So, I’m happily making my way to Starbucks, driving my recently purchased 2008 Toyota Corolla, when a guy driving a pick up truck with some extra headlights pulled right next to me and started mumbling something. As we slowed down to get to the stop light, I realized what he was saying. Though I could not hear, the words came loud and clear: “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!” To make sure I didn’t miss the message, he drew it for me—in the form of some lovely spit in my general direction.

I thought, “Where have I heard such welcoming words before?” No, I didn’t. For a moment, I couldn’t feel my legs. Had I opted for the stick shift version of the Toyota, the car would have stalled right in the middle of the road. I panicked, not sure what would happen next. The angry face of that man was telling me all sorts of things but “you are safe” was not one of them. I avoided my usual route and pulled into the big parking lot of the first grocery store I found. But, to my horror, the truck followed me, next to me, then behind me until it came to rest from a safe distance at the same parking lot to where I had found refuge. I left the engine running, lowered myself on my seat, and watched from the side mirrors for any sign that the car was moving or that someone was walking out of it. After what appeared to be an eternity, though it may only have been five or ten minutes, the truck finally left the parking lot, tuning north, away from the city, into destination unknown.

I sat there, engine still running, unable to move my legs or even my arms to shut the engine down. For the first time in my life, my head felt like it was completely neutralized. The more I tried, the less I was able to hold a coherent thought for more than a few seconds. It was as if my head had been severed from my body and I was no longer a whole person—I had been cut in two by the power of five simple words that, when combined, become weaponized against foreigners like myself.

1. “Go.” But what if I don’t want to ”go”? What if this has been my country for thirty years and I am only interested in staying? Do you have the right to tell me to “go”? I think not.

2. “Back.” But why “back”? Why not “forward”? I came to this country with my family in pursuit of a calling to help people and better our lives. Both things have been realized and I am thankful for the doors that the people in the U. S. have opened to us, so I am not “going back” anywhere. The future belongs to the peacemakers, not the haters, and it belongs to those who believe in moving forward, not back.

3. “To.” This little, innocent preposition points to directions. When joined with “go” and “back” the direction tends to be opposite the person speaking. Ironically, when it is meant as a command to return to one’s love, even the verb changes. It’s never “go back to me;” rather, it’s “come back to me.” “Go” and “to” increase distance, but “come” and “to” shrink it. My experience living in the U. S. has been a series of “comings to,” and your words of hatred will not change that direction.

4. “Your.” A possessive pronoun. How many wars have humans started because that class of pronouns has been appropriated by the “wrong” people? How many lives have been lost because of the quest for ownership? In your mind, “your” country is contrasted with “mine.” You have somehow acquired the rights of ownership to this land that people like me are barred from having. You now have exclusive proprietary rights to this country. What is more, the object of your possession is better than mine, and I, by extension, am of less value than you because the only thing I deserve is “my” rat-infested piece of real state. But what gave you exclusive rights to own this multicultural place called the United States of America? Learn from George Blaurock, a fifteenth century evangelist who, upon being ordered by the authorities to leave the city of Geneva, Switzerland, famously quoted David when he said in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” And refused to leave…

You may taunt and hunt and blunt the voice of those trying to enter here, but I have been here for thirty years, I like it here, and you can’t make this place more of yours and less of mine just by saying so.

Someday, you might learn a lesson your mother may have tried to teach you when you were little: “Share your toys, son; share your toys.” Guess what? The ground you try to soil with your hatred is also shared by those who, like me, have done you no harm and only want to live in peace in this vast world old Blaurock taught rightly belongs to no other than the same God who made you and me. That ownership title was never “yours” or “mine,” so stop being a squatter and learn to share what has been given to you.

5. “Country.” As I intimated, I have no country. To quote St. Paul, “My citizenship is in heaven.” Though the day is far gone when we could live with open borders, you realize that “countries” are drawn as a result of wars. They are artificial boundaries dictated by the victors and offered to allies as spoils. No person is above the law but no nation is above the law of God either. And there is no greater law than this: “Love your enemies and forgive those who sin against you.” And even your hatred for people like me will not blunt the power of these words when taken to heart.

I am Ivanildo Trindade and I have no travel plans for the moment, though a ticket to Hawaii would be more than welcome (for two!)