God’s People on the Move: Being and Becoming Sanctuary
by Kathye Hamm
Upon returning from Asia, I came across a study listing the top languages spoken in the states of California and Nevada. Next to English and Spanish, I was not surprised to see that “Tagalog,” the basis of the national language in the Philippines and my first language, is the third most common language in our states. A multi-lingual United States is not new, as we are part of a migrating world. And at the same time, it was also not surprising that English was the language we used at the Biennial 10thAsian Lutheran International Conference, where more than 250 Asian Lutheran leaders, about a third of which are young adults, gathered in Udan Thani, Thailand. In our multicultural world, English often becomes a shared language.
As I mentioned in my last article, we gathered around a very timely theme: “Singing to the Lord: Migration and Mission.” The Keynote Speaker, Rev. Margarethe Kleiber, whose ancestry is both Danish and Japanese, shared her own family’s migration story from her Japanese father, who is now in his 90s, residing in multicultural Hawaii. But she also shared how lonely it is to be of Asian descent in the ELCA, even when there is also a very vibrant and growing Lutheran church in Asia. Reflecting on using migration as a metaphor in understanding our Christian faith, she shared with us that “migration is about movement and displacement. It is about crossing over into new territory and possibly even breaking down barriers in the process. Since that is the case, then the call to mission is a call to be a migrant. It is a call to be on the move, to be boldly crossing borders literally and figuratively. The church is God’s people on the move.”
Like other continents, Asia experiences high voluntary migration, but is also addressing involuntary migration in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Throughout the conference various speakers and bible study leaders raised the difficult questions relating to privilege, classism, race and ethnicity, sexuality, politics and economics among those affected or involved in migration within their respective country and around our world, in the light of how migration has impacted their mission and ministry. Though divided by thousands of miles, we are all confronted with some challenges of migration. How do we face them in our complex contexts?
As a collective community, as a synod, we made a very important decision two years ago, to become a Sanctuary Synod. Some of our congregations have been involved in this for many years, and some are continually discerning how to commit themselves amidst their changing neighborhoods. It gives me hope that across the Pacific Ocean we have partners in mission, across our global Lutheran communion. I continue to invite you to reflect: How are these migration trends impacting your mission and ministry in your neighborhood? What kind of “new songs” does your community raise in worship, both inside your sanctuary and on the streets in solidarity protests and vigils? What kind of support do you need in order to be able to stand with the immigrants in your neighborhood?
One of the exciting results of the visit to Asia is a planned visit to our synod from the Taiwan Lutheran Church (one of our companion synods). They also attended the conference in Udon Thani, and we are now preparing for their leadership visit in May. They will visit one of their mission congregations situated in our Synod. We are also hoping to learn from each other about evangelism and church planting, and know one another more deeply.
Our spoken languages may sometimes hinder us in reaching out to each other, but the language of love and hope from God is more powerful, and can create and transform communities. Truly, it is only in God’s grace that we can be God’s people on the move.
Pr. Tita Valeriano
She borrowed this description from this book, “God’s People on the Move: Biblical and Global Perspectives on Migration and Mission” edited by vanThahn Nguyen and John M. Prior, Kindle Version, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014).
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