Tag Archives: immigration

A Family Reunited

by Nelson Shenk, Boyertown congregation

Gaby & Kyle with their daughters

In 2005, Maria Gabriella (Gaby) left a dangerous living situation in Mexico and came to the United States to make a better and safer life for herself and her two-year-old daughter Citlalli.  In doing so, she and her daughter came as undocumented persons.  She eventually met and married Kyle Rhoads, who grew up at Boyertown Mennonite Church.  They had 2 daughters, Isabel and Kylene, and settled in Bechtelsville as a happy family unit.

They were attending our church for several months when Gaby and Citlalli decided to apply for their green cards so they could be here legally. That involved returning to Mexico and having an immigration interview at the U. S. Embassy.

In October 2017, she and her daughter returned to Mexico with trepidation.  Her daughter was approved and returned home to Bechtelsville in November, but Gaby was denied.  After the denial of her visa in the interview, she had to re-apply for a waiver.   In February 2018, her husband and 2 younger daughters visited her, and two-year-old Kylene stayed in Mexico with her mother.

Many phone calls were made to lawyers and politicians on her behalf.  Many people at Boyertown church wrote letters requesting her return so the family could be together.

Gaby reapplied and, after spending many months waiting, she went through the interview process again, including another medical exam and paying more money.  After 15 months away from her husband and daughter, her visa was finally approved in October 2018.  She and Kylene arrived home on January 24. 

On January 30th, a big celebration was held at church for her safe return.  Christopher Friesen, a member of the Germantown congregation, works for the law firm that processed Gaby’s paperwork.  He and Gaby finally met as we celebrated that day, which was another joyous occasion.

Gaby’s family is once again living as a family unit in Bechtelsville.  There are still some on-going complications with paper work, so please keep the family in prayer as life goes on and there are adjustments to be made. Our church family at Boyertown praises God for a good outcome for Gaby’s family.

 

 

The One Who Knocks

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

This is the great seriousness of the Advent message and its great blessing. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of people around us. Will you therefore leave the door locked for your protection, or will you open the door?
— from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon for the first Sunday in Advent of 1928 in Barcelona

As I write this, thousands of migrants are stranded at Tijuana, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. At times they are within shouting distance of peaceful and prosperous San Diego County, CA. There are jobs across the frontera, generated by a booming economy with low taxes and high expectations. And relative safety. They’re fleeing violence and grinding poverty. God only knows what will happen to them by the time you read this.

I’ve seen refugees before.

In Rome, at St. Paul’s in the Walls, straggling in from small boats that made it across the Mediterranean with hopes of prosperity and work.

At Calais, young men who trudged across Central Asia and some fleeing East African violence waiting to hitch a ride on a lorry to jobs at restaurants and with family and friends in the United Kingdom.

One time in a cadre, clutching what seemed like all that they had through Barajas airport at Madrid with bags marked “UNCHR” (UN Refugee Agency), the kind I’d use to carry my groceries.

“The Flight into Egypt” by Henry Ossawa Tanner (c. 1907). Public Domain.

In Mary and Joseph, running away from a violent king, crossing borders and languages and customs to save their son from certain death.

And in Mennonite churches —where the presence of refugees from Myanmar has boosted the futures of dwindling churches, where new congregations have been birthed by Indonesians fleeing violence and seeking asylum, where pews are filled by Nepalis suddenly dislodged from Bhutan, by Vietnamese and Cambodians who arrived a generation ago.

Those who knock at the door and come inside change us, deepening our gratitude and generosity, enriching the possibilities of our future.

We, as Mennonites, have been these folks as well, fleeing the Ukraine and adrift in the Atlantic until someone unlocked the door to Paraguay. Or streaming to new possibilities in North America by homesteading land to lay foundations for colonizing empires by pushing back indigenous people. It’s not always a pretty entrance.

We have at times found the doors locked ourselves. We have been fearful and hopeful, at the end of our rope, the one seeking loving kindness and mercy. We have been running from slaveholders and the legacy of white supremacy, running from abusers, persecution and poverty. We have been outsiders, too.

