The Church is Alive!

The Church is Alive!

On June 16th, I crossed the border of Canada and USA in Bellingham for the baptism of my great niece in Surrey, Canada. I was looking forward to this happy occasion to baptize one of the fifth generation Lutherans in my family, but this experience brought back a memory that I hoped no one would have to experience. Nine years ago, around the same time of the year, I also crossed the same border to attend a church convention in Vancouver. Several days later I learned that I could not return to the USA due to an immigration issue. I was shattered, both angry and deeply sad. The news around separating children from their parents opened wide these wounds again for me, seeing the faces of distraught children, and listening to the desperate cries of children in a detention center.  Ironically, World Refugee Day was observed on June 20th.

The statement on these issues from our Synod and ELCA leadership is echoed by the Rev. Martin Junge, the General Secretary of The Lutheran World Federation. He notes, “refugees may lose many things when they flee, but never their human rights…Refugees don’t leave their homeland because they want to. They leave because otherwise their lives are in danger.” These families take these risks so that they can be together, as the danger back home is worse than what they face as they trek unfamiliar and dangerous deserts, cities, rivers and roads.

But signs of hope abound – both in words and in actions. Justice is rising. Statements from church leaders and faithful advocates do not fall on deaf ears. People are coming out of their homes and churches to the streets, public spaces, and detention centers. We have learned of many protest events planned this week and beyond, to call our leaders to change policy and transform the hearts of many. The Spirit is stirring up a lot of hearts and minds to be out there and challenge the powers that be. This is not encouraging only for me alone – I can feel the fire of the Spirit burning in the world, in these actions and voices. As part of the body of Christ I know these collective actions are life giving to others. The church is alive! In the face of death and danger, God’s children respond with life for life – signs of God’s grace and promise.

My immigration crisis was resolved successfully, but so many do not have such resources and advocates. The events we are experiencing nowadays may shake our faith, values and way of life as it did for me nine years ago, but it will never stop the Spirit who moves us. I pray and hope that these challenges may even widen ministry, heal wounds and strengthen faith as we step up in our ministry with immigrants. In discernment in times like these, I continually ask these questions:

What gives your spiritual/faith community life? Or what is life giving in our calling?

What risks are we willing to take in “crossing borders” for the sake of the gospel?

What would it take for us to be instruments of the Spirit’s life giving actions?

Knowing that our immigrant siblings have been raising their voices for justice, may these words from “The Teaching of King Lemuel’s Mother” continue to empower us to stand with them:

”Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
   Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Proverbs 31:8-9

Pr Tita Valeriano
Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop

The altar above was set up with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity last March in San Francisco for International Women’s Month, remembering mother and their children on the road to freedom