By Janice Eigsti Miller
During the 2013 Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix our church youth group spent time listening to immigrants tell their stories and attended a court hearing for detainees. These experiences, along with hearing several dynamic convention speakers, sparked a new passion among the youth and the leaders to continue to learn about immigration issues in the United States.
After they returned they were instrumental in organizing two immigration “Learning Trips” which were open to the entire congregation. I decided to participate in one of them, spending my Spring Break in Georgia, with the Alterna community, learning more about immigration with a group of youth and adults from my church. Alterna is connected to Mennonite Church USA through some of its members, one of whom, Anton Flores, spoke at convention in Phoenix.
My time in Georgia was stretching and eye-opening for me. As a mother of young children, I was particularly affected by the way immigration issues affect families and children. I listened to a woman tell her story of crossing the Mexican border with her 5-year-old son and tried to imagine making such a journey with my own 5-year-old. I saw in a new light the desperation one must feel to make that dangerous trip with a child.
During our visit to Stewart Detention Center, my heart broke as I observed a girl that looked to be about 8-years-old saying good-bye to her father who was soon to be deported. In this prison-style detention center, she and her father were forced to say their good-byes through the visitation phone system with a thick slab of glass between them, with no opportunity for a hug.
The girl’s mother looked on as she tried to get her young son to sit still. It was obvious he didn’t understand what was happening. It was difficult to imagine how I would respond if I was in the same situation with my own children and husband.
After returning from this trip which helped me see immigration in a new way, I wanted to find ways to continue my own learning and awareness of immigration issues. I didn’t want the experiences I had and new passion I felt to get lost in the shuffle of my life’s activities.
Several of us began conversations about starting a group or Sunday School class at our church to continue our own learning as well as share what we had learned with others. We started to look for resources and I was really excited to discover the new study guide, Radical Hospitality.
The format of the core curriculum includes short videos and questions. I think this format will work well for us, as not everyone has time to read a book chapter or article to prepare for each meeting. It is also packed with additional resources and suggestions for more sessions, so it will be easy to tailor to fit our group’s needs. I also appreciated how the writers included some suggestions on how to have a successful experience since immigration discussions can quickly become political and polarizing.
And an added bonus – its free! I’m looking forward to using Radical Hospitality at Walnut Hill Mennonite Church this fall.