"Maintaining Our Witness as We Acquire Privilege with Milly Silencio" Transcript
Season 2, Episode 3
[A guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]
Milly Silencio: I always think of my own story. What would it have been if people who mentored me first would've told me, “Hey, Milly, guess what? Why don’t you get your Green Card first, and then we'll disciple you.” I wouldn't be here. So, but I'm just saying it could happen because I've heard in churches of that. Or even denominations that do not license or ordain people who are undocumented, but are getting all of their services in their churches as deacons, lay leaders, everything. And they're just doing this with their big hearts, lowly hearts, in service to Jesus, but yet should be compensated for that.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: Welcome to Shake The Dust: Leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God. I'm Suzie Lahoud here with Jonathan Walton and Sy Hoekstra.
Sy Hoekstra: And I am here with a slight rasp in my voice because I went to a baseball game the other day and yelled at the players really loud. And that's a silly thing for a podcaster to do, but I did it and here we are.
Sy Hoekstra: We today are going to talk about the idea of acquiring privilege and how that kind of changes your relationship with people around you and with God and with yourself. It’s a bit of an abstract topic, but I promise we will bring it right down to earth. We also have a guest with us, but before we get to her, just really quickly, I want to remind everyone to head over to ktfpress.com/freemonth, and take a look and really consider becoming a supporter of this show and everything we do at KTF Press by looking at that subscription. It's $7 a month or $70 a year. It gets you our weekly newsletter with recommendations on political education and discipleship from the three of us, you get two from each, the three of us every week, plus some other stuff.
You also get bonus episodes of this show. There are several hours of those at this point and they're really great, we hope that you go and check them out. And that supports just everything else we do, the book that's coming up soon, all of our other work, our articles, everything else. Thank you so much to those of you who are subscribed. If you cannot do that, please do consider just following us. Actually, everybody go and follow us on social media, @KTFPress on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Leave a rating and review for us in your podcast player for this show if your podcast player allows for that sort of thing. And hit that follow or subscribe button in your podcast player as well while you're there. And now I will give you to Jonathan.
Jonathan, tell us, who do we have back with us today?
Jonathan Walton: Yes. I'm so, so, so excited to introduce Milly Silencio, formerly Aquije, last time she was here. She is a lot of wonderful things. An educator, spiritual advisor, mentor and a Dreamer. Her current professional experience includes being an executive pastor with Reconcile Brooklyn. She's also the founder of Hoping Greatly, where you can see her writing @hopinggreatly.com, where she uplifts others through her story of resilience as an undocumented immigrant. Education wise, she has a degree from Nyack College and Hunter College, as well as being a licensed clergy through the ECC, that's the Evangelical Covenant Church. Mrs. Silencio has also served in church plants and youth ministry since like 2005.
Shout-out to InterVarsity. She's an alumni of our campus ministry and still actively involved as a founder of the Alumni Mentor Movement. She's worked in higher education at Hunter College and City Seminary. As an extremely talented writer, she contributed to our anthology entitled Keeping The Faith: Reflections on Christianity and Politics in the Era of Trump and beyond. And she's also an active contributor on My Undocu Life, and is on the board of directors for Women of Wonder. She is an accomplished woman, so thank you, thank you, thank you so much, Milly for taking time out of your busy schedule to spend some time with us.
Milly Silencio: Well, thank you. Thank you guys for having me again.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So as Sy said, we're talking about the, just the idea of acquiring privilege that we did not have and how that changes our relationships with different groups of people, ourselves, and God. So we're going to just go around briefly and talk about our personal experiences with the idea of acquiring privilege and we'll start with you Milly.
Milly Silencio: Yeah, sure. Thank you guys for having me. I feel so honored in just being here. And yeah, for me privilege hasn't been such a great word all the time at all. Just knowing where I came from and my humble beginnings as just being an immigrant daughter, a first generation graduate in my family. So we really have never had privilege. We've always been a very low-income and everything. So now in this transition that I'm in, so I recently got married.
Sy Hoekstra: Congratulations!
Milly Silencio: Thank you, thank you, to a wonderful, just big-hearted American and stuff that, I know he wouldn't like me to say that and stuff for sure. Let me just say big-hearted Jersey boy and stuff.
Milly Silencio: Yeah, Josh. It's been awesome because when we met, we spoke about our stories and our background and he was honest with me from the beginning of telling me his journey out of white supremacy and a cult. And for me, I had to think about that as well, and take a step back and be like, wow, this is interesting. God has given me someone who's been reconciled into loving and just having a heart for justice. So the interesting, I would say now season I'm in is, since I'm marrying as undocumented, as a Dreamer, someone who was born from America, is at times the assumptions that I already have privilege, right? Because I'm married to a US citizen. Then automatically in some, I don't know what it is, some expectations of just people that, yeah, automatically I got married on October 2nd, and voila, I am documented. That is so not true whatsoever. That is not how it goes at all.
