Sunday, August 10, 2014

Our education turns to activism.

What follows is a copy of the statement we shared in the worship service where Rosa Robles entered into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.  What an honor to be allowed to participate.  We were humbled and moved even as we sang a song of protest, "We will not be moved." this old union song has been transformed into a song for the sanctuary movement and likens us who protest an unjust immigration system to a cactus standing resolutely in the desert.

Our statement follows:

August 6, 2014

(Address in original)

Dear Rev.,

We are a delegation of pastors and lay people from the United Church of Christ in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference based in Indianapolis, Indiana.  We are here in Tucson this week to learn about border issues, the urgent need for immigration reform, and the active response of local faith communities in Tucson as needs, both immediate and long term, present themselves as opportunities for ministry. Today, our own education turns to activism.

Today, we wish to stand in solidarity with you and the members of Southside Presbyterian Church as you prepare to offer sanctuary to Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto while you confront the unjust system that detained her in the autumn of 2010. 

We affirm the theological teachings that have led you to reach out to Rosa in this manner. We remember the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger, provide for the needs of the resident alien and traveler, and to see in every human life the image of the living God.  We concur, as well, with the belief of so many that an immediate breaking of the Washington D.C. gridlock is needed to prevent such cases from arising in the future.  Be that as it may, we fully support you and Southside as you extend extravagant welcome to a child of God who will know hospitality and hope because of your courageous and faithful actions.

May God continue to bless your ministry and the mission of Southside Presbyterian Church.


(all members of our delegation signed on)

The Rev. Wendy Bruner                 Jen Einspahr                                      Tyson Graham   
Zion UCC, South Bend, IN              Zion UCC, South Bend, IN              Zion UCC, Southbend, IN


Linda Kowatch                                 The Rev. John Vertigan
Zion UCC, South Bend, IN              Conference Minister
                                                            Indiana-Kentucky Conference UCC

Rosa enters into sanctuary

This is Rosa Robles and a bit of her story is below.  We attended the community worship service on the day Rosa entered into sanctuary.  The story comes from                                                                                                                                                                                       I was honored to read a statement of solidarity from our delegation to the people of the church and to Rosa and her family.  That statement follows in a new post.Rosa Robles Loreto and family spotlight
Rosa Robles Loreto with her husband Gerardo, and their sons Gerardo Jr. and Jose Emiliano.
Southside Presbyterian Church is giving sanctuary to a Mexican woman facing deportation, the second case this year for the church that started the sanctuary movement in the 1980s.
Rosa Robles Loreto will move into the church on Tucson’s south side Thursday evening and remain there until her deportation order is removed.
“The U.S. government said I had to voluntary deport by (Friday), but I’m not going to be one more of those deported, and one more family that is separated,” she said in Spanish.
Robles Loreto, 41, said she understands the risk of going public with her case but “it’s worth the risk if I get to fight to stay,” in a country she has called home for 15 years, she said.
“I have faith things will go well,” Robles Loreto said.
In a separate case, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz was given sanctuary at the church in May and after spending a month there, Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted him a one-year stay in the country.
Neyoy Ruiz moved into Southside Presbyterian with his wife and teenage son. Robles Loreto will move in alone.
“My husband and sons will continue to go to school and play sports,” she said. “They understand and they’re going to come visit me.”
Robles Loreto’s attorney, Margo Cowan, said her case is low priority and “should have received prosecutorial discretion long ago.”
In 2010, a traffic stop revealed Robles Loreto was in the U.S. illegally and she spent almost two months in an immigration detention center, Cowan said.
Once released, Robles Loreto went back home and last month she received a voluntary deportation order.
“Rosa is a woman of exceptional moral character,” Cowan said. “We trust that ICE will see fit to ensure that this mother is not torn away from her husband and children and will move to administratively close her deportation.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said in an email that the agency is reviewing Robles Loreto’s case.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday: Into the Wilderness by John Vertigan

Today, I shed tears my body couldn’t afford to spill on the Sonora Desert. My water bottle was nearly empty.  We’d been walking for a bit in the morning heat (not as far as we thought but it sure felt like it). Up a hill, through a washout, under and around cacti and other desert brush.  Our guide, from the Good Samaritans, was great about telling us to avoid nature’s sharp objects and we tried hard to do so!

