Cabinet Embarks on Annual Mission
Bishop and conference leaders work on the border and learn more about the ecumenical services being provided in response to God’s call to “welcome the stranger.”
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, the conference lay leader, all 9 district superintendents, the 4 center leaders, the conference new church start director and the director of conference communications were joined by 16 provisional elders and deacons for a mission of service and learning in the Rio Grande Valley.
The group, led by Rev. Diane McGehee, director of Missional Excellence heard from Rev. Javier Leyva , UM Director of Immigration Ministries of South Texas about the legal process for those crossing the border and either surrendering to or being picked up by the border patrol. The group learned that crossing the border is not illegal so immigrants are not arrested, they are detained. Each adult and unaccompanied child is interviewed and a determination is made where they go from there. Some of unaccompanied children go to foster families, some are placed in centers, many of them in the Houston area. Adults along with their children are given bus tickets to that pre-determined destination and released with documents. At that point, they are not undocumented immigrants, they have documents requiring them to appear before an immigration judge at a later date.
Sister Norma Pimentel – Director of Catholic Charities, Brownsville Diocese explained to the group, “Most of the adults with children are mothers who have traveled long distances and at that point have little or no personal items remaining with them. As the numbers of these unaccompanied children and young mothers with children grew, their plight became known to faith communities all over the country. The response was overwhelming.”
Soon it became clear that coordination of that response was necessary so Valley leaders came together to develop an efficient process to serve. Rev. Javier Leyva was appointed by Bishop James Dorff of the Rio Grande/Southwest Texas conference to coordinate with other denominations and to relay to UM churches the most effective way to help.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church located very near the bus station in Mission was selected as the most convenient location to establish the Refugee/Immigration Welcome Center. The Immigration/Naturalization Service agreed to drop the refugee/immigrants at the center where they are offered clothing, food, toiletries and the opportunity to shower and prepare themselves for the sometimes long journey to their destinations. Volunteers from all over the country are there to help organize the donated items and to walk with the visitors through picking out the things they will need. They also go with them to the bus station and help them begin their journey. The TAC group was surprised and delighted to meet some volunteers from Tyler and Lindale, Texas who had traveled there on their own mission trip. There were also Presbyterians from Austin and volunteers from Detroit the day of the TAC visit.
The group had a chance to visit the border wall and to pray at the river that God’s will be done and that each person there could be an instrument of His peace and the face of Christ to everyone they serve. Rev. Jeremy Woodley of FUMC, Missouri City reflected, “The experience of praying just 100 ft. or so from Mexico– imagining that I was on the other side looking at us on the dock. What would I risk to put my family in a place I believed would provide a better life and maybe even save their lives?”
While this learning was going on the group was also repairing and rehabbing 4 homes in the colonia, La Mesa, near Weslaco, Texas. Roofs and floors were replaced, ceilings and walls were sheetrocked, and painted and friends were made.
Rev. Nathan Bledsoe St. Peter’s UMC, Katy shared, “This project offered a wonderful way to get to know the cabinet and the bishop. As we worked together, I was aware of the leadership of each of those individuals and how they related to us and each other. At one point, I understood that in this case, although there were lots of leaders around – the real leader here – the person in charge – the person at the center of all of this effort was a 12- yr. old girl. It was the floor in her bedroom that we were replacing. Jesus calls us again and again to servant leadership, we talk about it, we read about it but mission projects help us live it. Walls come down and titles fall away when you are all working together – no one is an expert- and you have to depend on each other to get a job done and serve God’s purpose.”
Another lesson learned was humility. At the end of each day, every person on the team was dirty, tired and soaked from being in the heat and humidity. Rev. Jason Nelson, Woodlands UMC , who spent his 3 days on a roof says he was taught a real life lesson in humility as Bishop Huie joined him on that roof and got as dirty and tired as everyone else. Jason shared, “ I was so impressed with the body of Christ serving with a collective will to do what we could to help each other and these families.” Jason added, “We uncovered one problem after the other on the house and I kept thinking how much easier it would be to just start from scratch, to take it down to the foundation and start over. “
At the end of the project, most agreed that they would be guided by John Wesley’s call: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”