We have sometimes forgotten ourselves and our wandering stories.  Fear has grown in the space of our forgetting. That fear overshadows our ability to see the stranger as ourselves.

This same kind of fear drove shooters to a black church in Charleston and a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  The fear is a cycle so that we are afraid that the one at door might seek to destroy our very existence.  We become comfortable and culpable by normalizing, “it would have been better if they’d had an armed guard.”  With an armed guard, the stranger never even makes it to the door. 

We are safe.  We survive but become a shell of ourselves, shrouded in fear.  Safe and secure, we strain to hear the knock of the One who seeks shelter to be born again, even in our own hearts, homes, and communities, in this season when love and light broke in.  And we move in faith to unlock the door.

 

Immigration Community Day Held in Philadelphia

The story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace.  Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future.  As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.   

(reprinted with permission)

by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern

As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.

Saulo Padilla – photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.

Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”

Volunteers from Centro de Alabanza prepare food for the event.

After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.

Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

Irwan’s Story

By Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister

(Names in this article have been changed for the individuals’ protection.)

That morning Irwan opened his eyes and slowly got up from his bed, getting ready for work. As always, his wife looked busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast and a lunch for him to take. Before he left the house, he kissed Sarah, age 11 and Diana, age 7.

Irwan arrived at work at 7:00 am, a car workshop where he has worked for more than 10 years. He grabbed the work orders for his first car of the day and immediately got to work. Without knowing it, his hands and clothes were getting dirty in the first 90 minutes he worked. Irwan continued his work. Suddenly he heard a voice calling “Irwan!”; when he turned his head, he saw 3 people with jackets that had the word “ICE” across them. The three people approached him and his face turned pale, his legs became weak and his hands trembled. Irwan replied “yes, I am Irwan”. Two ICE officers immediately took him to their car. Irwan’s colleagues and supervisor were shocked and could do nothing. They were silent and witnessed the sadness on Irwan’s face as if to say “help me, help me”. In the car, he immediately grabbed his cell phone and texted his wife , “I was arrested by ICE officers. You and the children leave the house now.” After sending the text, he immediately turned off his cell phone.

A few hours later, Irwan was in York County Prison in York, PA wearing an orange uniform. The first thing he wanted to do was to contact his wife and his daughters. Irwan tried to contact his wife by making a collect call from the prison, but they were always disconnected because both Irwan and his wife did not understand that in order to receive the phone they had to pre-pay. Irwan did not despair. He tried up to 45 times to be able to talk to his wife, always failing to reach her until finally he cried because he could not bear the events that separated him from his wife and children. While he was crying alone on the wall, someone approached him. “Hi, I am a social worker in this prison, why are you crying? How can I help you?” they asked. Irwan replied “I tried to call my family. I tried more than 40 times and always failed. I miss them.” The social worker answered, “come, follow me. You can use a phone from my office.” For Irwan, this social worker was like an angel sent by God. After he got to the office of the social worker, he contacted his wife and immediately connected. Irwan said “Hello”, and the next thing he heard was his wife’s cry. For the first 5 minutes they just cried on the phone. Then his wife said, “the children and I are sad. Papa, you need to stay strong. We do not know what God’s plan is from this incident. I have contacted Pastor Aldo and some other friends. They will help our families. They also advised us to prepare for the worst, for deportation to Indonesia. There will be many people who will pray for our families.”

For 2 weeks, the social worker gave an opportunity for Irwan to contact his wife for 10 minutes every day. On the 13th day, Irwan said to his wife “I have been told that tomorrow I will be deported. You need to renew your Indonesian passport. Go apply for an American passport and Indonesian passport for our children. After all the affairs are finished, we will gather as a family again in Indonesia. Prepare our children for entry into new environments in Indonesia and new languages of Bahasa Indonesia. I love you all.”

