|Immigration: Exploring Jesus' 'outrageous' hospitality|
By Kim Fry*
April 26, 2007 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)
"I am not a burden. I am a useful person."
Los Jornaleros del Norte performs at an
immigration conference co-sponsored by the California-Pacific Conference
chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A UMNS photo by
These are the words of Estela Diaz, an immigrant from Mexico who
lives and works in Los Angeles with her husband and children. She dreams
of an education for her children and to make a living for her family.
Her personal testimony was shared as church and community leaders
explored "Immigration and the Outrageous Hospitality of Jesus" at an
April 21 conference designed to put a face on the issue of immigrant
The event was sponsored by the California-Pacific Conference chapter
of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, in partnership with the
Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. About 100 people attended the
conference at the historic La Plaza United Methodist Church.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, leader of The United Methodist Church's Los
Angeles area, greeted participants by calling them "spiritual leaders
standing in the gap between the center of the community and the edge of
"You can invite strangers from the edge to the center of the
community. You can help fulfill Jesus' vision of abundant life for all
people," Swenson said.
Other immigrants offered their personal testimonies through an interpreter.
“You can invite strangers from the edge to the center of the community.”
–Bishop Mary Ann Swenson
Jesus, who came from Peru, worked at a gas station, but recently was
let go because of lack of documentation about his legal status in the
United States. He now lives on the street, but still has hope for a
"There are two doors," Jesus said of homelessness. "One door, you can
go in and come back out. The second door, you go in and fall into
depression and despair. You don't come back out."
Jesus has chosen the first door. He says his homelessness is
temporary, and he sells water and soft drinks on the street to pay for
his daily needs. "I am surviving," he said. "When I leave this point of
just surviving, I want to come back… and help the (others)."
A biblical mandate
The head of the social action agency of The United Methodist Church
offered a keynote address highlighting the biblical basis for
hospitality to immigrants.
"Anti-immigration viewpoints are all too prevalent today, even from
persons who are immigrants themselves, despite a Bible and faith that
demands hospitality," said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society.
Winkler outlined five elements for comprehensive immigration reform:
- A path to citizenship - an earned legalization program that is workable and achievable;
- Firm, fair enforcement of the law that is consistent with humanitarian values and treats all people with dignity and respect;
- Restoration of due process protections for immigrants removed by the
1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act;
- Family-based immigration reform that reduces waiting times for family reunification;
- A plan for the future flow of migrants that includes workplace protections and examines the root causes of migration.
"The involvement of the church in these issues is so important. Our
moral and ethical voice has weight," Winkler said. "Who speaks for the
poor, the persecuted … if not us?"
The event included workshops on ways to get involved in the immigrant rights movement.
For instance, the Border Project is a new outreach to people stranded on
the U.S.-Mexico border and was highlighted in a presentation by the
Joint Commission for Church Extension.
Keynote speaker Jim Winkler talks about the biblical basis for hospitality to immigrants. A UMNS photo by Kim Fry.
The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California provides
economic development opportunities to unemployed, low-income families,
assisting and supporting the creation of socially responsible,
democratically driven businesses.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network is a national alliance of community organizations working with day laborers.
Christine Gilbert, of Bellflower (Ca.) United Methodist Church,
attended the workshop on the New Sanctuary Movement, which enables
churches to help families in danger of being broken up because of
"Our church has a number of Filipino families," Gilbert said. "They often wait a long time for visas for other family members."
*Fry is communications coordinator for the California Pacific Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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