And I think just clarifying that, but I do see the assumptions of privilege because of being in that transition of the cusp of starting my process of adjustment of status, which I am in the end of this year. But I do sense that of people asking those questions, “Hey, will you still be part of the community, will you not write off the undocumented community?” And worrying about that and yeah, it’s hard. It's been a moment of grief for me, and also a lot of just grateful for counseling to process as well this moment, even though I know and I'm aware that I definitely have what they call legally a “bona fide marriage,” which means a love marriage and stuff, but it's still just even the notion of knowing or having the support and the really bad, just people's understandings of it. I felt a lot of guilt and shame in this process, so yeah, so I can definitely talk about that.
Sy Hoekstra: We will get into all of that more. As much as I want to get into it right now, I do want everyone to still go around and talk about their notions of acquiring privilege. Thank you so much for opening up to all that. All that is fascinating and we will dive much more into several different aspects of that.
Briefly for me, it's funny because, well, so first of all, I grew up a white, straight guy with money in America. So there's a little bit of a question of what do you mean acquiring privilege? It seems like you had that the whole time [laughs]. But there's a conversation that always takes place within the disability community about curing. About people who can, there's some medical treatment out there or something that could like basically remove your disability from you in certain cases.
So it's not something that can happen to me at the moment. It is potentially something that can happen to me in future. There are all kinds of technologies that people are working on to help damage retinas like mine work better. It’s a possibility. But it's a thing that we think about all the time, because it's so wrapped up in the notion of disability identity, because so many people come from the, kind of the position that I am proud of my disability and my community, and it's a deep part of my identity, and even if you offered me a cure, I wouldn't even take it, and it's an insult to offer me a cure. All those, those ideas are always floating around. Yeah, I don't know. I'll get more into different aspects of that, but that is something that disabled people are always talking about.
Because for a lot of people, if you're deaf or hard of hearing and you can get a cochlear implant, or for lots of people who can just take different medicines to mitigate the symptoms of whatever their medical condition is, that's a real life question of like, do you want to acquire this privilege? And like Milly was saying, is there grief around losing something of yourself in the process of doing that? So yeah, that's me.
Jonathan Walton: You know, when there's a question of acquiring something we didn't normally have in the system that we have in the world, so you've got these subordinated classes and you've got dominant classes. And something that I've been thinking about a lot is like, in places where I have been quote-unquote “subordinated” or “abnormal” or “different,” like I've changed a lot. Like multiple classes where I have quote-unquote “acquired things” that society offers to those who have higher education. And like for me, I have an Ivy League degree, I have a graduate degree, and there are assumptions that come with that. I don't rent, I own a home now. Like that's an assumption.
The assumption that we have access and, or possession of resources, knowledge, and power immediately because of where we live, the degrees that are, we don't hang them up, they’re in like file cabinets somewhere, but usually people hang their degrees on a wall. Like the assumptions that come from that, especially if people are from my own family down in Virginia are stark, real, and sometimes very true. The average income in my town in Virginia is $14,000. The median income in Manhattan is $80 [thousand]. And so that's just true.
So the reality of engaging with that, that like as far as I know, I'm the only person, undergraduate from the 12 counties that make up the district where I'm from to have gone to an Ivy League school undergrad, ever. I usually get an email when someone applies to Columbia from where I'm from. I've got one email in the last 15 years. Just that reality is something that I'm actively wrestling with because I don't know what it means to, as Dominique Gilliard would put it, like stewarding that privilege for subversive witness. Yeah. I think that's something I'm actively trying to figure out, especially with my own daughters who have no semblance of the subordinated classes that I come from. It's not part of their life at all [laughs]. So yeah.
What about you, Suzie?
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, I feel like for me, this conversation tends to revolve around the acquisition of wealth or money and it starts really when I was young. I was born into a family that was middle class, maybe even lower-middle class. I was a pastor's kid, one of five children, and my dad was in grad school and working at the time. So we had enough, but not a lot of excess. And then we moved overseas to Uzbekistan when I was eight, and all of a sudden we were wealthy compared to the average person living there. And so the fact that I had more than literally two sets of clothes meant that I was wealthy. The fact that I didn't even think about buying a tube of toothpaste, my friends used to give each other Colgate toothpaste for birthdays.
So all of a sudden I was wealthy in the eyes of the people around me and relatively, that was true. And it kind of bothered me. I was telling Sy yesterday, this one story of one day walking home from school, I was attending the local former Soviet public school and was walking home with two of my friends. And one of the girls didn't know me as well, and she was like, “Well, Suzie, why did your family choose to move to Uzbekistan from America? Why would you do that?” And my friend who did know me pretty well and knew my family, she was like, “Oh, well, because in America they were poor, but here they're rich.” And I got so angry at my friend for saying that. Afterwards I pulled her aside and I was like, “Why would you say that? That's awful.” And she's like, “Well, one it's true that you are wealthy now. And two,” she's like, “I was covering for you because your parents are missionaries and that's illegal. So you should be thanking me.”