This is the true story of a person I was asked to help. It is an all-too-common story these days for anyone not born in the United States. Franconia Conference is full of immigrant stories. Franconia Conference is a story of faith and migration. This has helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace and flourishing like we have found rooted in Southeastern Pennsylvania for 300 years. The Gospel of Christ’s peace has reminded us that “to whom much is given, much is also required.” If you are interested in learning more about the more recent immigrant stories in our Conference, the stories of your brothers and sisters, contact the Franconia Conference office and request the immigration stories. You will receive in the mail a DVD including a discussion guide you can use in your congregation. Irwan’s story and all the stories of our brothers and sisters is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people.

A Prayer for Immigrants and Families
By Rabbi Mark B Greenspan, Oceanside, New York

We have stood outside the walls
Having experienced the cruelty to “No.”
We have been the illegal immigrants
Having fled from oppression,
Searching for a better life
For ourselves and our families;
Give us strength and courage
To speak out for those in need of
Our advocacy.
Our memories are long and indelible;
We were a people without a land,
We watched as children were torn
From parents, only a generation ago
Some to the left, others to the right.
How can we be silent, when
We too were told, “You have no home.”
Let us speak out for those who have no voice.
Let us welcome those who have no place to go.
Help us to live up to the best of our ideals
Both as Americans and as Jews. And
Remind us of the words of Your Prophet:
“Turn the hearts of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
Lest your land become a curse.”

Commemorating the United States the Right Way

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

This Fourth of July I gathered with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival, a predominantly Congolese Mennonite congregation, which held a joint July Fourth commemoration. This was the first time both of the churches got together for this kind of commemoration. The event displayed the willingness of both congregations to think about how they can collaborate together and embrace diversity.

There was a picnic with everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to coconut curry. There were games of corn hole followed by games of cricket. Both sides seemed to walk into the space a little hesitant, but as things got going and people got talking (and eating), folks became more comfortable with each other.

Evangelical Center for Revival blessed everyone with music. They sung worship songs in their native languages as people clapped, sang and danced along to the music. They played a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” in their native language and integrated English so everyone could sing along. Also present was a free immigration clinic in the church building. They had two lawyers present to help people get advice and information about their immigration status.

All in all I believe the event was a great step in trying to embrace diversity. The congregations, to me, seemingly had little in common coming into the Fourth of July. At the beginning of the event things were awkward and, quite frankly, uncomfortable, though eventually people began to loosen up and have a great time enjoying each other’s company.

This event showed me that it takes willingness to embrace the other within our midst. Things might not always be smooth or go just as planned, but we as people of faith have to be willing to celebrate diversity and help our neighbors.  Said event coordinator Rachel Mateti, “The event has been months in the making and came out of our winter quarter Sunday School class focusing on hospitality and welcome and the call of God’s people to live it out. The members of the class saw this as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way on a day that ideally commemorates values like equality, freedom, and opportunity.”  

In our current political climate I believe this is of the utmost importance. While there has been rhetoric and laws created to destroy the beautiful diversity that we have in the United States, we have to remember to love and show hospitality to all people. This Fourth of July commemoration with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival is what I believe the United States is all about.

Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.  Reprinted with permission by The Mennonite.

Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church

By Robert Walden

The following are excerpts on the Winter Peace Retreat Report.  For the full report from the Peace and Justice Committee visit efpjc.ppjr.org/pjnews/pjn1803.pdf.

On February 9 to 11, around 50 participants gathered at St Mary of Providence Retreat Center in Elverson, PA to participate in the 2018 Eastern District and Franconia Conference Winter Peace Retreat. This year’s theme was “Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church”.

Tammy Alexander

The weekend began with a family activity led by Tammy Alexander, Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, Office: “People on the Move: A Migration Exercise”. The activity sparked conversation around what people go through when they are uprooted from their homelands, the sacrifices they are forced to make, the struggles they endure and the questions they carry with them about safety and what they may encounter in a new land.

Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and Director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, shared about his own family’s migration journey, his father from Italy and his mother from England. Settling in Hartford, CT, Peter grew up with stories of why his family left Italy and some of the struggles they had when they came to this country. He shared how people often took advantage of his grandmother because she didn’t speak English. This is a frequent experience today for immigrants of color in the U.S. when compared to the relatively privileged status of white immigrants.

