Tag Archives: immigration

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.

Philadelphia churches offer sanctuary for immigrants

by Tim Huber, for Mennonite World Review (reposted by permission)

Two Mennonite churches in Philadelphia have joined a sanctuary movement aiming to support people fearing deportation from the United States.

The congregations are members of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an organization participating in a nationwide act of civil disobedience responding to inaction on immigration reform. President Obama promised to act on immigration by the end of summer, but has delayed doing so until after November elections.

Philadelphia Praise Center Pastor Aldo Siahaan said his congregation hasn’t received word yet about hosting specific undocumented immigrants, but it is ready.

The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia gathered with congregational leaders to hold a press conference on September 25. The press conference was held at Philadelphia Praise Center, one of several congregations participating.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia held a press conference announcing the new initiative on September 25. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

“At Philadelphia Praise Center most of the people are immigrants,” he said. “This is kind of an issue that we deal with every month, even weekly. We know the pain and we know how it feels, so we open our space.”

The congregation has significant numbers of Indonesian, Hispanic and Burmese ethnic groups. Membership at PPC includes many undocumented people.

The church has two Sunday school classrooms that can be used to house families, and the sanctuary could also be employed.

Siahaan said law enforcement officials have not visited the church since its involvement was announced in a September 25 New Sanctuary Movement press conference at the church. In April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order significantly limiting collaboration between local police and federal immigration authorities.

But word has gotten around.

“Last week, one radio station called me and put me on the air,” Siahaan said. “The announcer tried to be my opposition, and he really opposed the idea of the church opening to the ‘illegal people crossing the border.’ That’s what he was trying to say.

Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, being interviewed at the press conference.
Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, being interviewed at the press conference.

“I gave my reasons. It was an opportunity to speak to the people who disagree with us.”

Other support

Germantown Mennonite Church became an affiliate member of New Sanctuary Movement after a congregational vote over the summer. Though not planning to host undocumented people at the moment, it is providing support for churches that are.

Russ Mast and Betsy Morgan have attended organization meetings on the congregation’s behalf, and have accompanied families to deportation meetings as both witnesses and emotional supporters.

Germantown’s facilities are also used by a Jewish community group, Tikkun Olam Chavurah, for high holiday services. Like Philadelphia Praise Center, the group has signed on to host undocumented people. However, it is unclear where the Jewish group would provide sanctuary — be it at Germantown, a member’s home or a rented location.

“That hasn’t been something that has been decided yet,” said Germantown facilities administrator Michelle Bruhn.

Celebrating with Aldo and Viviani

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Three-and-a-half years after they married, Aldo Siahaan and his wife, Viviani Chandra, are finally living together in Philadelphia. Aldo is the pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center and a LEADership minister with Franconia Mennonite Conference.

Aldo Siahaan and Viviani Chandra
Aldo Siahaan and Viviani Chandra

Aldo and Viviani are both originally from Indonesia, and met in Philadelphia over a decade ago at an Indonesian church in the city. Viviani had come to the United States in 2000, where she applied for asylum on the grounds of religion and race (Viviani is of Chinese ancestry). However, her request was denied and she had to return home.

After Viviani returned, the couple kept in touch, and eventually married in 2010. Knowing that the visa process could take some time, they decided that Viviani would go to Toronto, Canada, where she studied and volunteered at a flower shop. In 2011, Aldo got U.S. citizenship, and they filed for a green card for Viviani. On June 2 of this year, after two-and-a-half years of waiting, the request was approved and Viviani was able to come to the U.S.

The couple is thankful for the prayers and support they received, and assistance from Steve Kriss and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, which allowed them to build relationships with other Mennonites in Canada.

Gathering with Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

Elizabeth Soto AlbrechtElizabeth Soto Albrecht, the new moderator of Mennonite Church USA, recently completed a 3-week journey around the United States visiting Mennonite Church USA congregations.  Elizabeth joined pastors and Conference Related Ministry leaders on August 23 to share her learnings and challenges from that journey and hopes for the future of the church and to listen to stories and answer questions from Franconia and Eastern District leaders.


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Blurring the line between immigration and criminal laws

justneighborslogo-nov-05by Jacob Hanger, summer writing team

I’m currently an intern at Just Neighbors, an organization based in Northern Virginia that provides legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees. We have an extraordinary team of lawyers who are devoted to helping a marginalized subset of the American population that often finds itself voiceless when dealing with our country’s legal system. We have had clients from 116 different countries, and demand for our services is so high that we frequently have to turn away individuals simply because we do not have enough staff to take every case comes looking for help.