But I think just that speaks to sort of my uncomfortability with realities about my socioeconomic status, and that has continued to this day with, I married a man who, he is Lebanese and we both feel a calling to a certain kind of ministry, but he also is full-time in the business world and has actually managed to earn quite a bit of money. So I never expected that I would be married to someone who would have that ability and that status. And for us as a married couple, a lot of what we wrestle with is how do we, as Jonathan was just saying, how do we steward that privilege well?
Again, it's something that makes me very uncomfortable and I think it's a huge responsibility. Rather than just ignoring it, it’s something that we really feel like we need to call ourselves to a really high standard of being faithful with that and not judging that standard, even by the way that we see people around us living that out, because I think the status quo isn't always the most faithful bar for what stewarding your privilege looks like.
Sy Hoekstra: So Milly, let's dig into a little bit one of the things that you said, which was the notion of how much people misunderstand the process of acquiring through marriage a Green Card. Could you elaborate a little bit on some of those misunderstandings, the anxiety of going through that process, kind of what it's been like for you?
Milly Silencio: Yeah. So like I said, sometimes certain people think, oh, when you're getting married and you're undocumented, as soon as you say that “I do,” you sign your paperwork…
Sy Hoekstra: They hand you a Green Card.
Milly Silencio: That's it. It’s like [makes the sound of a bell ringing]
Suzie Lahoud: At the altar.
Milly Silencio: Yeah you know, here they go, at the altar [laughter] and you're automatically a citizen. So it's not true and stuff. So just definitely demystify that. Usually every person and stuff, and I say this just in general and I'll speak in “I” terms afterwards. We all have a process and all of us, according to how our entry point was in America, whether legally or not, we have to do certain forms. These forms all cost a certain amount as well, and also you have to do, guess what, also a medical exam to see if you are fit to even become a person to be petitioned from a citizen. Yes, you need a medical exam and it's required you have to get vaccinated. I am pro-vaccination so to me that is not an issue. But there's some in the undocumented that are not. So they're saying how in the heck is this required for us, but yet others do not even wear a mask in their respective states? So that's a whole other interesting story. But it is a lot of forms plus this medical exam, which only has to be done by those doctors who are part of this kind of process and are basically registered to do this. And all of this, it's totals to a lump sum of $3,000 or so.
Jonathan Walton: Oh, wow.
Sy Hoekstra: Sorry, can I note, that's if you don't hire a lawyer to help you.
Milly Silencio: Yes, this is if you don't hire a lawyer to help you. So if you do hire a lawyer, let's just say it's like $10,000 or $20,000 or so and stuff, depending on your case. And it gets really, really hefty in that price. So for me it was a big decision I had to take with my husband. And the reason is DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, it gives you a work permit, but then also basically shields you from being deported every two years. So guess what? My DACA is going to expire next year in June, which makes me also understand, I need to renew at least eight months before and start the process, or start my process of my husband petitioning me for adjustment of status, you know. With me consulting with other mentors and I was just prayerfully seeing that, and my husband was just honest with me and saying, “Babe, you've waited too long in the system, it's been 30 years, we should do adjustment of status,” even though the difference is huge because my DACA amount is like $500. And then the other one, like I said is close to $3000 if you don't do it with a lawyer.
So that is one thing for sure to definitely share is, there's a whole process of documentation you have to fill. Some of these applications are overwhelming. They're like 18 pages each or so. And you have to put a lot of different history and you have to put a lot of different proof of saying that you are who you say you are. That you guys are married, that you have even witnesses, especially if your marriage is less than two years and stuff, which is our case.
So yeah, so that's the whole endeavor we're doing, making sure we have many things joint, which we do of course, as a married couple because we're not doing this because I paid my husband. So no, not at all. It is a love marriage. But even though it is a love marriage, it's true what I shared with you guys. I faced a lot of shame and guilt of even going through this process, even though I know it was nothing I could have done differently to go to the next step, and it's something that, yeah, is the systemic just barriers that I still have in me, that's something I processed in therapy.
But yes, that's just something to tell you guys more information about the process of legalization a lot of documents, it's hefty price. And mind you, that itself takes time. Some cases take one to two years, others take like five to ten years or so. So by the Lord's grace I'm hoping things are speeding up in immigration that it may take at least one to two years for us because of my case. But let's see. Let's see what happens.
Sy Hoekstra: Just because I've been through this with my wife, that you apply for, first you apply for a conditional Green Card, then you have to file another application for an unconditional Green Card a couple years later. And then there's like, I mean, there's an interview involved where they ask you all kinds of questions to try and figure out if you're married. I mean, we submitted like the check that we paid the venue for our wedding, because you just want to submit like anything you possibly can to show to them this is like a real, actual marriage. I mean, the application that we had was like a binder. It was enormous [laughs]. So, yeah, I mean that's, I appreciate you elaborating on that and talking about some of the feelings around it, because it is a lot for sure.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. So Milly, you were sharing about some of the kind of mixed emotions around this and feelings of even sometimes grief or guilt or, and so I was wondering how do you talk to your immigrant friends and family and particularly to your undocumented community about this change, and what is that communication like for you?
