May 3–4 event designed for those not going to Phoenix 2013, draws 120 participants
By Rafael Barahona
Elkhart, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Education Agency/The Mennonite)—Only a week after the dedication of their new building, Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla., hosted a gathering organized by Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH, or Hispanic Mennonite Church) and titled “Celebrando la Inmigración” (Celebrating Immigration). The main reason for the May 3–4 celebration was to gather the IMH congregations that have resolved not to be present at Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention in Phoenix in July due to the state’s persecution of immigrants.
The event drew more than 120 people from several states, among them representatives from churchwide agencies and organizations such as Mennonite Mission Network, Executive Board, Mennonite Education Agency, The Mennonite, Mennonite Historical Society, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Presentations at the gathering focused on the lives of immigrants and their participation in and contributions to society and to their congregations, which are part of Mennonite Church USA.
“It was a blessing to see the representation of all cultural groups of the church united in this challenge,” said IMH Moderator Samuel López. “The immigration theme will continue to be a challenge for the church, but I trust that God will help us get through. We continue praying for a fair and humanitarian immigration reform that ends once and for all the separation of the family.”
At the beginning of the program on May 3, after a welcome from Pastor David Maldonado of the Arca de Salvación congregation, participants were led in worship by local musicians. The altar was festooned with flags of the nations represented at the gathering and with objects and crafts characteristic of each country of origin. The music, food and participants’ attire also represented many Hispanic ethnicities.
Andrew Bodden, diverse constituency relations coordinator and program coordinator for MCC East Coast, shared two stories of immigrants in search of better horizons, like those who came from Europe in the past. Then Gilberto Flores, associate conference minister of Western District Conference, recounted stories of immigrants who found expressions of Christian love and a cordial welcome in Mennonite congregations on this side of the border.
Later, Saulo Padilla, director for MCC Immigration Education, shared his story and challenged the audience not to be silent but to “tell your story to your children and grandchildren,” so that later they would have the perspective on immigration of knowing their own story. Several participants then recounted some of their stories, including anecdotes about comical circumstances often experienced by those who come into a new culture.
Juanita Nuñez and Gilberto Flores presented “From Immigrants to Pilgrims,” an analysis based on the story of Exodus of the dynamics that govern the displacement of people at migration. They noted that the Israelites’ culture and God went with them: “As immigrants, we are pressed to assimilate; however, when we are pilgrims, we understand that we are always on the way to God. Pilgrims know that they are passing by and that God is with them now and all the way up to the Promised Land.”
Eligio Nuñez, co-pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Ebenezer, Apopka, Fla., shared songs and praise with participants. Then Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, presented on “Immigration and Food: Building a Potluck of Justice, Diversity and Belonging.” Green talked about stereotypes of food that are used to denigrate immigrants. With the passing of time, however, he said such foods become preferred and are even adopted as national foods: “The migrants and the foods that come with them become a resource for cultural transformation and enrichment.”
On May 4, participants experienced the rich ethnic tradition of the Garifunas through worship and praise led by the Garifuna music group in Garifuna, Spanish and English. Padilla gave information about the “S. 744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” being discussed in Congress.
Rolando Santiago, executive director of the Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Historical Society, shared about Anabaptists’ migration to many places in the world, analyzing factors operative in the migration of peoples and communities. Santiago suggested it would be beneficial to develop a Mennonite theological framework for immigration, beginning with the missional characteristics outlined in Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan.
To conclude the event, López presented “A Pilgrim’s Prayer” by Carlos Mesters and led the group in reflection on the piece. Responses affirmed the ideas expressed by Mesters as they relate to all immigrants and pilgrims on their way to eternity. Comments included: “To be an immigrant goes much further than a piece of paper,” “I’m sure I found God in my congregation,” “My (Mennonite) congregation made me feel welcome and provided support,” and “Let us continue telling our stories to our children and grandchildren.”
Tania Guzman of Iglesia Evangelica Garifuna in Manhattan, N.Y., a member of the IMH board and outgoing moderator of the Conferencia Femenil Hispana Menonita, reflected, “This was an excellent event and very positive. It helps us all to reflect and understand what immigration really is.”
Eligio Nuñez said he found the event to be “very informative and edifying,” noting, “We are better prepared to inform those who are in need of orientation.”
Dick Thomas, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, said he was impressed by the words and stories he heard. “As Jesus commands, we have to tell our pilgrimage story. I thank IMH for hosting this event so that we continue to tell these stories to our children.”
Marisa Alemán, a worship leader in the Arca de Salvación congregation, reflected, “I enjoyed the fellowship and the variety of the Hispanic cultures. I appreciated the immigration stories, both the happy ones and the sad ones. My prayer is that this is a beginning of a better awareness and conscience among the congregations that form Mennonite Church USA.”
—Rafael Barahona is director of Hispanic Pastoral and Leadership Education for Mennonite Education Agency.
Three Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) leaders hold quilt squares created for display on an empty chair that will be on stage at the Phoenix 2013 convention in July. The empty chair will represent undocumented members of Mennonite Church USA and their allies who will not participate in the Arizona convention. (l.to r.): Juanita Nuñez, former IMH moderator; Samuel López, current IMH moderator; and Madeline Maldonado, IMH financial director and incoming chair of the Mennonite Mission Network board of directors. (Photo: Rafael Barahona)
Members of the Iglesia Menonita Hispana board and other leaders at IMH’s May 3–4 “Celebrating Immigration” event: Gilberto Cortéz from Oregon, IMH Board; Soledad López from Pennsylvania; Stanley Green of Mennonite Mission Network; Samuel López, IMH moderator from Pennsylvania; David Maldonado, IMH moderator-elect from Florida; Madeline Maldonado, IMH director of finances from Florida; Leona Diener, board member from Texas; Juanita Nuñez, board member from Florida; Tania Guzman, board member from New York; Nicolás Angustia, board member from New York; Juan Montes, board member from California; and Rafael Barahona, Mennonite Education Agency. (Photo: Rafael Barahona)
Participants during one of the worship sessions at Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s “Celebrating Immigration” event, held May 3-4 at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Photo: Rafael Barahona)
Participants at at Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s “Celebrating Immigration” event at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Ft. Myers, Fla. The building was dedicated just a week before the event. (Photo: Rafael Barahona)
Some participants at Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s “Celebrating Immigration” event wore traditional dresses from Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Mexico. (Photo: Rafael Barahona)