Matthew 25: 31-40 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
One of my favorite authors, Jane Urquhart, in her book Sanctuary Line (2010), introduced me to the plight of migrant workers here in Canada. Through powerful storytelling in this fiction set in the 1980’s, the author highlighted for me what it means to be a migrant worker in the agriculture industry. As part of this story, I was astounded to learn Mexican migrant workers were being shipped to Canada as “cargo” and paid wages less than the minimum wage set here in this country. To leave family/home to work in a strange land and culture is difficult for anyone at best. Was it not an employer’s responsibility to create safe and fair wage working conditions especially if a migrant worker….a stranger to our land?
Recent events in Norfolk county of the some 200 plus Mexican migrant workers who tested positive with Covid 19, (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/third-ontario-migrant-worker-dies-of-covid-19-1.5621487) reminds me that we are still unable to provide welcome to the stranger. Safe work and sleep conditions were not consistently made available to these people to navigate the pandemic. What can we do? Continue to demand well thought out legislative changes that protect migrant workers. For example, the federal government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program during the pandemic to expedite access to migrant workers, as well as an employer-compliance regime with financial support ($1,500 per migrant worker) for employers’ quarantine costs. However, though it included virtual inspections with punitive measures for non-compliance, it was left to farmers on their own to sort out how to comply.
The Norfolk Public Health Unit distributed Migrant Farm Worker Identification Cards to employers, asking workers to fill them out and carry them — to “document that workers had gone through the mandatory self-isolation as required. As noted by Dusty Zamecnik, chair of Norfolk’s Agricultural Advisory Board, “anyone else returning from anywhere else should also be receiving a card, but that is not the case.” In the development of a “just” society here in Canada, how is it that unfair, and possibly racist, work and living practices are still allowed in this country? Jesus’ teachings are a reminder of the necessity to welcome the stranger, as a way to create harmony in our communities.
Prayer: Loving and gracious God, I pray we find ways that treat all humans equally, despite race, class, gender….to recognize in the stranger the face of God.
Respectfully submitted by,
Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, London
MarCom Team Chair, WICC