The Good Samaritans drive into the desert to supply several water stations along the migrant trail.  Along the way, they find items left behind on the journey.  A Dora the Explorer backpack.  Shirts and other clothes too heavy to carry any further on the 30 mile hike through the desert.  Shoes with no soles.   Sometimes, and too often, a body.  Our guide tells us that already in 2014 some 98 people have died in the desert.  When the soles of their shoes wear out, their death sentence is nearly sealed.  One can’t walk in 100 degrees weather over rocks and brush and hilly terrain in their bare feet.  Soon, they will be either injured or exhausted, and they will die.  Jen Einspahr found this the most moving part of the journey. “To walk so short a part of their journey and to stand where they stood and to pray where they died was very moving,” she said.

Today, I shed tears my body couldn’t afford to spill on the Sonora Desert.  Our guide took us to a makeshift memorial to a father who died in the bush.  As we walked a little further on, we came to the memorial to the woman supposed to be his wife.  Her cross had the prayer of St. Francis posted on it, and a rosary.  “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  And just the littlest way onward, the memorial marked, in Spanish, "adolescente desconocido." To ‘an unnamed adolescent.’  He could have been anyone’s child. 

Someone might say, ‘Well, why didn’t they just get in line and wait their turn.’  I’ll suggest, as a parent, that wasn’t an option for this family or for so many who risk the dangerous journey today.  You see, the drug cartels in Central America, made up of US gang members our government deported, are recruiting these little children into the drug business.  If they refuse, they are murdered.  I can’t say it any more clearly.  This unnamed adolescent was likely fleeing with his family from the drug lords who would either corrupt him or murder him.  He, with his family, was willing to make the dangerous journey in hope of finding peace and justice and safety.  Indeed, to find life.  At his memorial, we read a prayer for all those who die in the desert, and today, I shed tears my body couldn’t afford to spill on the Sonora Desert.  But at least I was safe and alive.

Orthon Perez wrote this prayer, a piece of which is quoted here:

“In memory of those who risked everything and lost everything,
Of those who went with hope in their eyes and challenge in their souls,
The sun burned them and the desert devoured them
And the dust erased their names and faces. 
In memory of those who never returned we say with deepest respect:
Your thirst is our thirst, your hunger in our hunger, you pain is our pain,
Your anguish, bitterness, and agony are also ours.
We are a voice that will not be lost in the desert that insists
That the nation give equal opportunity to a dignified and fruitful life to all its children.

Having walked into and out of the desert, we pray others will listen but, regardless, we are a voice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Today, we met Jesus" by Rev. Wendy Bruner

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt. 25-35)

Today as we walked across the border into Mexico alongside the fenced in cattle shoot used by people who are deported every day from the United States I thought about these words. When we served breakfast to men and women who had just been sent back to Mexico without money or clothing I thought about these words. When we heard the story of a woman who had spent 30 days in prison for trying to find a job that would help feed her young children I thought about these words and I wondered what makes these words so difficult to understand. They are quite straightforward and yet for some reason we continue to spend billions of dollars to dehumanize people by building walls, cattle shoots and detention centers.

Sure we give reasons for doing these things. There are laws to be followed. This is not their country. They are taking jobs away from American citizens. They are members of gangs or suspected to be part of terrorist groups. The list is long and creative. But here’s the thing…

Today I met no gang members or terrorists. I encountered no criminals. I did, however, listen to stories of survival. I heard voices filled with determination and hope. I saw tears of frustration rolling down the faces of human beings who want nothing more than to be reunited with their children and give them a better future – nothing more or less than I would do for my own son if I found myself in a similar situation. And I thought about those words Jesus spoke. 

