United Methodist Church Follows Jesus' Lead: Immigration Task Force Moves Ministry to the Borders
by Mary Beth Coudal
"Jesus learned new things when he went to the border," said Rev. Edgar Avitia, who led the worship in Florida for US-based missionaries of The United Methodist Church. Jesus' continuing education and migration to the border of Tyre and Sidon in Matthew 15:21-28 spoke truth to missionary Jim Perdue, who attended the missionaries meeting on the heels of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration meeting at the Church Center of the United Nations (CCUN) in New York from September 16 to 18, 2011.
"Church really needs to understand--not from our center, but from our borders," said Mr. Perdue, a missionary with the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry. He was one of two dozen church leaders, including United Methodist Women advocates, bishops, missionaries, and agency staff who sought to expand the idea of immigration from a US issue to a place of worldwide advocacy, solidarity, and engagement with migrants and sojourners. United Methodist Women's executive Carol Barton and Global Ministries executives Nora Colmenares Martínez and David Wildman organized the curriculum in this meeting convened by Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Conference.
The Task Force spent a day focused on Global Migration realities, looking at Biblical and theological themes throughout the day. Their work was based on "Global Migration: A Quest for Justice," Resolution #6028, Book of Resolutions 2008, which guides the work of the Church on this issue. They explored how migrants within the Church are taking leadership in their communities and in revitalizing the Church.
The discussions included UN policy regarding migration over the past 30 years and the role of the Church and partners in advocating for migrant human rights; the growing "exportation" of a national security framework for migration policy from the US to many nations around the world, including intensified enforcement policies; the presence of migrants in the UMC in all regions of the world; and the role of The United Methodist Church in responding to these new realities.
The leaders learned that while migration has always been a reality, it is growing globally at a great rate due to economic policies that have particularly hurt poor nations in the Global South, war, and climate change. According to the UN International Migration Organization, the 214 million international migrants in the world would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the German Central Conference, joining the group electronically from Germany, briefed the group on the realities of migration in Europe today. Their conference holds an annual leadership training event for migrant church leaders. Harriett Jane Olson, Deputy General Secretary, United Methodist Women, noted, "We need to be thinking about a global Methodist community, not just a global United Methodist Church. How can our work on global migration include India, Korea, Latin America, and other parts of the Methodist connection to fully respond as a church to the realities of migration within regions and globally?"
The task force discussed compassionate responses to US legislation and opportunities for prayer and action in local churches around the world. At a previous meeting, the task force created an Immigration Rapid Response Team presently in place in 31 United Methodist annual conferences. Beginning today, September 20, 2011, and throughout October, seven sites in the 31 conferences are discussing Bible studies to support the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) Sabbath, a campaign led by the Interfaith Immigrant Coalition, a network of denominations and religious groups, to learn about the impact of the DREAM legislation and to discuss and hear stories of people who have migrated in the local communities. Your congregation can join in this DREAM Sabbath, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, by going to interfaithimmigration.org.
Another emphasis of the task force is to live out the commitment of The United Methodist Church through its four areas of focus: global health, church growth, ending poverty, and developing leaders--with a global migrant's point of view.
The team discussed opportunities for ministries with peoples around the world who are migrating and seeking opportunities for connection, those congregations in receiving countries who are seeing changing demographics, as well as ministering with the people who are left behind due to a family member's migration.
The Rev. Nora Colmenares Martínez, assistant general secretary at Global Ministries, who attended the gathering, said the meeting's purpose was, "To think through how the church is responding globally."
To this end, Global Ministries staff and volunteers, as a part of the church that sends and receives missionaries, will lend voice and ear to the People's Global Action, a forum of nongovernmental organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, from November 29 to December 2, 2011. Rev. Colmenares Martínez said this kind of gathering is significant since it reminds the church to look at the plight of migrants through the lens of class, gender, and race.
Rev. Colmenares Martínez said, "The displacement of people is a part of humankind from the time of the Biblical stories of Abraham or Joseph who went to Egypt. It's nothing new. It's part of our history. When we think of the migrant as a threat to our lifestyle, we build walls."
The task force intends to break down the walls to open understanding to the common humanity of God's people with compassion, especially with the women and children who migrate and those who stay behind. For example, children in the Philippines may need extra help with nurture when their parents migrate to work in US hospitals and clinics. As a compassionate response, the church can care for the children left behind, Perdue said, just as the church cared for Jasmine, a US teen who was left alone with a teenage sister when her mother was deported.
This story is one instance of the Welcoming Congregations program, another outgrowth of the Immigration Task Force, where church members are invited to become personally involved with migrants. When church members and migrants have personal and neighborly experiences with one another, the experience trumps fear-based rhetoric, according to Perdue.
Another place of hope for the church leaders was learning about the migration ministry that expanded The United Methodist Church in Guinea. During the war in early 2000, Liberian churches set up Methodist churches on the border for displaced Liberians who were living in Guinean refugee camps. After the war, several United Method churches remained and grew to serving not only the refugees but the people of Guinea.
"A creative response to a migration process opened up new possibilities to be the church," Perdue said.
Perdue sees The United Methodist Church's involvement in advocacy for migrants as a long haul in the US. "Immigration reform is not going to be happening soon, so we have to organize to get the churches involved in the process," Perdue said. Perdue believes that reading the Bible and understanding how Jesus ministered at the borders is one way to expand the church's view of global migration.
Date posted: Sep 20, 2011