Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in a three-week Spanish Language and Hispanic Ministry Intensive at the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest in Austin, TX. It was simultaneously an amazing, insightful, and thought-provoking experience. While there, we students were introduced various national, internal and external cultures: languages (linguistic dialects), histories, values, beliefs, customs, clothing, family and social organizations, foods, music, arts, religiosities (traditions, rituals, and communities), and governmental politics within many overarching Hispanic contexts.

While there I elected to stay with two families to further augment my experience.  I stayed with one family of Mexican descent in Austin and one of Columbian descent in San Antonio.  In these two locales, I was also mentored by two pastors (one Anglo: Ellen Williams and one Puerto Rican: Eric Miletti) serving bilingual congregations and was able to participate in both the English and Latinx worship services. The Latinx worship services were especially engaging and spiritual using traditional Lutheran liturgy embellished with congas, maracas, and tambourines.

These experiences along with the scheduled formal presentations gave me the opportunity to learn history from a perspective other than that which I was taught growing up.  I heard how the United States of America’s politics have adversely affected and contributed toward the current crisis’ in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. I heard horrific stories of persistent racism and abuse in Texas and beyond. It was shocking to hear Enedina Vasquez, a Tejana (indigenous Texan-Mexican descent) relate how she was told to “go back to where you came from” when in fact her ancestors predated Texas’ statehood. I was sickened to hear a gentleman from Togo living in an Austin shelter retell his harrowing immigration story which included a flight to Brazil, a trek through South and Central America, questioning in Panama, rafting to Texas only to endure a 10-month detainment in a cold cell with a final release to the shelter where he was receiving legal assistance. He was ever so grateful to have just been granted a truck driving license. It was a dangerous journey wrought with violence, bribery, and occasional human kindness. Nicole Garcia shared some of her troubling experiences living as a transgendered Latinx candidate for ordained ministry and I heard a young woman named Julieta relate some of her experiences as a Dreamer.

Julieta’s story prompted me to participate in my first ever rally (United We Dream) dressed in a clergy collar where I heard immigrants, attorneys, and politicians speak and march in downtown Austin.  I was personally thanked by a couple of people for “showing up”.  They were appreciative of the church’s presence. It might serve as a reminder to all of us to show up where and when we are called. We are all the church and we are all called to share the good news and hope in Jesus.  Throughout scripture are many stories of migration: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Joseph’s brothers, Moses, Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan, and lastly Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. We are instructed in both the Hebrew and New Testaments to care for widows, children, and immigrants without qualifications. Jesus himself commands us do this in Matthew 25:31-46.

There are many great religious and secular organizations doing fine work on behalf of refugees: LIRS and Ammparo are two such ELCA affiliated organizations. Please consider how you might be of service to our neighbors however you are gifted. I want to encourage everyone to work together to eliminate suffering and walk alongside refugees to eliminate injustice and find sustainable solutions to long-standing issues. There is hope.

Lapazde Jesucristo/The peace of Jesus Christ, Heidi+++Spirit Garage Children’s Minister