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

I know I met Jesus this very day sitting across the table from me eating eggs, rice and black beans just across the border in Nogales, Mexico. His name is Juan.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Tuesday August 5, 2014 – Sanctuary
Linda Kowatch

We left Indianapolis yesterday and arrived in Sahuarita, AZ around 7:15am today.  While the drive was 28 hours long, it was just the beginning of the pilgrimage on which we find ourselves.  Good Shepherd UCC is a wonderful place to call home this week.  We thank them for their offer and gift of hospitality.  After resting a bit and showering (which we really needed), we went to Ricon UCC in Tucson where Rev. Tracy Hughes welcomed us and led us in a liturgy and prayer that included these words:  Remind us that in your eyes there are no borders, only a great big world of your children whom you love without exception
Rev. Hughes took us through an orientation for what we would experience this week.   She has planned an amazing itinerary for us.  We can’t thank her enough! She described the people we would meet and the work they do.  She prompted our thinking by providing questions to ask ourselves as we move down each path this week.  Then we began meeting amazing people that care for God’s children day in and day out through the Sanctuary Movement. 

The first person we met was Kathe, who is one of the original Sanctuary Movement members.  She shared stories regarding providing safe passage to migrants in the 70’s and 80’s and continues today.  We then met Pastor Alison Harrington from South Side Presbyterian Church, who is part of the New Sanctuary Movement.  As a congregation South Side provided sanctuary for one brother in Christ and now is preparing to do the same for our sister, Rosa.  While Kathe presented the genesis of the Sanctuary Movement, Rev. Harrington gave us of a glimpse of the New Sanctuary Movement.
Next we  had a conference call with Rev. Ken Heintzelman from Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix.  He explained how the Shadow Rock Congregation is learning what it means to be part of the Sanctuary Movement.  What a wonderful witness of taking a congregation through an act of civil disobedience for obedience to God’s call.

The final presentation of the day was by Blake Gentry, a volunteer with Casa Mariposa.  HE shared explained the cause of the current immigration crisis that we are facing.  He also showed us the patterns of immigration that are occurring.  He shared with us the other side of the story that we are not getting from our politicians and media.  Lastly Blake talked about the real crisis the refugees are facing once escaping the violence in their own countries: the border patrol.

We finished our day debriefing at a Guatemalan Restaurant in Tucson.  The owners of the restaurant were one of the first families that were provided Sanctuary when they came to the States.  

Last night around 3:30am as my fellow pilgrims and I were driving along a very dark road in a state foreign to me, God prompted me to think about my brothers and sisters in the desert following the migrant trail into the US.  The discomfort I was feeling was minimal compared to the feelings they must be facing.  That’s what I thought last night. Tonight as I look up into the vast sky filled with stars, I wonder what stars my brothers and sisters in the desert see?  Do they even see the stars?  Tonight I am praying that God will show me ways I can help provide sanctuary for the 200 children that were placed throughout Indiana in the past month.  God help us all find ways to provide sanctuary for our brothers and sisters.

Tomorrow we will be crossing the border into Mexico...

From the UCC News at on Monday, August 4, 2014

UCC coordinated response moves quickly to fund assistance for displaced children
Written by Connie N. Larkman
August 4, 2014