At work, I had the opportunity to talk to Allison Ruland-Soulen, Just Neighbor’s Director of Legal Services, and Alex Boston, Just Neighbor’s Executive Director. Our conversation revolved around specific instances of injustice they have encountered during their years practicing immigration law. The following discussion is the result of this conversation.

Immigration law can be particularly unjust when the separation between Immigration Law and Criminal Law blurs. The two systems are sophisticated on their own – unfortunately, when they begin sharing jurisdiction they can sometimes become clumsy. For instance, a few years ago a lawyer at Just Neighbors had a case where a Cuban man was in the process of applying for his green card. The man struggled with alcoholism, and had been caught twice stealing a can of beer from a convenience store. He was denied his green card because of two beers.

What happened was this: in this man’s case, the immigration side of his case was motivated by humanitarian purposes. The fact that he is Cuban makes him a political asylee in the eyes of the American government. On the criminal side, however, he had two crimes of moral turpitude (defined as conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals) on his record. Our criminal law states that only one offense of moral turpitude can be overlooked in the case of Cubans applying for green cards. This law is obviously meant to prevent criminals guilty of much bigger crimes, but in the case of this Cuban, he was denied residency in the U.S. due to the fact that he stole less than $3 dollars of merchandise. The humanitarian aspect of his case was left untouched, but the criminal side trumped it and he now has to live in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. Undoubtedly an injustice.

To explore another instance of injustice, answer this question: what do you think our government prizes more?  Domestic violence or love?  If you said domestic violence, you are right. If a United States citizen marries an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border without going through customs, there is no way for the U.S. citizen to petition for his or her spouse to be granted citizenship. The only way an undocumented immigrant who is married to a U.S. citizen can get status is if he or she has been the victim of domestic violence and reports it to the police. In other words, if a U.S. Citizen marries an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border without going through customs, the immigrant cannot become a U.S. citizen but if the U.S. Citizen abuses the immigrant, the immigrant can get citizenship relatively quickly.  It certainly is an injustice that domestic violence trumps marriage in our system of immigration.

There are more situations where this blurring causes injustice. The takeaway here is that we need to be vigilant about the unintended consequences our laws might have. Ultimately, the people who can change these laws are responsible to U.S. citizens, so if you ever notice a particular injustice at the hand of the law, write your congressman or congresswoman and let them know!

Justice includes compassion and mercy

Bobby Wibowoby Mikah Ochieng, summer writing team

Compassion rarely surfaces as a topic voiced in the same breath with justice. Justice, after all, is commonly acquainted with the tenets of fairness, that is, what is deserved according to a set of commonly held laws and beliefs. Displaying a form of affectionate compassion, it would seem in most cases, would fly in the face of the outcomes of fairness. Think about helping people that you know, by all accounts, shouldn’t deserve help–isn’t this a breach in the case of enacting justice?

I had this discussion recently with Bobby Wibowo, a 23-year-old man born in Indonesia, who is now living in Philadelphia where we are part of the same church, Philadelphia Praise Center.  Bobby is a paralegal working mostly with immigration law.  He tells me that despite the machine-like tenacity of our legal system, he believes that compassion is an integral component in treating people justly. Bobby believes that people of privilege and power in law-making decisions often need a change in perspective. He asserts that mercy should be a lens by which law-makers interpret the law and arbitrate on people’s immigration cases.

I ask why.

“People in power have their own agendas,” Bobby says, implying a critical disconnect between the worldview and power of the socially influential from the experiences of the socially marginalized or powerless. Bobby’s insight evokes the adage: one cannot possibly hope to understand the “other” without first walking a mile in his or her shoes.

But what would mercy and compassion actually look like in the process of immigration justice and reform? In the case of immigration, Bobby suggests, people who have an order posted against them for deportation should, in certain cases, be excused. Bobby lists some cases where the justice system should reconsider the sentence of those awaiting deportation on the basis of extraordinary circumstances: if a dependent family member is suffering from poor health; if the deportee is strongly involved in the community, is seeking asylum, or if children with U.S. citizenship would be involved in the deportation process. These are all factors that need to be considered in cases that include deportation as an option, Bobby asserts.

