Being the Church in the Borderlands

The Rocky Mountain Synod made a deliberate choice to gather around something more—to humanize and complicate the issue.

July 13, 2023 |

Image credit: Michael Dickson

Michael Dickson, NC Synod’s coordinator for Social Justice and Advocacy Ministries, writes: 

We are church together, and that’s so much to be.

In May of 2023, I had the honor of attending and working the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly in El Paso, Texas. More than 300 church leaders from across Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico came together at the far southeastern tip of their comically large synod.

They were there to do the business of their synod: to celebrate leaders, vote on budgets, and gather for worship and fellowship. However, they were also making a deliberate choice to gather around something more.

Listening to the needs and experiences of their ELCA congregations at the border, they decided to gather around the suffering body of Christ—that is, the hundreds of refugees arriving every day at our southern U.S. border.

These 300 church leaders were scattered in about 25 rental vans across the borderplex, visiting mission partners, nonprofits, refugee shelters, and government agencies—not only in El Paso and the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, but also throughout the expansive intercultural zone that spreads for miles around these twin cities.

I was one of dozens of tour guides and translators with the privilege of leading the scattered church leaders around the region on our day in the field. We stopped at the border fence to learn about the long history of this land of crossings, where peoples have crossed through the desert and between the mountains for hundreds and hundreds of years. We also visited a refugee hospitality shelter perhaps a hundred yards from the border and sat down for lunch with Venezuelan refugee families recently released by Customs and Border Protection.

We were hosted in El Paso primarily by Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey and Border Servant Corps. Cristo Rey is a bilingual ELCA congregation in El Paso deeply involved in refugee hospitality and border education, and it was my experience working there previously that brought me back this week. Border Servant Corps (BSC) is an ELCA-based nonprofit in the region that provides hospitality to thousands of refugees every month. (BSC also receives A Fresh Change kits through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services!)

In our days together, we heard harrowing stories from immigrants who leave everything behind for the good of their families, we listened to testimony from lawyers, pastors, and activists who have dedicated their lives to this work, and we spent time in prayer. We heard many different sides of a lot of complicated issues. The goal was not to change anyone’s mind on immigration. The goal was not to develop a political consensus around a controversial issue. The goal was to humanize and complicate the issue of immigration, so that everyone leaving El Paso would be able to say “This is more complicated than I thought,” because, truly, it is.

However we feel about it, whatever we wish would happen, there is no denying that on our border and across the globe right now, we are facing an international humanitarian crisis. Unprecedented numbers of refugees and displaced people are fleeing violence, extortion, environmental catastrophe, and political instability.

People are arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from every different country. They arrive from Haiti, from Guatemala, from Venezuela, from Albania, from Russia, from Libya, and anywhere you can imagine. They come because they want their families to be safe and they want to be able to work. They travel for months and years by land and sea, walking through the jungles of the Darien Gap, hitchhiking across Mexico, traveling as groups when they can, and hiding from smugglers and police to avoid torture, kidnapping, or worse.

They arrive at the border with the U.S., and if they are eventually processed by federal authorities, they have a chance of being paroled into the country and released to a sponsor to stay with while they pursue their legal claim of asylum. Many will not be able to stay long, and many more do not make it. The body of Christ suffers so that their loved ones might thrive, but it is not necessary for the body of Christ to suffer.

We are church together, and that’s so much to be.

DID YOU KNOW?—Thanks to the support of AMMPARO and some individual donors across the NC Synod, there are Refugee Resettlement Grants of $1,000 available to NC Synod congregations. Use funds to support your refugee circle of welcome, create welcome kits for LSC, and more! Reach out to Michael Dickson for ideas, or check with LSC to learn about the possibilities—get started with a Be the Light Appeal, host a family, or whatever works for you and your network! Apply for a seed grant today!

Story Attribution:

Michael Dickson, coordinator for Social Justice and Advocacy Ministries


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