Through the generosity of its members, the United Church of Christ is very much involved in offering compassion and care to displaced refugee children from Mexico and Central America. The denomination is working on the ground with congregations in the southern border states to meet early needs of the refugees, provide for the children as they are moved throughout all 50 states to be reunited with their families, and advocate to influence federal government funding and deportation policies.
"Because the situation is changing quickly, a coordinated response allows the UCC to be at the right place at the right time," said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, of UCC Disaster Ministries. "One of the blessings of responding through your national church is that you can be in many places at the same time, making a significant difference."
With $31,500 already donated to the UCC's special appeal for Unaccompanied Child Refugees, funds are making their way to the Southwest Conference of the UCC and into congregations sheltering children in Arizona and to a detention center in Artesia, N.M. Through the appeal, the wider church will continue to support the Southwest Conference in this long-term response.
"Today and into the future, the UCC Southwest Conference is coordinating efforts across UCC conferences to assist congregations in responding with direct service, advocacy and community organizing efforts for immigrant rights with particular awareness to border issues, the Central American refugee children, and undocumented people who fear family separation due to deportation," Blaufuss said."
Through financial resources sent to Church World Service, one of the UCC's partner organizations, the UCC is providing legal assistance through Spanish-speaking legal staff and volunteers at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, religious services and support at the Artesia, N.M., detention facility, and funds to local partners to provide food, water, clothing, diapers, medical care, housing and bus tickets.
Soon, Blaufuss said, UCC members interested in personally offering their services will be able to work through a new coordinator for mission around immigration - a position the special appeal will help fund. This coordinator, based in the Southwest Conference, will be the point of contact for immigration justice, and will work with local congregations and partner organizations responding directly to children entering the U.S. in 2014 and beyond.
"Direct service volunteers and pilgrimage groups, advocacy and community organizing action will be coordinated through the UCC Southwest Conference's new Immigrant Justice Organizer," Blaufuss said. "This coordination will enable people to get personally engaged and to be of the most help for on-going ministries on the ground."
The Rev. John D. Vertigan, conference minister of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC was very interested in that personal engagement. He is making a pilgrimage to Nogales, Ariz., this week with the Rev. Wendy Bruner and a few members of Zion UCC in South Bend, Ind., to witness the work being done to help the young, displaced refugees.
"We hope, on the one hand, to be impacted by the situation on the ground there in such a way that we can come home as advocates, story tellers, and a people of proclamation for justice and peace on the border," said Vertigan. "We hope, also, to have an impact on the people in the field there by bringing a witness of support, love, and care from the wider church."
"We are delighted and encouraged that a delegation from the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC is coming and look forward to providing them with some brokered interactions with people with whom we have been in ministry for more than 10 years," said the Rev. Delle McCormick, senior pastor of Rincon UCC, in Tucson, Ariz.
McCormick has long worked to educate people about the "push factors" that have caused the migration of so many, some the result of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The former executive director of BorderLinks, a nonprofit organization in Arizona that focuses on cross-border relationships, was also a former missionary in Chiapas, Mexico, with the Rev. Tracy Hughes, Rincon UCC's minister of community outreach. They are putting an itinerary together for the Indiana group.
"Tracy and I saw firsthand how the economic and military policies of our country directly impacted the people with whom we ministered," said McCormick. "Mom-and-pop businesses closed, subsidies were cut on daily necessities, land was procured for cash crops that did not benefit people-made-poor, dams for hydroelectric power for the U.S. flooded land held by indigenous tribes, maquiladoras (assembly plants) were built to harvest both the cheap labor and abundant natural resources, and the young and most able were forced to abandon their land or sell it cheap, while they sought day labor jobs in larger cities. Ultimately, this phenomenon was repeated in Central American countries that were even more impoverished than Mexico.
"There has been throughout this mess an astonishingly creative and courageous witness by people of faith in this region," McCormick continued. "Our church has been in the lead on the immigration issue, with one member making trips to Mexico twice a week to take much-needed supplies and spiritual support. Two large groups have been trained in responding appropriately and effectively to the needs of the unaccompanied minors."
The Indiana delegation plans to learn as much as they can about the issue in just a few days. Offered the hospitality of another UCC congregation, they will stay at Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz., from Tuesday, Aug. 5 to Thursday, Aug. 7, and hope to visit a detention center, the border, and CWS operations, and also meet with sanctuary movement leaders, and have conversation with workers in the field. Vertigan, who will blog about the experience, believes the trip will not only impact the lives of the group, but have an impact on those they meet, talk to and pray with along the way.
"We are heartbroken about the way these children are being treated and hope to see for ourselves so that we can lift up a voice for action," he said.

Action recommendations, including a special financial appeal to protect children, are posted online.


So then, it is Tuesday morning in Sahuarita, Arizona and we have arrived at the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ where we will be housed for the next few days.  We time our arrival perfectly.  Almost.  What we didn't know is that Rincon, Arizona doesn't adhere to daylight savings time.  That said, we were an hour early and you should think of us as being on Pacific Coast time even though we are living in Mountain time.