Bobby retains a lot of faith in the justice system but he isn’t blind to unjust rulings in cases that pass through his hands at the law office. While translating and organizing documents and files that have gone to trial, he sometimes comes across a case in which he thinks the ruling should have been more lenient. Maybe if the justice system would be more willing to extend a hand of grace, he reflects, and recognize that the human dignity of offending immigrants is equal to that of U.S. citizens, we might reach a justice that more reflects what Christ demonstrated with us.

Incoming moderator launches nationwide tour

Pastor Byron Pellecer, conference minister Owen Burkholder, Soto Albrecht, and executive director of MC USA Ervin Stutzman answer questions at Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Mennonite Church USA’s incoming moderator Elizabeth Soto Albrecht has begun her journey around the United States to visit MC USA congregations. Soto Albrecht will receive her charge as moderator this Friday, the final day of MC USA’s Phoenix convention.

A native of Puerto Rico, Soto Albrecht is visiting some of the congregations that are not attending MC USA’s convention in Phoenix because of Arizona’s rigorous anti-illegal immigration legislation; she will also drop in at pastors’ breakfasts, home communities, and regional gatherings to listen to the concerns and hopes of the diverse people who make up Mennonite Church USA. Many of these events in the coming week will be streamed live on her website, JourneyWithElizabeth.com.

After several short trips in May and June to Norristown (Pa.), New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., Soto Albrecht, along with a three-person support team, began the three-week circuit on June 28 with a service of blessing and sending at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster (Pa).

During the service, Janet Breneman, Soto Albrecht’s pastor, presented the moderator elect with a photograph of the members of her home congregation, Laurel Street Mennonite Church, as a symbol of their presence with her, sending her and praying for her. Two days later, Soto Albrecht showed that photo to Lindale Mennonite Church (Harrisonburg, Va.) before she preached, saying, “I could not have taken this journey without my home congregation—they have made it possible.”

The sending service concluded with a prayer walk in the west side of Lancaster city. This was the second of what Soto Albrecht hopes to be many prayer walks on her journey; the first was with Philadelphia Praise Center in South Philadelphia. “It is so meaningful when those gathered in the church facility leave the comfort of those four walls and people witness our presence in the neighborhood,” Soto Albrecht observes. “We prayed for the peace of the city and people are more than willing to do that as part of their worship.”

In addition to preaching at Lindale, Soto Albrecht visited Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA) in Harrisonburg, where she spoke on discipleship and joined Ervin Stutzman, MC USA’s executive director, in a time of Q&A with the congregation.

Chapel Hill
Soto Albrecht visits with Isaac Villegas at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. Photo by Emily Ralph.

During that exchange, one member of IDA asked how those who remain behind will be remembered in Phoenix. “On the last night, we’re going on a prayer walk,” Soto Albrecht told him. Thousands of Mennonites will walk the streets, stopping to pray outside the detention center, and finally converge in a park to pray and sing together. “The prayer walk is the peace church making itself visible,” she said.

Both the prayer walk and Soto Albrecht’s keynote address Friday evening will be streamed live on her website.

After their Saturday and Sunday morning visits in Harrisonburg, Soto Albrecht’s team continued on to Chapel Hill, N.C., where members of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, pastored by Isaac Villegas, made their way through five inches of rain and flooded roads to worship together.

“The ongoing message that I’ve been receiving is people affirming my decision to have this journey, saying, ‘We’re with you. We understand why you decided not to attend Phoenix and to instead have this long journey before arriving at the delegate session on Friday,’” reflects Soto Albrecht. “Those comments affirmed over and over again that this journey is part of God’s plan for us and how important it is that we connect with one another.”

At the same time, however, her thoughts and prayers are also with the delegates gathering in Phoenix and she looks forward to joining them on Friday for the final delegate session and evening worship.

Although only a few days into the journey, Soto Albrecht has already reconnected with many old friends and become acquainted with many new ones. “I’ve found that people are pleasantly surprised that I’m taking time to stop and join smaller churches or larger churches, to listen to them,” she says. “It is especially important to connect with Spanish-speaking congregations, to let them know that I know their struggles and that we are committed as a church to seek justice on their behalf. I’m looking forward to journeying with them in their struggle and to continue to be sent for and by them to Phoenix.”