Tuesday, August 5, 2014

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 pilgrimageforchildren.blogspot.com, 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."

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