Marathana Prothro with Lora Steiner
This weekend, representatives from the congregations, partners and ministries that make up Franconia Mennonite Conference will gather for the 2007 Fall Conference Assembly, but the president of the Mexico Mennonite Conference will not be among them. Ofelia García’s application for a visa to travel to the United States was denied last month.
García, who lives in Mexico City, had planned on traveling to the United States to participate in a gathering for women of color called “Encountering the Face of God,” which was held at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Elkhart, Ind. in October. After the conference, García was to travel to Pennsylvania for more meetings and the Franconia annual assembly.
García said she was frustrated because the consulate asked for information it had never needed before and did not read the invitation letter she had been given by Mennonite Central Committee, which helped to organize the conference. And García said that while she’s grateful for the concern of her brothers and sisters in the United States, her experience is a common problem for Mexicans. She says it’s infuriating to see the way in which families, women and the elderly are treated at the U.S. embassy. The visa request of Sidonie Swana Falanga of Kinshasa, Congo was also denied.
In response to the denied visas, Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership, MCC U.S. and others have been writing letters of protest to the State Department expressing concern over the situation. Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of Intercultural Relations for Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership, says the letters also will help Garcia and Falanga feel the support of their sisters and brothers in the United States.
The U.S. State Department cited a lack of assets as a key reason for denying the visas, says de León-Hartshorn. “Apparently,” she said “the government does not see their work, churches, communities and families as assets” that would bring them back to their home countries.
Franconia Conference has long-term partnerships with the congregations in Mexico City. This is not the first time that visa complications have made visits difficult. According to Steve Kriss who serves as the Conference’s primary liaison with the Mexico City congregations, “We lament that Ofelia is unable to join us this year as a representation of our relationships with the congregations in Mexico City and even more lament the ongoing situation and fear-based policies that prohibit the free movement of global church leaders into our midst.”