U.S. immigration officials did not get the last word when they ignored humanitarian appeals and deported a longtime member of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., to the Republic of Congo, the church’s associate pastor said in a Sunday morning sermon Feb. 25.
Stephen Stacks, associate pastor of worship and faith formation, summarized the days leading up to Friday’s deportation of Gilles Bikindou, a 58-year-old church member with health problems, as “a difficult week” for the congregation aligned with the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“The powers of this land deported our brother Gilles,” Stacks said, “despite the fact that he did everything right, despite the fact that he faces political persecution where they have sent him, despite the fact that he cannot receive the medical care he needs to live in the Congo.”
Stacks called Bikindou’s treatment since his arrest Jan. 9 — during what he thought was a routine check-in visit at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Charlotte, N.C. — “an evil thing to do, plain and simple.”
“Throughout this whole process, ICE has trafficked in deception, obfuscation, cruelty and indifference,” Stacks said.
Stacks described the feeling of helplessness he and Senior Pastor Lauren Efird shared upon learning that ICE had moved Bikindou from Stewart Detention Center in Atlanta. “I gave her a hug and I said, ‘You know we’re probably going to fail, right?’”
“Those of you who know us know it’s not really in either Lauren’s or my personality to accept that we can’t fix something,” he said. “This process has reminded us of a theological truth that we sometimes forget: God doesn’t expect us to fix everything. God just expects us to be faithful.”
“It may feel like we have failed this morning, and from the outside, we have,” he counseled worshippers. “We fought with everything we had. and ICE still deported Gilles.”
While “the coercive and destructive powers of this world are strong,” Stacks said, “the great surprise of the gospel is that crucifixion — the worst that the powers could do to Jesus — is not the end of the story.”
“ICE may think they can just deport Gilles and that will be the end of it, but I have some news for them,” he said. “This is just the beginning of what God is doing through Gilles and through GFBC because of his witness.”
“Something is happening here within our walls and far beyond our walls because of Gilles’ story,” he said. “Before this happened, we may have been able to bury our heads in the sand about what is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters in our country, but Gilles has made sure we have heard the gospel call.”
Stacks said hundreds of thousands of people who have heard Bikindou’s story “can no longer ignore that God’s children are being rounded up and sent to concentration camps on our own shores.”
“Not only are we going to make sure that Gilles is taken care of, but we are now committed to shining the bright light of God’s justice directly at ICE until no one experiences what Gilles has experienced ever again,” he vowed.
“I don’t know about you, but I have decided to follow Jesus, and there’s no turning back,” Stacks said. “I will continue to do everything in my power to fight for Gilles and for a world where all of us can live in God’s peace and abundance.”
“I hope you will join me,” he challenged the congregation. “We will probably get in trouble. We may have to take up our crosses, because the powers of this world don’t like it when people refuse to accept their authority and their version of reality.”
“We will certainly have to lose the quiet lives we had planned for ourselves for the sake of the gospel, but we will discover together the life that God intends for us and for all people,” he said, “a life where no one is trampled under the foot of empire, where everyone lives in freedom, in health and in love.”