Guest blog: How a cross-conference appointment put immigration stories into perspective

May 22, 2018

Submitted by the Rev. Nathan P. Adams
Lead Pastor, Park Hill United Methodist Church
Chair, Mountain Sky Area Immigration Task Force

“Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
-Leviticus 19:34 Common English Bible 

2,059 miles.
2,059 miles is the distance Google Maps says it is from my previous home in Miami Shores, Florida to my current apartment in downtown Denver. My wife, Alicia, and I moved from Florida to Colorado last summer so that I could serve as the lead pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church. This cross-conference appointment required us to move across the country; it was a relatively easy move and transition. It was a move not unlike millions of people make at some point in their lives.
643 miles. 1,125 miles. These are the miles respectively that Google Maps says it is to the Mexican border cities of Ciuad Juarez and Tijauna from downtown Denver. My wife and I traveled much further than anyone hailing from or traveling through these cities to reach Denver and all that our great city offers. Yet, despite this large discrepancy in distance traveled and because of where my wife and I were born, in the eyes of the United States government, our move is deemed legal. It likely drew very little attention from federal authorities perhaps besides the postal service when we updated our address and recently the IRS when we filed our taxes. We were born in the United States.
Many people seeking to travel to and perhaps live in the United States through various ways in Mexico were not born in the United States. As such, if they make the journey and enter our country without prior permission from the proper authorities, they are deemed to have committed a criminal act.
This hit home for me while I was attending the Western Jurisdiction’s Immigration Task Force training this past April in Los Angeles. We kept hearing stories about people migrating to the U.S. I couldn’t help but think of my own recent migration. We had been listening to several individuals share their stories of how they had made the dangerous journey by foot, train, and other means from Central American countries through Mexico and to the United States only to be detained once they entered the U.S.
Their stories were powerful, painful, and sobering; but unfortunately, their stories aren’t unique. In fact, I’ve heard these stories before. After all, I serve as the lead pastor of Park Hill UMC. For almost nine months, we have partnered with our friends at Temple Micah (with whom we share a building), to offer our space as sanctuary to Araceli Velasquez. Araceli traveled from El Salvador, a roughly 1,500-mile journey to McAllen, Texas that many others have made and continue to make to seek asylum, to seek refuge and to seek help here in the United States. She was granted it temporarily until this past summer when her asylum case was denied. Since August, she has lived in the basement of Park Hill and Temple Micah largely because she migrated to the United States for a better life, but wasn’t born here, while I migrated within the United States and have lived freely because I was born here.
I am fairly new to the realm of immigration work and the various implications of such. As I tell my church and larger community, we are all learning as we go. I readily admit that. I understand that laws, rules, and order are important.
However, I am not new to the love and justice that God calls us as Christians to practice. I also know that we are called to be followers and participants of God’s family. The passage quoted from Leviticus is one of many throughout the Bible of God’s imperative and example that we are called to love those labeled as immigrants, aliens, and outsiders as if they are one of us. By offering sanctuary to Araceli and welcoming her husband, Jorge, and their sons, Jorge Jr., Christopher, and Kevin, we at Park Hill UMC are trying each day to live in this manner.
Araceli, those in sanctuary, and thousands of others seeking help in and through our country need your help. First, pray. Pray for all those people seeking the same life you and I are fortunate enough to experience every day, challenges and all. If you are in the metro Denver area, we at Park Hill and Temple Micah can always use more volunteers to help in several different ways with our sanctuary efforts with and for Araceli. You can learn more about the help that is needed by following this link:
Finally, wherever you may call home today, from wherever you might have come, but especially if you call Colorado your home­­­—I invite you to sign the People’s Resolution. Araceli has joined the other three strong women in Colorado currently living in sanctuary—Ingrid, Sandra, and Rosa—to create a resolution that asks our elected officials to help create a path for each of them and others to citizenship. You can follow the link below to read their stories, read the resolution, sign it, and take action on it.
I offer a special thank you to my clergy colleagues the Rev. Angie Kotzmoyer and Rabbi Adam Morris, who help our communities to live this life of love each day and to the Rev. Eric Smith, my predecessor at Park Hill UMC, who led in this work before my own migration to Denver. I look forward to working more with these colleagues and with many of you as I chair the Mountain Sky Area Immigration Task Force. We will all work together to make our churches, neighborhoods, our area and beyond a place where the light and love of God is daily experienced and lived out by all.
No matter how many miles we have traveled to call the Mountain Sky Area our home, God loves us and implores each of us to share that love with all people no matter where they were born, what language they speak, or what borders they may have crossed whether they were in compliance with our country’s laws or not. We are called to love. Love because they are a part of us. Love as our God loves them, and us as God loves us all. May we all continue to strive to do so. May all people know that they are indeed a part of us. May we know it, too.