The Beauty of Unity
Emily Lopinski, a long-time Floris UMC member, is currently a Border Fellow in El Paso, Texas. She has graciously agreed to provide us with regular blog posts to help people interested in the Wesley Fellows learn more about what exactly a fellows program is all about.
January 2017, my church in El Paso began a new ministry – temporary housing to Central and South American refugees*. The initiative arose in response to an influx in the number of individuals being released from immigration (ICE) detention centers. The numbers, up to 1,200 some weeks, were averaging over 1,000 for months at a time. This was a drastic increase from the pre-influx numbers of a few hundred being released each week. The refugees were from different parts of Central and South America, many coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil. Most of the families presented themselves at the border and declared that they wanted to seek asylum in the United States. They were then processed and released by immigration and needed somewhere to stay until travel arrangements were made to get them to their next destination where they would continue through the immigration legal processes.
“Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
At first I was frustrated with how slow my church in El Paso was moving. I felt like it was taking them forever to get through all of the necessary steps: determine a plan, figure out if it’s feasible, discuss with the clergy, talk to the leadership board, hold a forum with the congregation, etc. To me, it felt like by the time there was a consensus and a plan that the crisis was going to be over and we would have missed out on an opportunity to serve the Lord’s people. But much to my surprise, the people of the church mobilized and what resulted was so beautiful and unified, it is hard to describe.
Over the course of 3 months, the church hosted over 100 immigrants: moms, dads, teenagers, toddlers and infants. I was amazed by the generosity and hospitality of the church. Over 100 people either volunteered or donated items to the efforts. People cooked meals, donated clothing, coordinated transportation, drove people to the airport and bus station and even spent the night to make sure everyone was safe.
To me, what stood out from this whole experience was how the church pursued unity while striving to act with compassion and mercy. The church that I am involved with in El Paso represents a wide variety of political and social opinions, and so rushing into an initiative like this could be very divisive if it were not done with care. Through the whole process, the church aggressively sought the will of God, through corporate and individual prayer and many, many meetings to discern God’s will for the congregation.
As a border fellow and someone interested in this kind of ministry, members of the church were candid, open, and transparent with me about the difficulties in starting an emergency-response ministry to immigrants. I watched as the church mobilized for something they knew was important to the heart of God in a way that maintained as much unity as possible within the congregation. Through the wonderful members of the Church of St. Clement, I was able to see the beginning of a new ministry first-hand and learned a valuable lesson on unity and responding to God’s will.
*The individuals we served were technically asylum-seekers. We colloquially referred to them as refugees because they are similarly vulnerable and are seeking refuge in a new place.
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