This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Immigration Justice: Radical Hospitality Learn, Pray, Join initiative.
Ulises Arenas is pastor at Iglesia Buenas Nuevas in San Juan, Texas. He is the moderator of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH). From Puebla, Mexico, Ulises enjoys serving his congregation and community in South Texas with his wife Megan and two-year-old son Caleb.
Generous. Caring. Sustaining. Practicing radical hospitality sounds rather antithetical to what many immigrants face in the United States on a daily basis today.
God calls us to love our neighbor (Matthew 12:29-31), even as the world shows us countless examples to the contrary.
Here in South Texas, I have the privilege to live amongst many brave people who inspire me by their perseverance and hope even as they encounter systemic injustices. As moderator of IMH and a pastor here in the Rio Grande Valley, I’ve had the opportunity to listen and learn from so many. Here are three stories:
Generous: A living wage
Luis is an amicable member of one of our South Texas congregations. Easy going and always willing to lend a hand, it took him a while to open up to me about the stark need he has faced. Given he is undocumented, Luis has faced more than one occasion where he has gone without pay laboring in the construction field, given he does not have recourse to speak up. In a particularly tough time, he beamed when he received a portion of an Everence grant his congregation received.
Next time you go to purchase a service or good, consider what business practices you support when doing so.
Caring: Walking with confidence
Juan, who has lived in the Rio Grande Valley off and on for the past twenty years shared with me his intention to be dependable for his family. Years ago, about two weeks after his son was born, however, he found himself suddenly picked up by authorities after what should have been a routine traffic stop and sent back across the border. In those days, getting back over was fairly easy – with $300 he was able to make it back only weeks later and see his American-born son grow up.
When you travel somewhere in your vehicle or speak to someone in law enforcement, consider how what may be a neutral encounter for you can have far-reaching and debilitating consequences for another. Consider people’s intentions and learn about their obstacles.
Sustaining: Health care
Omar, a compassionate leader in his local church, has struggled with increasing health difficulties in the past few years. His working conditions for years were subpar and his access to regular health care non-existent. He had a stroke two years ago and was rushed to the hospital. When he arrived, medical professionals would not act until his wife proferred $500. With no access to credit cards, they were fortunate that the church stepped in to help right away. Omar says that he considers crossing the border to get further care on the Mexican side if his condition deteriorates due to the burden of seeking care here, but he knows that the likelihood of being able to return to his family here would be slim to none.
Think about what you may take for granted, like access to nutritious food, a hazard-free workplace, and basic medical care. How can you support the building of robust safety nets that steer people clear of these hurdles?
Early Anabaptists were revolutionary in the welcome they gave to laypeople. The greater church has the capability of building strong community with “others” in our midst today, amazing people who have so much to share with us and we so much to learn from them.
When you consider how to practice radical hospitality, think “más allá” (deeper) about what the immigrants in your midst are experiencing.
How can you empathize with them? What kind of support may you and your church be able to provide that addresses root causes, not simply surface-level symptoms? How can you build rapport and understanding with herman@s (brothers and sisters) so different than yourself?
As you grapple with these questions, know that we immigrants in your midst can become your neighbors and friends. Come on over. Join us.
Translation by Megan Arenas-Goossen
We seek to join in God’s healing work regarding immigration, trusting that God goes before us and desires wholeness and well-being for all people. (from MC USA Churchwide Statement on Immigration)
You are invited to get involved with the work for Immigration Justice: Radical Hospitality as we offer resources to Learn, Pray, Join.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.