Peter also shared the origins of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a grassroots organization led by affected immigrants to “win immigrant justice campaigns with our members across nationality, faith, class, and immigration status.” When Peter came to the Philadelphia to join the House of Grace Catholic Worker, it was at a time when there were growing rates of workplace raids and immigrant deportations, and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress was hostile to immigrants. During this time a small group of clergy, immigrants, and allies started coming together about the situation. They discovered that a lot of people in Philadelphia were engaged with immigration issues, but nobody was organizing in the faith community. So, little by little, they began organizing in coffee shops and in living rooms, until one day they had a movement. Peter then left the Catholic Worker and started to do this full time.

According to their website, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status”. This is done through partnering and educating faith communities. Currently working with 28 congregations including two Franconia Conference congregations, member congregations assist in trainings, workshops, campaigns, and accompanying families facing deportation.

One of the ways presented to participants at the retreat that congregations can get involved is accompaniment – walking with families facing deportation. Accompaniment is not to provide legal representation.  People who provide accompaniment aren’t lawyers; what they do is stand in solidarity. Much of it is going to court – just showing up in immigration court or criminal court or probation check-in with a group of 5, 10 or 15 people, as a witness. They form a little prayer circle in front of the court.  They come in and wait in front of the court room with two goals in mind: (1) surround the person with community, and really have their back in that situation; and (2) command accountability, because the people in the court know that folks are watching them. It’s not that the presence of NSM will automatically win the case, but there have been occasions when after the person’s case is presented and seven people stand up to leave, the judge asks, “Oh, is that the New Sanctuary Movement?”

There is something uplifting about having that visual representation of God’s presence in the courtroom. Bringing the power of God’s love into that environment does something to bring people hope. There are many times when NSM has seen people win cases that they did not think were possible – when people come out of it saying, “This is a miracle; this is God.” For those of us who are immigrant allies not directly affected by immigration law, this is an opportunity to see how the system works and moves us into exploring why so many people are in detention and deportation.

Immigration is a large part of the Franconia Conference and Eastern District story. Our ancestors were immigrants to the Franconia area and we are honored to learn from and walk with our more recent immigrant brothers and sisters. If you are interested in learning more about the immigration stories in Franconia Conference, contact the Conference Office for a copy of a short documentary complete with discussion guide that can be used in Sunday School or other formats.

Read about Philadelphia Praise Center’s Pastor Aldo Siahaan’s involvement in A New Sanctuary Movement Action HERE.

Read the Pastoral Response from Franconia Conference Leadership Regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) HERE.

 

Immigrants are the Church

Franconia Conference’s new Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, is a frequent columnist for Mennonite World Review. His latest column, released earlier this week, speaks of the need for the church to offer hospitality to our immigrant brothers and sisters as “most immigrants to the United States are already Christian. This ongoing influx of Christians bolsters our churches and keeps an abundant percentage of our country Christian.” We at Franconia Conference have been blessed with an influx of immigrant brothers and sisters who share our Mennonite values. Read the full article here: http://mennoworld.org/2017/01/02/columns/kriss-immigrants-are-the-church/.

Standing with our Immigrant Family in the Body of Christ

by Barbie Fischer

The Friday following the presidential election, leaders from Franconia Conference’s south Philadelphia churches asked for representatives from the conference to be present with them on the following Sunday for worship. Each of these congregations — Centro de Alabanza, Indonesian Light, Nations Worship Center, and Philadelphia Praise Center –have members who have immigrated to the United States.  Some have been here for decades, others only a few months. Regardless of the length of time, there is a new sense of anxiety and fear following the recent elections.  Many brothers and sisters in Christ no longer feel welcome, some fear for their safety, separation from family, and continue “praying so that God gives us the peace and wisdom to get through all of this immigration-2situation.”