It's just 9:00 A.M. here and I hear snoring, I hear the showers running, I've already written a poem for Tyson called "Peace and Quiet" that I'll share with him later.

We'll rest for awhile after our 28 hours on the road. We've so appreciate the beauty of this country on our way out.  We are anxious to see New Mexico in the daylight.  All we saw last night was shadow.

The trip was uneventful, so that is good news.  We've gotten to know each other better including some of our foibles and laughing lines.  This is a good group that I know will do an admirable job of representing the United Church of Christ.

Now, even though we have an  itinerary, it is flexible and tentative.  We'll do what we need to do in collaboration with the Rev. Tracy Hughes who did such a kind job of crafting our schedule on such short notice.  Tracy, we are grateful to you and to Delle!

At 1:30 today we will gather at Rincon UCC for a time of orientation and building of common understandings about how best to be present here in Arizona.  That will be followed by conversation with the Rev. Ken Heintzelman from Shadow Rock UCC and a guest from Southside Presbyterian Church who will talk with us about the 'sanctuary' process.

At 430 Blake Gentry will update us on the current situation on the ground and that will be followed by a group dinner at a Guatemalan restaurant called Maya Quetzal.  This place is owned by a family from the first sanctuary movement some time ago.

Our day will end viewing a documentary called "Enrique's Journey" about a teen coming from Honduras to the USA.  We hope our teen participant, Tyson, will especially connect with this.

Wednesday we will go to Nogales.  Four of the five  of us (one doesn't have a passport) will cross the border and share time together at a women's shelter.  More on that tomorrow.

As with any kind of organizing for action, this trip includes this very full day of building awareness that will help us be better advocates. It's not glamourous, but it is surely very important.

I'll ask one of the others to offer reflections tonight if we can get to the lap top without falling asleep the the keyboard.

Thanks for your prayers and support.


Pilgrimage for Children's Justice 

By the time you read this, we will have left for Arizona. Our introductions are below so that you might better know who we are. As a group, we are "Strangers No More" on a Pilgrimage for Children's Justice. We are funded, in part, by a gift from Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. We are on our way to the borderlands of Arizona to learn about the plight of women and children who have been fleeing their homelands in Central America due to violence, the threat of violence, the kidnapping of children and a high incidence of actions against citizens by the drug cartels there. These are some of the "tired and poor, yearning to breathe free" who have arrived in recent months at the borders with Texas, Arizona and California. Some call them "illegal." Others, including me, call them "refugees" who are deserving of our care, concern and compassion.

We will be blogging about our journey, but there will not be much to say today. Today involves 26 hours in a car as we get to know one another and form a pool of common wisdom about the issues we'll be facing in the days ahead. Our itinerary is not final as I write today. On Tuesday, we hope to visit the Pio Decimo Center in Tucson, Ariz. to learn about ways this community center responds to the needs of women and children who have fled Central America. On Wednesday, we expect to go across the border into Nogalez, Mexico to share lunch at a women's shelter and to learn about life on the "other side of the wall." We also have plans to hike on a migrant trail and feel just the littlest bit of what it must be like to cross the desert alone, afraid and hopeful for a new life in the US. We will be educated along the way by UCC and other partners who are active in the sanctuary movement, immigration reform, the legal system and humanitarian outreach and uplifting. Our short stay will end with participation in a migrant prayer vigil at the El Tiridito Shrine in the Old Barrio neighborhood of Tucson.

On Friday, we will depart for the 26-hour (plus time change) trip home, so that we can worship in our respective churches on Sunday, Aug. 10. So, please hold us in your prayers as we journey, learn and bear witness to the love of God for all people in a place that yearns to know that love more fully.

We will be blogging at, so please look in on us along the way and know that we appreciate your prayer and support for the frightened people who have come in search of the extravagant welcome to which we bear witness in the United Church of Christ. May their lives be changed for the better even as ours will be changed by what we see and hear and learn.