Milly Silencio: Yeah. I've been very intentional after getting married and just still maintaining that friendships that I do have with people who are undocumented, and I've been very open in just letting them know, “You guys know I don't have a Green Card right now.” Thank God, because that's the way of the community, I can just be honest, right. And they understand that. And I have had friends ask me, “Hey as you're in the process, will you forget about us?” And there, I reassure. I'm like, “No, absolutely not.” I've been in, this is part of my story and it will continue to be part of my story.
And the best way I can say is I have come across a great like Latina mentor and friend that was formerly undocumented. And hearing her witness, and even when she was, before she spoke at a certain event, she did say in her bio, “formerly undocumented,” that's something I continually will always put in mine as well. And that's something I've shared with friends who have had that question, what does this mean? Will we lose you? And I'm like, “Absolutely not.” I'm still going to be part of community, but even stronger. Like talking about privilege, this is for me will be my good steward of privilege when I do come to the next round, which is hopefully in a year or so being documented, but just helping the community, but also being that bridge between both of those who are.
Because it's a lot to process at times in knowing you need this, and this is good for you, but then you're so attached to the community, you don't want to leave in certain ways. But I also am understanding that just the same way I transitioned my season from being single seven years to now being married, is the same way of just allowing that grief of knowing that, yes, I'm not going to be able to speak on certain contexts, because I'm not completely part of that context anymore. But I still can speak because of just the three decades I've been part of this system. So any day, any time I will always be a supporter for undocumented communities. Just because I'm in a transition does not mean I'm exempt for anything in that way. I will completely be a fierce ally and help those allies even understand better what it looks like to support us.
So that's conversations I've had with very dear friends who are undocumented and they felt so relieved in knowing that I will still be part of the community. I will still attach that to my bio because they've seen it. And I know because I've seen it myself, of people who just forget. It's as if, I understand sometimes, but also other times I agree to disagree on their interpretations of going forward in their lifestyle and just forgetting to give back to the community and stuff. So yeah, that's something I've really, did grieve about, but then also understood, it's still part of me. It's not going to leave me anyways. It's just a different perspective and a different side, but it also will be stronger, my voice and my power in how I can interpret, like I said, for both sides of the allyship, but then also the community. And I think I'll be a fierce bridge in that way as well.
Suzie Lahoud: I love that analogy of just being a bridge, and also if I could just emphasize what you said about not forgetting, because I feel like that's the tension a lot of times for me with, you know, I shared a little bit about my story, but even just changing locations from places like Uzbekistan and coming back to the US or going back and forth between Lebanon and the US, and Lebanon's a country right now where people don't always have running water and electricity. So just this idea of when you've been places and seen people's struggles, there is this responsibility, I think, to carry that knowledge with you and to not forget to remember.
And I just love how we see that in the Bible with, I feel like in some ways you could look at the story of the Exodus as the people of Israel journeying out of being enslaved people and acquiring the privilege of citizenship in a new land. And yet God tells them throughout that journey to remember, remember where they came from. And then when they get to the new land to care for the sojourner and the stranger among them, because they were once sojourners and strangers. And so I just love those two themes that you hit on of just choosing to not forget, choosing to actively remember, and to stay connected to that community and serve as a bridge between those two realities of life. I think that's so important.
Sy Hoekstra: I think — I totally agree with all that — I think the grief thing is the thing that hits me, right? Like the notion of you lose something that a lot of the world looks at as like a stain. A lot of the world looks at it like something that you should not be proud of in any way, like an undocumented status. But losing it for you because you've made it part of who you've identified with it, like to an enormous and like highly risk-taking degree in your case. It just becomes such a part of who you are, and I think that's where I connect a little bit on the disability front, because there's just like a ton of fraught feelings around acquiring privilege through like, when you're talking about disabled people, it's like a literal change to your body, you know what I mean? Is what's like creating the privilege in those cases, and it's just it's so… it's like not just a part of who you are sort of in your day-to-day life or mentally what you've identified with. It's a part of your literal body is changing, and that causes people a ton of grief, a ton of emotions. And I think, so I don't exactly know where I'm going with this. I'm just saying I identify with that part of what you said really.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I mean, I think I'm in your boat where like this inspired a lot more thoughts than I thought. On paper there's like reading it, but then as we're having the conversation, something that is interesting to me is two things. One, the difference between rights versus privileges. And like, I'm like, oh, are rights things we can acquire when we can't get the privilege? Like I can't leave being Black behind. There's no physical change that, like Sy talks about, there's no healing that's going to happen. Or be like with the LGBTQIA+ community it’s like, that's not something that they necessarily want to change or are going to change.
So there's a right, whereas when you're embodying the change, like you as a physical person have changed statuses. That's something to me that's pretty compelling to think about. Particularly when we think about the second part, these are communal identities, these aren't individual ones. So the idea that like, to my mom I am different now because I have an education and her needing that reassurance, that I won't forget. Or when I look at Maia and Maia will never know what it's like not to expect the fridge to be full, or the bills to be paid. Or like, she breaks down if we get the wrong sushi roll [laughter]. Like that's, I'm like…
Suzie Lahoud: I mean, I would break down if I got the wrong sushi roll.
