Reflections from the Immigration Delegation

On May 14–15, 2013, a delegation of Mennonite leaders with first-hand experience with the U.S. immigration system gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional representatives to advocate for just and humane immigration reform. The delegation was co-sponsored by Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington Office. This blog post features reflections by two participants, Virgo Handojo and Jaime Lázaro. 

Most recently these reflections were featured in the On the Way publication, which focused on immigration justice. 

VirgoVirgo Handojo
Pastor at Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship, Sierra Madre, Calif.

Many thanks to Cristina Rodríguez, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Tammy Alexander and other MCCers who made this advocacy possible. It was a historical event on many different levels. Personally, visiting Capitol Hill and knowing how our ideas and opinions can change the law of the country was a humbling experience.

At the community level, people become excited and empowered when they call their senators and representatives. On way to do this is through following the instructions that Tammy shares through the MCC “action alerts.”

I believe the Indonesian community feels empowered by the process and the story of what the Mennonite church did. Theologically like the Ephesians, we learn to deal “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12 NIV). Often, this dark side of the system is manifested through the law and bills of the land. Thus the immigration advocacy event gave us opportunity to face and confront these structural sins of this land and strive for peace and justice.

I believe that this work really makes an impact and brings healing and hope not only for our community today but also for generations to come.

JaimeJaime Lázaro
Pastor at Iglesia El Centro in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I was once an undocumented immigrant. During this time, I experienced the fear of being detained and deported and the angst of leaving my three small children and wife without financial support. I came to know what it was like to feel like nothing more than a number in a sea of millions. I daily lived in the shadows of fear and anguish.

Upon attaining legal status, I became involved in the fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants. Their sorrows and suffering will always be my own.

Year after year, hopes of immigration reform rested upon the decisions of some congressmen, representatives or the president. But the hope would dissipate when the reality and the stupidity of conflicted politics settled in, bringing an end to our illusions.

Furthermore, it has been embarrassing to watch a significant sector of the “Christian” Church behave with indifference … and to this very date, not understand what it truly means to “love thy neighbor.”

Eventually, I found an oasis in the midst of political and religious disillusionment in a predominantly Caucasian denomination; a community of Christ followers concerned with the pain of the oppressed and who maintain a history of supporting social justice.

In the spring of 2013 I was invited by my denomination, Mennonite Church USA, and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to be part of a conversation with my representatives in Washington, D.C., as part of a multicultural group of Mennonite leaders.

In Washington, we received training and visited politicians from both parties. The attention and hospitality that I experienced during this event—thanks to the initiative of Mennonite Church USA and the support of the MCC Washington Office—were excellent and memorable.

The excitement was great in seeing all of the gears and cogs of the American political machinery moving towards the long-awaited and much needed immigration reform. I was proud and awed to witness my denomination’s genuine concern and involvement in these matters.

I am grateful for the special care and attention of Iris de León-Hartshorn and Cristina Rodríguez, and for Tammy Alexander’s professional work and dedication. I deeply appreciate the time she took to share much valuable information with our group.

In addition, I would like to give a special thanks to Saulo Padilla for his friendship, to Jesse Epp-Fransen for his encouraging company, and to Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach for her hospitality in the MCC Washington Office. This opportunity truly was a blessing for me.

I am grateful also for the work done in Phoenix during the Mennonite Church USA convention. However, as an immigrant I continue to expect more from our denomination. It is easy to express support within Mennonite Church USA, but it seems difficult for our denomination to publicly support these ideas. I am optimistically waiting for a radical action on behalf of Mennonite Church USA in support of the undocumented immigrant population.