"I was sorting donated jeans at the Comedor (shelter) at the border when a young man, Jesús, asked where I lived in the United States,” said Brianna Frenchmore, Pilgrim UCC, Seattle, Washington. Briana was shocked that Jésus had lived near her in Issaquah, Washington, but had been picked up by the police who then turned him over to ICE.
Fifteen local UCC immigrants rights activists from ten states and nine conferences gathered in southern Arizona for a four day intensive border immersion and retreat in order to experience the transforming power of God’s love in the desert.
Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd, Sahuarita, Arizona that hosted the delegation, said that in his sixteen years’ experience with migrants, “they never fail us. We went out to the desert to save them by providing water and food, but found we were the ones who were saved, we always meet Jesus there.”
Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Washington Park UCC, Denver, Colorado, experienced God in the flesh at the Jesuit border café and Operation Streamline, the fast track sentencing process to create a criminal record for those who cross the border without papers. “It is so important to be there with the persons – one has to see migrants face to face.”
Reflection and planning sessions were woven throughout the retreat. Although we were on the U.S.-Mexico border, Rev. Tyler Connelly, Silver City UCC, New Mexico, reminded us that everyone who crosses the border is going somewhere in the United States, and every city has their own borders.
The goal of the gathering was to bring the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration together and do the following:
- Deepen our personal commitment and to be transformed through the border reality
- To increase the visibility of immigrant justice work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally
- And to strengthen the UCC Immigration collaborative and develop a direction for our immigrant justice work for the next 3 years
Marta Bernadini from the UCC ecumenical partner, the Waldensian Church of Italy, works with migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East, through Mediterranean Hope project. “The sea is our desert,” she commented. The Migrant Memorial trail walk was powerful for her to see the crosses in the sand where migrants had died. Marta will spend four months as an international volunteer working with the Church of the Good Shepherd in 2016.
We concluded our strategy session centered on the theme, God Loves Beyond Borders is the theme for our future work. Rev. Linda Jaramillo, former Justice and Witness executive minister, quoted Kierkegaard, “Hope is the passion for the possible.” Even during this discouraging time on immigration issues, Linda reminded us that God is present on the migrants’ journey and we are called to be faithful and walk alongside our immigrant brothers and sisters.
To get involved with the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration, contact Rev. Noel Andersen, firstname.lastname@example.org