Jonathan Walton: It takes everything in me not to be like, “Do you know where you come from?” But she doesn't. The first time she picked a squash out of the field in Brodnax, where I'm from. And she was like, she didn't want to get her hands dirty. And I'm just like, this is you, you know what I mean? But there's this, there's a separation now of like, she's not in the same class as I was, but I'm in this class. How do I explain to her where she came from? There's a communal aspect. We don't have the same accent. We don't have the same educational trajectory. We don't, and it’s a very, as you're talking, it's a very, like I changed, but we are the same. I am this, but I am so like you.
So there's this talking across a social wall that feels significant. And this is the last thing I'll say, because I think they illustrate this that like, I've become really married to shower heads that are like really nice [laughter], and I notice like, hot water. I've started to notice things when I go into other people's houses because of the class change. Because of how our, like we had to redo our bath, our bathroom is new. I didn't grow up with new anything in a house. We make repairs when things break. There's things that, just like things that are unacceptable in our household now that have been acceptable my entire life, that I'm still kind of wrestling through. So yeah. Anyway, that was me rambling. And I know I have a question right here, but Suzie's going to say something. Go ahead.
Suzie Lahoud: Oh, I was going to say, could I just ride this train a little bit farther and just, and I will have a question at the end of it. Or I might just be completely derailing the conversation. But just, if we could touch on the generational aspect too, because I think, yeah, Jonathan. This is something I think about too as a parent is, some of the things that I experienced, so again growing up in Uzbekistan, there were some hard things about living there and some hard things that my family went through. And so I appreciate when things aren't hard so much more and I appreciate what I have now. So like I appreciate physical safety more. I appreciate getting to go to the park and buy a balloon. I appreciate things like that that I couldn't have or do, and I love giving those things to my kids and providing those things to my kids.
But then I think, how do I also pass on the lessons that I learned through what I experienced growing up, and the resilience and all of those things? Because I'm actually grateful that there were aspects of my childhood that weren't easy, and I think that they shaped me and formed me in important ways, those experiences did. And so how do I also pass that on to my kids? Because they don't have the context and the background for what we're experiencing now that I do. Yeah.
And so I guess to throw this out as a question for you, Milly, how do you think about this change of status that you're now in? It's in process for you. Like you said, you're not there yet. This is still a process, but now you're married and you're going to, I don't know if you guys are planning to have kids or not. But is that something that you think about? And then also Jonathan, if you want to, it looks like you have more to say.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, I'll contextualize a little closer. Like as you preach, as you shepherd other people, is how you talk about your experience changing? Is how you talk about God changing and if so, how?
Milly Silencio: To answer, I'll try my best to answer both in one for sure. So to definitely answer you Suzie, yes, me and Josh have spoken about kids. We want to have them, not yet. And the reason is because of also socioeconomic status for both of us, he is an entrepreneur, he's a bike mechanic. I'm a church planting pastor where church has severely been hit because of the pandemic and stuff. So yeah. So that we, that's one thing there. But when it comes to kids, we have spoken about that. What would we like to impart to them? And we've been very, both of us have the same heart of them growing in a bilingual home and growing up to definitely have, because they're going to have our last name. Which, by the way my husband took my last names. That's a whole other side story for you and stuff, because that's how much he wanted to just, for us to continue having that in our story.
Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan did that too.
Milly Silencio: Nice, nice. Yes, and stuff. So we had that conversation. We want to even, from us thinking in time when we have kids even being intentional for them to even have a Spanish first name and then maybe an English middle name because of their last name being so Latino. Silencio is really Latino. But also in regards to what you said Jonathan, hilariously enough, I just gave a message a few weeks ago, which in my mind, because I had to do as well, as a church planter, you have many hats. I also had to make sure everything in the church was okay. Our church is going still fine tune things, like our lights went off. So it was just so many different things that were happening, and just us making church church, if that makes sense.
And Cory was off for that Sunday, so I was on. I struggled making the message, which is a whole other side story in itself. But when I did, and we were speaking about 2 Peter, what I gravitate towards and that's something I'm seeing is part of me all the time is, I gravitated from the very beginning when Paul, not Paul, Peter started seeing and talking about “To the exiles of” X, Y, and Z. From there, it just set the tone for me, because I’m like, I know what exiles are. It's migrants. It's like us and our stories, our immigrant stories. And it just helped me understand and love even more.
Not to say I don’t and stuff, but I've been appreciating a lot more my story. My migrant story, my mom, and honoring her more and knowing that the story that I'm saying right now actually has been a story that's been told to me in parts because of her traumatized state these past years. So I think for me, when I look in scripture, I think about that as well. Whenever I see migrants or exiles or foreigners, I understand that in that so other different level, that it makes me just have that perspective and lens in how I preach or how I teach as well. And also making sure that those who are from different ethnicities and different races in our congregation know the beauty of that. Of being a mosaic for God, being part of the body of Christ in that way, but not being uniformity and stuff.
