‘We’re Called Through the Gospels to Welcome the Stranger’
Participation in Courts and Ports program gives up-close view of asylum process
Why should United Methodists in North Texas – 500 miles from the Valley, where the complex and often heartbreaking realities of immigration are a part of the fabric of daily life – care about what is happening along the Texas/Mexico border?
In September, a small group of clergy and laity from seven churches in the North Texas Conference formed the first “Courts and Ports” mission team and – after spending three days in the Valley – came away with some compelling answers.
“We’re called through the gospels to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry and to care for the rest of God’s children – people who are just like you and me but who happen to be born in another country,” reflected Rev. Laura Echols-Richter, executive pastor at Grace Avenue UMC in Frisco.
Rev. Mitchell Boone, pastor at White Rock UMC in Dallas, felt that the Church has a unique and vital role to play in the Valley and around immigration issues, namely “to lead in a prophetic Spirit … and ensure that those who are often forgotten and marginalized along our border are seen and heard.”
Seeing what is really happening at the border, seeing and hearing from the people who are caught up in and playing various roles in support of our immigration system, is at the heart of the Courts and Ports program. Courts and Ports is the brainchild of Texas Impact, a statewide grassroots network that advocates for freedom, justice and economic opportunity for all people in ways that are consistent with the values of mainstream faith communities such as The United Methodist Church.
In partnership with various entities, including the Center for Missional Outreach of the North Texas Conference, Texas Impact has crafted this powerful immersion experience in the Valley through which people of faith, first and foremost, are equipped and sent out to be court monitors in federal undocumented entry trials in South Texas. It gives United Methodists from North Texas an unfiltered view into our court system and an avenue for making a real difference.
After serving as a court monitor one morning, Rev. Elizabeth Moseley, Associate Pastor at Highland Park UMC, received this feedback from one of the regular, volunteer court monitors who also observed the court proceedings that day: “The judge was more lenient today because clergy were here. Your presence made a difference.”
In addition to the “courts” experience, members of the team spent a morning at two of the “ports of entry” – border bridges – in Brownsville. This, too, made a strong impression. They were able to get an up-close-and-personal look at what it is like to come to the United States seeking asylum and actually talk, with the help of a translator, with people from Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala and even Cameroon who were waiting in line for their initial conversation with U.S. border officials.
Their stories were heart-breaking and inspiring. One couple from Cuba, who had been waiting in line for five days, shared their hope for a brighter future in the U.S. and that “God is the one who has helped us journey through 11 countries to get here.”
Rev. Moseley, reflecting on her reasons for going to the Valley, said: “This summer, I was filled with such compassion for the people I was reading about in the news. This trip is a way for us to not just wake up in the middle of the night, worry about it, roll over and go back to sleep.”
The CMO hopes that as people of faith have these experiences in the Valley, we will wake up and recognize the role that we have to play around immigration issues and on behalf of immigrants who are seeking asylum and/or are yearning to be productive members of our communities.
Texas Impact and the CMO are ready to open up this three-day Courts and Ports experience to United Methodists in the North Texas Conference. Teams of no more than eight can sign up for trips this fall or spring.
To learn more about the Courts and Ports program, please email Rev. Andy Lewis, director of the Center for Missional Outreach.
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2018