More than 150 Hispanic/Latino clergy and lay leaders celebrated communion through a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, approved a declaration addressing the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children coming to the United States, and defined strategies to achieve their goals within The United Methodist Church.
The declaration on the crisis of children from Mexico and Central America entering the U.S. called for solidarity with the children and asked United Methodist and others to join with MARCHA in demanding that Congress and President Obama develop effective humanitarian responses to a situation that “transcends political and partisan self-interests.”
The declaration affirms compassionate initiatives in response to the crisis, including that of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
The 2014 MARCHA Annual Assembly was held in Los Angeles from Aug. 6-10. Leaders from all jurisdictions of the United States and Puerto Rico attended the meeting of MARCHA, Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans.
The theme was "Re-creating Hope in Times of Change" and the group worked to further deepen the prophetic commitment of The United Methodist Church to social justice, especially among Hispanic /Latinos in the United States.
“It was a renewed meeting with a fresh vision that included short, medium and long term goals,” said the Rev. Ines Lugo, who serves as the main pastor at three churches in the California-Nevada Conference — Greenfield United Methodist Church, Misión Metodista Hispana de Soledad, and East Salinas Family Center Hispanic Mission.
The group discussed new expectations for change in Hispanic and multicultural congregations. In small group discussions, participants discussed how to revive the prophetic sense of the church to contribute to the social vindication of the Hispanic community with the goal of higher levels of justice and inclusion.
As a pre-conference event, a group of participants visited the United States border with Mexico and learned about the human drama around the immigration issues. They had the opportunity to visit Centro Romero, a border immersion ministry. Also, they visited El Faro, the Border Church, which refers to weekly worship gatherings in Friendship Park, the historic bi-national meeting place at the westernmost edge of the U.S.-Mexico border.
It was at Friendship Park that participants celebrated communion through the border fence with El Faro.
At the opening assembly, Eduardo Valentin Morales — a young leader from the Northeastern Jurisdiction — spoke of what that experience meant to him and how he would never forgot the sign on the fence that read: "What God has joined together, let not man separate.”
"We have to experience the pain of those who suffer, to serve them," he said as he wiped away tears.
Bishop Rafael Moreno, the episcopal leader of Puerto Rico, also spoke of the experience. “Yesterday I reconverted to Christ, the Christ who breaks down the walls," he said, speaking of the shame he felt upon seeing people and families separated by a fence.
"I wanted to burn my passport. ... Instead of having that document and privilege, my rightful desire was to walk with my brother and my sister together without barriers ... all walls must fall, in its place we have to build bridges of brotherhood."
A special offering was collected to support the ministry of the Centro Romero.
Bishop Warner H. Brown, episcopal leader of California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference and president of the Council of Bishops, preached at the opening worship service.
"The struggle of the people of God to do justice to the homeless, implies a confrontation with principalities and powers. . . so the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit is essential,” Brown said.
The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America clergywoman who has broad experience in ministries related to community organizing and social justice, spoke at the plenary.
Through her own stories and reflections from her book "Faith-Rooted Organizing," she urged The United Methodist Church to transcend community service. She said the church should not just denounce injustices and assist victims, but should create more impact in the sociopolitical system to generate structural changes in society.
"You need to create pressure at a high level of power and on decision makers in this country. This prophetic attitude of the church has to be based on the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ," Salvatierra said.
Emma Vega, a bilingual lay preacher and member of First United Methodist of La Puente, Calif., praised Salvatierra’s speech. “The Rev. Salvatierra gave me the insight to gain new perspectives on any challenges that I may encounter, and with God’s grace find creative ways to turn them into opportunities to gain ʿprophetic visionʼ as an ambassador for Jesus Christ in whatever context or community I may find myself in,” Vega said.
“Her session on ʿThe Call to Holistic Missionʼ has enlarged my vision in doing ministry in my own bicultural context,” said Vega, who attended MARCHA for the first time.
Vega, a third-generation Hispanic/Latina United Methodist, is on the design team of ‘Spanglish,’ a ministry targeting first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic youth of the California-Pacific Conference. She coordinated “Nite of Worship,” a special event at led by Hispanic/Latino young people at a nearby local church.
The Rev. Lugo said that during small group discussions, those at her table centered on how to minister to the leaders of our communities and make intercession for them so “that we can make the changes that we need so much in our communities.”
Vasquez leads a federated Presbyterian-United Methodist congregation in West New York, N.J. Amanda M. Bachus, a freelancer writer and editor in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.
News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].