So that's how also I interpret it because I'm just tired of justice systems that may also in scripture, because that's one of the reasons why I also had to have a reconciliation moment with scripture and so much white supremacy surrounding certain commentaries and other theologians interpretations of books of the Bible. So yeah, like I said, that's a whole other side story in itself, but it's been great to still see myself whenever I meditate on scripture, still me having my story in it.
Also as a woman and stuff, and I was very intentional in that message in talking about the comparison of the inheritance of Christ to then the times that we as women didn't even have access to inheritance like the daughters of — the name fades me. But it's in the book of Numbers and stuff, which talks about these daughters — oh, Zelophehad — who came to Moses because they were women, and there was no male heir, when Moses went to Jesus, went to God and God was like, “Yeah, give it to them.” So I'm just saying, so things like this that also I hone into my womanhood as I interpret scripture and see like, wow, it's true. Like we've really been blessed in where we are. I've really been blessed in where I am and I never want to take that for granted.
Suzie Lahoud: So I guess building off of that, how your experiences shaped the way that you read the Bible and how you preach and disciple, there's an idea that sort of floats around churches, saying that people with less privilege know God more closely or better understand Jesus' teaching, specifically because it takes trial or hardship or desperation to sort of break you if you want to truly be close to him. And so we wanted to kind of talk with you about that framing, because I think there's a lot in there and some of it is really good and true and helpful and some of it maybe needs to be teased out and maybe critiqued even. So yeah, if we could just kind of pick your brain on that a little bit.
Milly Silencio: Yeah, sure. I think for me when I was also looking at this question as we were talking about it via email, I felt a lot of like, I would say resistance with it, but then also understanding. Resistance I think because I've known what it is to be in churches which praise exactly that, the lowly in spirit, the poverty, and yet teach the other spectrum of Jesus as well of like prosperity gospel and things like that, but yet do not help practically those who are at the margins, even though they themselves are part of their community. And to me, I have an issue with that.
For me, I think it's a balance. If we believe in a God of yes, he is there for those who are what, lowly in spirit. Then we should also believe that he is there for the rulers of nations too, and he is there for all. So I think for me, I wrestle with that because of just knowing people, preaching and teaching, especially the lowly in spirit in the context of it being so I would say, caged in to be, for you to continue in that poverty, and for that to be a benefit for society, but yet not helping them in their spiritual formation or growth beyond just even the systems of this world.
And for me, in my context, I could say even beyond your undocumented status, because I do sense that even in, at least in my context, I have been in certain churches where even though they're a part of the community, they've never even spoken about the immigration issue or even highlighted, “Hey you are, God sees you, God hears you. He loves you. And your undocumented status does not breach you from access to Jesus.” I have never heard that in the Latino Pentecostal churches that I've been in. I wish I would've heard that because I think I would've been in a different journey now. But yet like I said, for some reason, and I think this is again the, I would say the wave, the spirit, unfortunately of colonization and also white supremacy and how even our own communities, immigrant communities have been indoctrinated to say certain scriptures in this way of maintaining the lowly to be even more low. And for them not to go against what's already in place in society.
And to me I'm against that, because then we also even see that in church planting, where certain curriculums or even leadership development, it goes to the context of, yeah, let me… for where I've heard it, and I went completely against it as well of an immigrant needing first legal services to then from there needing leadership development, as if Jesus said, “Hey, guess what immigrant, get your Green Card first and then you can be a disciple of mine.” That is not Jesus and stuff. So it's things like this to me that I struggle with that context because I know God is true. He is, I've seen it in my family. There's times we didn't have enough for rent and by God's grace, we won one of those monopoly pieces we submitted it in and it arrived that check literally the time we needed rent. So like McDonald's paid my rent.
Sy Hoekstra: McDonald’s monopoly? Yeah.
Milly Silencio: Yes! McDonald's paid my rent one month and stuff. And for us, and just to say that context, I understand that and I think that's great, but I also think it’s great to help others continue grow in who God has created them to be and just letting them grow. Because I feel like I didn't see that. I wish there was better mentorship in that way for spiritual gifts in all these context of the ministries, right? Whether it be not only pastor, but teacher, prophetic, apostle, all of them to be grown, instead of it just being certain people only in some sort of hierarchy in church. But anyways, I don't want to get into a tangent, but those are my thoughts. And kind of just feelings around that of the systems that may, but then also seeing it even in church context of just unfortunately people not noticing that, saying that too much is actually not helpful at all to help those who are in the struggle for sure. It alleviates, but it also is helpful to give other resources to continue whatever it is that they're needing for.
And I always think of my own story. What would it have been if people who mentored me first would've told me, “Hey, Milly, guess what? Why don’t you get your Green Card first, and then we'll disciple you.” I wouldn't be here. So, but I'm just saying it could happen because I've heard in churches of that. Or even denominations that do not license or ordain people who are undocumented, but are yet getting all of their services in their churches as deacons, lay leaders, everything. And they're just doing this with their big hearts, lowly hearts, in service to Jesus, but yet should be compensated for that. So that is my issue with it.
