Nazarenes from USA-Mexico border region meet to talk about immigration and the Church
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Tecate, Mexico
By Kelly Becker Tirrill for NCN News
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. –Hebrews 13:2

Church of the Nazarene leaders and lay people from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border region met September 14-15 in Tecate, Mexico, for a conference entitled “Extranjeros en este Mundo/Strangers in this World.” The focus? To dialogue about immigration and the Church, to listen to each other, and to brainstorm ways the Church, united as one family in Christ Jesus, can live out God’s mission in the border region.

The conference highlighted the complicated nature of migration and immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border and how the politics surrounding these issues sometimes draw the Church away from its roots and identity in the care, compassion, and love of Jesus Christ. Though the Church in Southern California, USA, and Northwest Baja, Mexico, are so close geographically, national borders and language barriers often keep the Church from coming together as one to support each other and strategize about how to share God’s love to those who are hurting.

Conference organizers Laura and Ataulfo Lopez and Alejandro Torres of Tecate Nazarene Seminary and Melissa Tucker of Point Loma Nazarene University came up with the idea for the conference over a meal together one day. Having worked together for years bringing youth together from both sides of the border through Point Loma’s S.A.L.T. Mission Camps, they wondered if there was a way to bring others in the Church together for dialogue. The two-day conference that flowed from this conversation did just that — provided the space for a bilingual dialogue and a unique time of fellowship.

“I liked seeing both cultures in the same room,” said Joel Guerra, the Hispanic Ministries coordinator for the Southern California District. “I also liked the awareness that I could start seeing on people’s faces, and the possibilities and opportunities this dialogue will bring.”

Even though it can be hard to talk about immigration, especially when people have differing viewpoints, the conference emphasized that the Church cannot ignore the issue. Many participants affirmed that the Church must learn how to care for the poor and oppressed regardless of their immigration status as well as celebrate the diversity of gifts that immigration brings to the Church.

Presenters and participants from each side of the border used both Spanish and English to convey examples of how almost everyone in the Church and in the region is affected by immigration in some way. For example, many people have family on both sides of the border. Many have crossed the border into the U.S. legally but still fear being targeted as “illegal.” Others have seen the demographics in their neighborhoods and congregations change as people move both ways across the border. And some have crossed over the border in the desert without immigration paperwork because of economic desperation and the hope that they can make it in the U.S. and be able to help their family.

“We live day by day seeing people [cross over the border],” said Nohemi De Moncada, the wife of the Northwest Baja District superintendent. “Some people are coming back, not able to cross, robbed, left by the coyotes (people who are paid to help those without immigration paperwork to cross from Mexico into the U.S.). We feed them and give them clothes and get them help from the Mexican government.”

Congregations on both sides of the border face the challenge of taking care of families that have been split apart when parents are deported back to Mexico and children remain in the U.S. Some pastors in Spanish-speaking congregations in the U.S. have to counsel people who have made it across the border but cannot bring their children or spouse across. While the Church in the U.S. receives both the gifts and the needs of people who have immigrated, either with or without immigration paperwork, the Church in Mexico is taking care of those who come to border looking for work and find none. With so many different experiences and circumstances, people in the church have struggled with how to live faithful to God’s mission of love to those in need through a unified body of Christ.

The conference plenary sessions gave space to discuss these issues the Church is facing. They started off looking at the history of immigration, border creation and fortification, and immigration policies along the U.S.-Mexico border and quickly moved into an analysis of poverty and migration. But the crux of the conference was the sessions where presenters and participants talked about the possibilities of how the Church at the border might continue to connect with each other and live as brothers and sisters. These sessions highlighted that as followers of Christ our citizenship is in God’s kingdom first, and that migration is already a part of the story of God — from the Israelites to Jesus to the early Church and beyond.

Conference participants conveyed that this conference was a good beginning for continued dialogue and unity in the Church of the Nazarene across borders.
Discuss Nazarenes from USA-Mexico border region meet to talk about immigration and the Church in our forum
Post a Message | Read Messages (1) | Report Abuse
  • I'm so impressed with the high quality leadership of those along the Mexico-USA border. THOMASJAYOORD on 09/23/11