I shared dinner with a young African man released from detention, he said softly, “It feels like home here.”
He had no idea how deeply those words went into me.
To know we belong, to know we matter, to know our worth in the world, even from a stranger—isn’t that what we all want?
Isn’t that what’s behind Christ’s two-part Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor?
When we create that kind of space—one where displaced, traumatized people feel they’re home, even for a few hours or days—together we experience a bit of heaven on earth.
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in . . . ?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:37–38, 40, my emphasis).
A world of transformation can start with a simple pot of soup in a tiny apartment. It did with mine.
Sarah Jackson is founder and executive director of Casa de Paz, a hospitality home in Denver that has hosted immigrant guests from seventy-five nations. Casa’s family of volunteers walk daily alongside detained immigrants and their loved ones with visits, meals, shelter, transportation, and emotional support through their arduous experience, one simple act of love at a time. Their amazing story is captured in Sarah’s book, The House that Love Built.
Sarah’s work—Casa de Paz—has been a House of Peace to over 3,000 guests separated from loved ones by US immigrant detention. Breaking down barriers, Sarah’s model of hospitality—literally, “love of the stranger”—drew invitations to speak to congressional leaders, college faculty and church denominations. Then came a request to represent the U.N. Human Rights Commission in her region of the US. All from the simple command to love her neighbor.
The dilemma of “undocumented” people in the US raises urgent questions: What is our responsibility to the “stranger” in our midst? What does God’s kingdom look like in the global-political reality of immigration? What difference can one person make? Sarah engages these questions with tender stories from individuals on every side of the issue—asylum seekers torn from their families, the guards who oversee them, unheralded advocates for immigrants’ rights, and government officials who decide the fates of others.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]