Sy Hoekstra: It almost becomes justifying of the poverty, the material lack. Right?
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah.
Milly Silencio: Yep.
Sy Hoekstra: Exactly. That's a sad, but very true point I think. Suzie, you had a number of thoughts on this I think too, right?
Suzie Lahoud: Well, I guess just one thing that I've been kind of thinking about is, so we recently celebrated Easter, and also I shared in one of our weekly newsletters a great talk that Mako Nagasawa gave on restorative versus retributive justice, and arguing that God's form of justice is restorative not retributive. So it gets into atonement theory and all of that. And the way that this all relates for me right now, maybe to atonement theory in my understanding of what Christ’s sacrifice on the cross means, is just that I believe in a God who suffers with us. And that moment of Christ suffering on the cross, seeing that as a moment of solidarity with us in our suffering, I think it enlightens this for me, because it's showing that yes, God is with us in those moments of hardship and tribulation, but it's not retributive. It's not God actively, you know… Sy, you put it, when we were talking about this the other day, you put it in terms of, it can almost create an abusive view of God, that like God has to crush you and break you and make you experience hardship in order for you to be sanctified and purified and all that.
Sy Hoekstra: Keep you close to him with material lack, which is like literally a tactic of abusive men.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes, yes, and has been critiqued in different even justice movements. And can feed into, like you were saying, Milly, an almost glorification of lack by the people who have everything that they need and have massive amounts of privilege. And so, yeah, I think, again for me, I've been seeing this, trying to see this sort of through the lens of the cross and how I view the cross and that, again, it's God entering into our suffering with us, and I firmly believe in that. And I'm not questioning that at all, but then do want to critique the unhealthiness of thinking that God has to make you suffer in order for you to be close to him. And it's complicated because those two things somehow seem like they should be linked together, but I think there's some unhealthiness that we need to, as we always talk about on this show, sort of disentangle.
Jonathan Walton: So one thing that really stands out to me is that, from what you're saying Suzie, is a message I actually got to share at Reconcile. Where we talked about like, Reconcile Church where Milly is a pastor, and the difference between a colonial subject versus a congregant. And like, you have to see God as an overseer in the context of colonization. And so the entanglement, it has to be like teaching for control. It can't be teaching for empowerment. It can't be teaching for agency. It can't, it has to be teaching and then contextualized for control. And the twisting of passages to say like, blessed are the poor. And so this joining of like, well, if I am suffering, then I am exalted. And that means if you're a slave and you stay a slave, you're somehow closer to God, so it's okay for you to be a slave forever.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Because that… yeah.
Jonathan Walton: And so they get joined together, whereas like it, but the flip side isn't true whereas we don't then have the discipleship, as Milly was talking about of like, if you are rich, give your money away. There's no pursuit of downward movement even though Jesus talks about that, like the first will be last, the last should be first. Like we don't push that, but we absolutely grab Philemon and say, this is how it should work out. Yeah, it’s really difficult to disentangle them because they're the foundation of our society.
Sy Hoekstra: I think the kernel, the reason this is like slightly uncomfortable is there's a kernel of truth in what we're talking about, which is Emmanuel. Which is like God promises to be with people in their suffering. And so they do like as a matter of fact meet God in suffering because God has promised to be with you in suffering. That is a thing that happens. But that is not some, like you can use that truth to exploit people, for control in all the ways that you each talked about. I just wanted to put that out there. God promises to be with people who are poor, who are suffering, who are mourning, who are everything else, but that’s…
Jonathan Walton: But he doesn't leave us there [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, exactly. Right.
Suzie Lahoud: Right. Right.
Jonathan Walton: Like in eternity, right?
Milly Silencio: Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: Being with you is not the same as holding you down, you know what I mean? Like he's there. He's not, yeah, the ultimate goal is to lift you up.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. And as you were sharing Jonathan, I think it’s starting to kind of coalesce for me. Because again, this is something I'm sort of actively trying to decolonize in my own thinking and reading of scripture and understanding of who God is. And just because God is with you in your bondage, doesn't mean he doesn't fight with you for your liberation and lead you out into liberation. And I feel like we've been preaching a gospel that is just God is with you in your bondage, so you can be content in your bondage. And it actually, rather than leading to liberation, it becomes a barrier to liberation.
Milly Silencio: I really love this conversation because it's something I've been thinking about a lot and just wrestling with. Like I said, honestly speaking, I wrestle at times with reading scripture because of all these other different systems that I know go with it. But I think as you guys are just having this wonderful conversation, what I'm also reminded of is of God's sovereignty, and God is God and we are not. And the reason I say this too, is also the other extreme of people who have God and who may be in okay socioeconomic status, but yet they do everything, they go ahead, go to a missionary trip, take that picture, right, and stuff. Go to a Black Lives Matters protest. And then they've been just, to put it, and I can do this because I've been single for, I was single for seven years and stuff and been single like seven years, and are asking God and doing all of these different causes. This is where I'm saying like, God is God and we are not, because I also think that other extreme of treating God kind of like a Santa Claus or a genie in the bottle is not it either and stuff like that.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, that’s a great point.