As representatives of Franconia Conference, Mary Nitzsche, the Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee Chair,  and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, a Franconia Conference LEADership Minister, attended all four worship services to offer support and prayer. Some of the words they shared include:

We are here today on behalf of the sisters and brothers of Franconia Conference. We are here today to remind you that you are not alone.   We are in this together. Our commitments to your congregation are un-wavered.   We will walk through this time together…We are here with love, to recognize that you might be feeling particularly vulnerable. We do not have all the answers. We do have the words that the Bible repeatedly says, “to not be afraid.” We recognize that those words can seem hollow, without a real sense of support. We are here today to offer that support, to make sure that you know that you are loved.   That the God who promises to not leave us is with us for sure. But that we are also in this time together.  Your pastors and leaders have access to Conference staff for questions, for support.  Other persons in Franconia Conference congregations have already begun to ask how they can support you in prayer and in other more tangible ways. In the meantime, we are committed to being part of the work that God has begun with us. We will seek the peace of the city, and of this land where God has sent us. We want to offer a prayer with you…that God might keep you in perfect peace.

immigration-1Mary stated, “Our south Philly churches warmly welcomed us and offered generous hospitality. Appreciation was expressed in word, facial expression, and hugs for our presence and support. The worship was vibrant and hopeful even as fears for the future were expressed. I was reminded of our need for each other as Christ’s ambassadors of love, peace, and hope.”

“In spite of their feelings they worshiped with gusto and sincerity.  Placing their hope and trust in Jesus, the King of Kings,” said Jenifer. “I was blessed by the opportunity to be a small beacon of hope to my brothers and sisters during this tumultuous and uncertain time.”

Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center, stated that their presence and words reminded him and his congregation that they are “part of a big family” and it made them feel cared for.

Photo by Bam Tribuwono
Photo by Bam Tribuwono

As this time of uncertainty moves forward, ways to express support can be through prayer, words of encouragement to the leadership of the congregations, visiting their worship times and taking part in activities the communities host. Become informed about immigration laws and offer a voice for our brothers and sisters with legislatures. Support New Sanctuary Movement and maybe even have your meetinghouse become a sanctuary.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” Leviticus 19:33-34a.

 

Locally Handmade Comforter Appears in the New York Times

by Barbie Fischer

Vincent quilts 3Often when items are donated to a ministry, the recipient of the donation is unknown. The Vincent Sewing Circle ladies are well aware of this fact as they have been making comforters by hand since 1934 and donating them to people in need, in recent years mainly to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Having donated numerous handmade comforters over the past 82 years it was exciting for the ladies of the Sewing Circle to discover one of their comforters in a photograph in the New York Times.

On March 22nd, in the LENS Blog of the New York Times appeared an article entitled, “Dilley, Tex., Home to the Nation’s Largest Immigration Detention Center.” The article is about a multiplatform project known as “Welcome to Dilley” by a creative cooperative known as Black Box. As explained in the article, the project dives into a town at the heart of the national immigration debate, Dilley, Texas. Through the project, Black Box tells the story of immigration detention in the United States by sharing the stories of the detainees and the other residents in the small town where the largest immigration detention center in the United States is housed.

One of the woman featured in the project is Yadira López Lucas. Flipping through the slideshow in the New York Times article and appearing in a New York Time post on Facebook one can see Yadira and her three children sitting on a bed in a Mennonite House in San Antonio. The house is run by Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), in partnership with San Antonio Mennonite Church. The caption reads, “After being released last spring from the Karnes detention center about an hour and a half from Dilley, she [Yadira] had become the Mennonite House’s de facto caretaker as she waited for her case to wind its way through the system. With her were her sons, David and Daniel, and her daughter, Melany.” The comforter that appears on in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph of Yadira and her children was made by the women at the Vincent Sewing Circle. (Click here to view the photo.)

Vincent quilts 4Linda Lindberg, of Vincent Mennonite Church and a member of the Vincent Sewing Circle spotted the photo graph and says, “My reaction to seeing it wasn’t anything special.  I just recognized it (the corner of the comforter on the bed at bottom left) and was thankful that I could see the end result of our labor.”