Be at peace, and in be in touch, won't you.

John Vertigan  

Wendy Peters Bruner is the pastor at Zion UCC in South Bend,  Ind. In her spare time, she enjoys reading a good book, singing a good song or running a good run. "I come from a family of Russian immigrants to Canada and am myself an immigrant in the US," says Bruner. "Perhaps this is why this journey to the US/Mexican border is so important to me. This is not the season for silence. Children are hurting. We must listen to their stories and raise our voices to tell these stories to others."

Jen Einspahr is a member of Zion UCC in South Bend, Ind., where she serves as co-chair of the Evangelism Ministry. "I am interested in exploring the ways in which faith communities can work for social justice," says Einspahr. "It is my hope that my engagement in social justice ministries will be enriched, by bearing witness to the lived experiences of child refugees."
  Tyson Graham attends Zion UCC in South Bend, Ind. He will be in 9th grade this fall and participates in gymnastics and writes poetry. "I want to go to Arizona, because I want to meet the children coming to the US border, comfort them and learn about their experiences," says Graham.

Linda Kowatch is a member of Zion UCC in South Bend, Ind., where she serves as co-chair of the Evangelism Ministry and is the ROC (Rekindling Our Congregation) Coordinator. Linda teaches 7th and 8th grade science in South Bend. "God has called me to get out of my comfort zone, love all people and be a voice for those who have no voice," says Kowatch. "This pilgrimage will introduce me to just some of my younger brothers and sisters in Christ whose lives have been threatened and have come to us, not just the United States, but to us for safety."

John Vertigan serves as Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference. In that role, he signed a pastoral letter to the Church that invites us to look at Central American child refugees as "the face of Christ in our midst."

"I'm taking this calling seriously and going to the US/Mexico border to bear witness to God's compassion among us, and to share that love wherever we are allowed," says Vertigan. "It may be with a Honduran or other child - that is well and good. Perhaps, it will be with community volunteers and organizers who can be uplifted by the reminder that they are not ministering alone in this area of great need. I hope this trip will grant me humility to serve better where I live, with a global perspective that is bold for inclusion and mutual respect among peoples."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Pilgrim Testimomy: Answering the Call

The Struggle of the Call by Linda Kowatch

I got the call today.  It was the call from my pastor telling me that she was going to the Arizona/Mexican Border to bear witness to the 57,000 children that have come to the U.S. seeking safety and a better life.  She and John Vertigan, the minister to the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC, were going to drive 27+ hours to the border next week.  “Are you in?” she asked. 

I was confused and stunned and petrified all in one minute.  “Wow! Are you crazy? You mean, ME?” I thought.  I didn’t dare say that out loud.  I just hesitated and listened.
She continued, “I am taking Tyson (her son) and I think Jen is going too.  We will go down to see what is happening and help, in any way we can, the children that are coming across the border.  What do you think?  Do you want to go?” 

I was still lost for words.  And all in that split second I experienced the struggle of Jacob with God.  Was I ready to drive all that way? Was I ready to be in the heat of the desert?  Was I going to step up and love my brothers and sisters in Christ?  Was I going to love people that I didn’t know?  Was I going to give up a week of my summer vacation?  Was I going to be the voice for the voiceless like others have done for me in the past?  Was it really necessary for me to go?  Was this the opportunity for me to love as God intended?
 “Yeah, maybe.  Give me a little time to talk to a couple of people and I will get back to you.”  And the call ended... the telephone call I mean. 

The CALL continued.  Have you ever known in your gut the right answer to the question, but your head was much smarter?  Your brain made you hesitate and try to come up with a better answer so you wouldn’t have to make a commitment.  All afternoon I wrestled.  In recent months I had been praying about immigration and even protested at my Representatives Office to encourage her to act on behalf of those needing a secure place to live with their families.  Now I was presented with the opportunity to see with my own eyes the plight of children being sent by their families alone to a foreign country because life was too dangerous at home.   I must admit that I was praying that I would love as God intended, but only as long as it was within my comfort zone.  The wrestling continued.