Milly Silencio: Because I've heard it and we're people struggle of just these moments of wanting to have certain life shifts and seasons, but it doesn't happen the way they want it. And let's be honest, all of us with our life seasons, we know many of the things that we wanted did not happen where we wanted it, but when God knew this was the time for all of us to be at this time, place, and moment.
And I think about that and I'm like, “Thank you, God, you've saved me in so many moments that I thought this was it.” And I think that's the beautifulness of the need for God, but in a like, “God, I need you to hold me. I need you to be with me.” Like you were saying, God is a God who is with the suffering, but it also is a wonderful way of knowing he is with us too in that liberation. I think it's in that experience too of knowing that he even liberates us from ourselves in our context of thinking we need something for certain timeframes, but then also he's just a loving father, and stuff that teaches us, yeah, you need to go out from this extremity to another. Or sits with us and cries with us and mourns and grieves when we need those moments.
And I think about that as even Cory gave a message a few months ago, and he talks about how God loves us so much that even correcting us hurts him. And he made an example of him with his son. At times his son likes doing, like going ahead, going to like an outlet or something. He's like, “Jael don't do that,” and stuff. And of course he does it and stuff, but it doesn't mean that Cory loves his son any less. The same thing with God. It doesn't mean that God loves us any less when at times we are doing something and God's like, no, that's not really the way and stuff.
Sy Hoekstra: You're going to get electrocuted.
Milly Silencio: Yeah, exactly [laughter]. Right? And I think that's it too. I think that's part of the process of God healing our mindsets, and healing the systems that may, that have been passed down. And of God just detoxing that and just for us to be with him. And I think it's a communal experience too, because look at us having this conversation and us in all different point of views and perspectives of this word, privilege. And I think that's beautiful because we can't do this alone. We need God's help, but we need each other. And I think that's something that we need to continue, even though yes, we're in a complete pandemic still, but we still need to continue having both relationships together. Because if not, we're going to get lost. And I think to me, that is my greatest fear in this time and stuff, is just us getting lost in too much of our head space individualistic, but then also negating the communal aspect of faith as well.
Sy Hoekstra: I think I unfortunately need to cut us off [laughs]. I don't want to, but we've gone for quite some time. I really appreciate Milly, you being with us in this capacity as a guest who's been here before. And we just know you too well at this point, so we are not as nervous about talking and then you don't talk as much. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is you're a part of our family, and that's why we talked so much this episode [laughs].
Milly Silencio: Oh, thank you guys. No, I love it. And yeah, for me, I'm like, oh shoot. I feel like I had a whole pastoral moment right now. I need to pray [laughter]. That's so funny. Yeah. I was like, oh wait, why did I go here? I don't even know, but here we are.
Suzie Lahoud: Oh, no, we brought you on for the pastoral moments. No, I was so grateful for that. That was so good.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Right. Agreed, right. Why have a pastor on your show if you don't want pastoral moments? You know what I'm saying?
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah.
Milly Silencio: Yeah. I know [laughter].
Sy Hoekstra: So I mean, we know people can find you're writing and everything at Hopinggreatly.com. They can find you on Instagram @HopingGreatly. Where else do you want people to follow you, or is there anything else you want people to check out?
Jonathan Walton: Ask people to support you.
Milly Silencio: Yes, please. If you want to support my work, please send me a DM in my IG in Hoping Greatly. Or even send me an email, email@example.com and stuff, and be like, “Hey, how can I support you?” Definitely, I am going to start a campaign actually for my missions trip in October in Berlin which I'm super excited for, because I’ll be getting to meet a long family friend of Sy, by the way,
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, yeah.
Milly Silencio: Pastor Scott Corwin there.
Suzie Lahoud: Whoa.
Milly Silencio: That's a whole other wonderful story. So yes please. If you want to unite with the mission for me to continue in just spreading my story but also hope to the undocumented communities, support me in my work for sure.
Sy Hoekstra: Absolutely, everyone go do that. It is one of the most random things of my entire life that my high school pastor and you found each other on the internet, and you're now going to stay with him.
Milly Silencio: Yes. Such a small world.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, for real. Thank you so much for being here with us, Milly. Thank you everybody for listening. Just as a reminder before we finish up, go to ktfpress.com/freemonth to get a free month of the subscription, get our newsletter, get our bonus episodes of this podcast. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @KTFPress. Please do rate and review and subscribe to this podcast on your podcast player, all those things are very helpful to us.
Our theme music as always is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you all next time.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Jonathan Walton: And as a writer she contributed in our anthology, uh… Oh man, I forgot the title of our anthology. I deleted it.
[laughter, and Jonathan snorts at himself]
Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan…
Suzie Lahoud: I think we have our blooper.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah
Jonathan Walton: Aw man.
Milly Silencio: That was good.
Suzie Lahoud: Jonathan forgets the name of our book.