Vincent quilts 2

She goes on to say, “I looked further at the picture for my own “proof” to see if it was ours and recognized several pieces of the printed fabric–especially the black with printed flowers on the band around the outside of the patches.  I remembered trying to decide what color of thread to sew the fold over with because of the contrast of black and medium blue (I went with blue).  The blue backing is part of a very large bolt that we found several of at Goodville Fabric Outlet for less than a dollar a yard and an unusual 110 inch width, so I recognized that also.  The pattern of the patches (diagonal stripes where there was enough of one color/print) is typical of the many, many tops Marjorie Benner, of Souderton Homes, has stitched over the years.  She also cut smaller patches than is typical for these “refugee” comforters.  I have become familiar with the prints/colors of material used in many of our comforters from knotting them, sandwiching them, pinning, and hemming them.  So I was quite sure it was one that we had worked on!”

Vincent quilts 1The Vincent Sewing Circle started in 1934 as a place for women to use their skills to help others. Women from several Mennonite Churches in the Pottstown area came together to form the group. Currently the group meets in a home owned by Vincent Mennonite Church every second Wednesday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm and breaks for devotions and lunch. If you are interested in joining the group please contact Vincent Mennonite Church at office@vincentmc.org.

Finding hope at the border

by Steve Kriss, reposted by permission from Mennonite World Review

Steve KrissThere are never enough winter jackets in the stacks of sorted clothes in the salon de fiestas (fellowship hall) at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. The stream of Central American refugees who arrive there after detention by the Department of Homeland Security rarely come with warm enough clothes to head further north. The 100 or so parents and children who stream through this makeshift refugee center daily leave behind the well-worn clothing they came in — and bundle up for the journey by Greyhound to new homes on this side of the Rio Grande’s America.

Though the tide has slowed a bit, the same issues that pushed refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador persist, and when warmer weather returns there will likely be a resurgence.

Current policy at the border is to remove adults, sending them back whence they came. But parents with children, and minors under 18, are allowed to remain. As a result, the “unaccompanied minor” crisis is largely one of our own government’s making. According to those on the front lines in South Texas, very few under 18 are actually unaccompanied when they arrive on the U.S. border. Most of them traveled with someone who was turned away — a family member, a friend or, sometimes, disturbingly, a trafficker.

Some refugees immediately seek asylum. Others travel within the U.S. to join family and friends as they move through a legal process. The morning I visited, several 20-something women had arrived from Honduras with a 7- or 8-year-old child in tow.

I spoke with a representative at the center from McAllen who said the city is committed to being hospitable but orderly. Everyone is offered soup designed for nutrient-deprived people, new clothes, a shower and a chance to see one of the medical volunteers. The showers were in trailers from the Salvation Army. Refu­gees can rest in an army tent on long-term loan until a bus is ready to take them north — but not for more than 24 hours.

Catholic Charities staffs the center with a combination of Catholic religious workers, professionals and local volunteers. Alma, a Tejana who teaches prayer in the Brownsville diocese, explained the operation of the refugee center. She said the Franciscans in charge of the parish facilities have said it can remain as long as needed. Alma described her charge and interacted with the volunteers and refugees with sincerity, grace and deep love. She said, “I treat everyone who comes in here as if they were the living Christ. Sometimes when we pick out clothes for the children, we give them clothes that they don’t really like. I invite them to come back to the pile to pick clothes they want, because with each boy or girl it’s like I’m dressing Jesus.”

I expected to come back from my border excursion with frustration and sadness. Instead, I returned with hope, having witnessed great love. The border responses aren’t perfect. The political and economic realities are complicated. Recent refugees are being equipped with ankle monitors to track their movements once inside the U.S. The refugees call the detention centers “freezers.”

But at the same time I was glad the U.S. government was admitting some of the most vulnerable arriving at our southern doorstep, escaping violence, feeling more pushed to leave their home than pulled by the possibility that is the U.S. I’m grateful that they’re given opportunity to state their case, to be reunited with family or friends while the process moves forward. I hope we’ll find a humane way through this situation.

The solution is a long haul of U.S. policies that might strengthen Central American economies and governments and help build healthy civil societies. But until then, the Franciscans will keep the doors open. And Tejanos like Alma will keep receiving newcomers as if they were Jesus, with open arms, clean shirts, new shoes, warm showers and instructions written in English to give to anyone who might help them land at their new, though possibly temporary, home.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.