My gut kept saying, “Go! Love all of God’s children! Hear and see their stories. Love them!”  But my head kept asking questions like, “Is this really necessary?  How will this be different than seeing the cardboard homes in Tijuana that you’ve already seen? Or the poor neighborhoods and kids in your own town?  What if things get really scary down there?”

But my gut continued, “ These are not just numbers coming across the border illegally into the United States.  These are people that are your brothers and sisters.  These are God’s children that are fleeing from dangerous times.  Would you turn away your own brothers and sisters?” 

My head was catching up.  While I still needed time to accept the discomfort I would experience riding in a car for 27 hours, sleeping on the floor, being hot, sacrificing a week of my summer vacation, being in an unknown setting and missing the comforts of my life; I knew that my discomforts were nothing compared to those of the children sleeping in a foreign land without their families. 

Now my head caught up to my gut.  My thoughts started racing, “When else will you get the opportunity to be with real followers of Jesus like those in the Sanctuary Movement or those from Church World Service that are on the front lines?  How much, or how little, is this trip really costing you?  If your biological brothers and sisters were hanging on for life, would you not go to them immediately?  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ whose voices are being silenced. What can you do?”  The struggle of the call was over.

I am headed to the Mexican Border. I am going to bear witness to the plight of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am going to try to love them as Jesus would love them.  I am going to see and listen to their stories.  Maybe, by my following the call and using my voice and resources, others will hear the call and use their voices and resources.   Then maybe our brothers and sisters will be strengthened and be able to love others as they were loved.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Prequel to a Pilgrimage

I have been stricken with a sense of the mysteries of God.

I am one of the signatories on the letter published nationally and sent out by our conference last week, regarding the child refugee crisis. What follows is a piece of that letter that calls Christians to action on behalf of these children:

"Deeply aware not just of our own immigrant stories and roots, but also of the clear biblical imperative to care for the stranger in our midst, we invite all settings and all leaders of the United Church of Christ to respond in any of the following ways:
* Pray for the children who seek refuge across our southern border, and see in them the face of Christ;
* Support with your donations organizations that house, clothe, feed, educate, and provide medical care to the refugee children;  
* Write to your elected Representatives and share with them your concern for these children, asking them not to see them as a threat to us or as criminals;
* Stay alert to emerging opportunities to respond to the needs of the refugee children. One good source can be found here on the UCC website.   
* Prayerfully consider sermons, newsletter articles, adult and youth classes that articulate a narrative of care for the stranger and alien among us.

The United Church of Christ has a long and proud history of demonstrating courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Now, as ever, our resolve is being tested. It is with a good deal of hope and courage that we face this injustice. Let the actions forged by our compassion silence the voices of hatred and fear that ring right now in the ears of these precious children of God. Let them know we are Christians by our love."

I was moved to "see in the them the face of Christ," and I rather casually asked, via Facebook, if two or three people might want to go to the US border with me next week to bear witness to God's love for these young ones who are fleeing violence, drugs and hopelessness in their home countries.

I am pleased to say that, by the power of God and social media, I will be joined by members of Zion UCC in South Bend, Ind. on a "Pilgrimage for Children's Justice" Aug. 4-9. Pastor Wendy Bruner will accompany three members of her congregation and me on a road trip to Tucson, Ariz. and the US/Mexico border. Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ has offered partial funding for our trip and The Good Shepherd UCC in Arizona has offered us housing and help with our itinerary.

Our hope is to visit a detention center both to witness the conditions we've read about in the media and to offer love wherever we are allowed. We plan to meet with leaders in the Sanctuary Movement and with partners from Church World Service who are providing humanitarian relief. Pastor Delle McCormick, former Executive Director of BorderLinks, a nonprofit organization in Arizona that focuses on cross-border relationships, and now Senior Pastor of Rincon UCC in Tucson, Ariz., has extended herself in hospitality to help us plan for an experience that will not only impact our lives, but have an impact on those who we meet, talk and pray with along the way.

Be at peace, and in be in touch, won't you.

John Vertigan