Church Together—In NC & at the Border

Angel Owens recalls her trip to the border which fostered a 'deepened commitment to vocation and love for neighbor.'

April 15, 2024 |

ELCA AMMPARO (Angel is in the middle row, fourth from the left.)

As a communications professional, I have a special vantage point for witnessing God’s love and abundant grace at work in this church. Through my work, I get to share stories of the ways people show up for one another in ministry and respond to the call of the gospel.

It is a blessing to have been entrusted with these stories. That said, the role usually calls me to be more of a witness than a participant. Outside of my vocation, I enjoy being in the middle of the action and fully present in the moment. When I get discouraged by the ways we can fail one another, it is hands-on service and the resurrection work of justice and reformation that always remind me of how we, as the body of Christ, belong to one another.

I’m deeply passionate about human rights and the immigration system. I received some assurance of my role in the North Carolina Synod when Bishop Tim Smith announced the Bishop’s Challenge at the 2022 Synod Gathering. Bishop Smith set a goal for NC Synod congregations to actively engage in refugee resettlement to help address the growing need for hospitality with the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Over the last two years, the communications team has worked closely with the Social Justice and Advocacy Coordinator to spread the word, encourage involvement, and share stories of welcome.

Last spring, ELCA Young Adults, ELCA Advocacy, AMMPARO, and Global Refuge (then Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service or LIRS) announced a Border Immersion trip, and I was privileged to be among the 15 young adults, ages 18-35, selected to attend the four days of intentional listening and reflection at the United States and Mexico border.

Hosted by Border Servant Corps (BSC), a hospitality center and ELCA partner that started as a ministry out of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, we spent each day taking in the sights of El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, and carefully listening to similar stories from a variety of perspectives. We heard from religious and non-profit leaders from Annunciation House, Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey in El Paso, and Border Servant Corps who offer hospitality to asylum seekers. We listened to presentations from Customs and Border Patrol agents and from an ACLU reporter. The experience didn’t just focus on the asylum process; we also visited a women’s community center to learn more about the people who call the borderlands home and attended a street fair in Las Cruces.

Each day began and ended in community and prayer, with time for thoughtful conversation, reflection, and worship. Young adults from across the ELCA often gather for hiking trips, which sound fun; however, this trip brought the group of us together because of our shared commitment to hospitality, welcome, and eagerness to learn and demystify the borderlands. Not having grown up Lutheran, I hadn’t before had the opportunity to connect with my contemporaries from this church. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met, learned from, and been inspired by this group of young adults in this church.

As part of the commitment, participants agreed to become Global Refuge ambassadors and participate in a day of advocacy meetings.

During the “Fresh Change” packing party at last year’s Fall Convocation, I was able to share about the hospitality center that received the fresh change bags. At Border Servant Corps, asylum seekers have a chance to contact family and sponsors in the U.S. to coordinate travel. They shower, rest, receive medical care if they need it, eat a meal, and change into a fresh change of clothes. Some arrive in government-issued clothing and others are wearing the same clothing they have been wearing since they began their journey to the U.S. A fresh change of clothes also provides a bit of dignity and safety as they complete the last leg of their journey.

Last year, I participated in twelve advocacy Zoom meetings with the offices of members of Congress. Drawing on my passion for storytelling and the life-giving work within the synod and at the border I shared a few of the things I’ve learned:

  • We are capable of disagreeing on certain points and still working together for the sake of our neighbors. The Border Patrol agents and non-profit leaders don’t agree on everything but they work closely together as a unit; Border Patrol contacts hospitality centers to help asylum seekers make their way to their point of contact in the U.S. Everyone we heard from agreed on the need for robust immigration reform.
  • Each of the players has a role. It’s freeing to be reminded that we don’t have to do everything—just our part. Just as synod congregations have been doing their part—those who host circles of welcome with Lutheran Services Carolinas, those who partner with them, and the individuals who gather welcome kit supplies.
  • NC Synod congregations help support refugees in our neighborhoods with a variety of things, but the type of help we can offer is limited. The legal process for asylum is slow and running behind. Asylum seekers don’t have long-term access to steady work, so our communities are left to support them in ways that refugees would love to do themselves if they were permitted to work.
  • Our shared values lead us to common ground. Some legislative leaders have run on a platform of family values and care for children. We were able to provide them with resources for LSC’s foster care for unaccompanied minors.

This trip is a testament to the many ways that the church works together. ELCA Young Adults, ELCA Advocacy, AMMPARO, and Global Refuge sponsored the trip so that finances would not deter attendance, and young adult leaders from each of those organizations guided the group. A continuing education allotment from the synod allowed me to travel. Your Mission Support dollars make a difference.

Through this experience, I connected with incredible humans from my age group and this church—people I have stayed connected with through advocacy opportunities, social media, and the Global Refuge ambassador network. I was also able to center myself in my vocation by connecting the blessing of your ministry stories with my passion for advocacy and policy reform in a new hands-on way. Even as the official Bishop’s Challenge wraps up, I want to thank you for being church together and continuing to support these life-changing ministries for the sake of the world.

Story Attribution:

Angel Owens, Associate Director of Communications—Digital Media Strategist, NC Synod

Border Mission Support Story

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