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Called to Reach Out to Those in Need

A letter from Amanda Craft serving as Regional Liaison for Mexico and Guatemala

December 2016

Write to Amanda Craft
Write to Omar Chan

Individuals: Give online to E200512 for Amanda Craft’s and Omar Chan’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507508 for Amanda Craft’s and Omar Chan’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

As we move through traffic, I think how much we must seem like ants scrambling to find space as they rush through each other. I am back in Guatemala City, and each time I come here I am struck by how dense and congested this city is. Just when I think not another person could fit in, more houses are built on precarious mountainsides or on the margins now gobbled up by urban sprawl. It sends me back to another image. I’m recalling fathers sharing their first warm meal with their children in weeks.

I’m thinking about those first few families we welcomed into University Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas; families who happened to be from Guatemala and El Salvador. They were hungry, thirsty, lacking clean clothes, and had been held in a detention cell. This was the first place in the United States where they were greeted with care and mercy. In this Advent season I understand what it means to be able to love freely.

These families who walked into the church were from Central America—four families from Guatemala and one from El Salvador. They were weary from their travels and weary from worry and distrust as they carried their children with them. All of them were applying for refugee status in the United States and were released that night from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Had the church not opened its doors, they could have spent several nights on the street as they tried to make arrangements to reach their families and friends in the United States. We offered them a safe place, we offered them hot meals, we helped contact their families and help their families make the necessary travel arrangements. We provided clean clothing and a clean shower. We provided spiritual accompaniment. We played with their children. But most of all, we embraced them lovingly after a journey that was anything but loving. We welcomed strangers in and know they will never be strangers again. And during this season of Advent, what more can we do?

We could spend hours arguing over the United States’ complex and restrictive immigration laws. We could spend hours talking about governments that lack the will or ability to care, protect, or provide for their citizenry. We could spend hours talking about how sovereign governments have the right to protect their borders. We could spend hours arguing about why people cross without the proper documents into the United States. We could spend hours talking about how the economy of the United States is intensely dependent on cheap labor and cheap materials. However, as I ponder the miraculous birth of Jesus these questions are not the urgent ones.

As Christians we are called to reach out to those in need. In those moments of need we share together in the suffering but also in the mercy, kindness, and love that God offers. This idea takes me back to a scripture passage. In Matthew 25:37-39 Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” His disciples respond by asking when they did these things to him. He replies that when we do these things to the least of God’s children, we do them to God. These acts of mercy done in God’s name are done for God.

As only one church in El Paso, Texas, we know our assistance in welcoming guests into the church facilities is a small drop in the bucket of the immigration story between Central America and the United States. It’s a small glimpse of the story that happens each day worldwide. But no matter how small, the ministry is significant, and not only for our guests. University Presbyterian Church (UPC) has been working the past few years with the border ministry site Pasos de Fe. Pasos de Fe had historically facilitated north to south mission. As they worked with UPC, they realized they had an opportunity to start a south to north mission. They created a Spanish-language service that serves Spanish-speaking individuals on the western side of El Paso. The pastor is from Mexico. It has been a slow trudge forward as both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking congregations have been challenged with how to mingle and blend. Omar and I have been steadily encouraging more interaction and engagement. Miraculously, the ministry to Central American refugees provided the perfect platform.

This particular ministry requires Spanish. It requires an understanding of what these individuals have experienced. The Spanish-language congregation brought the language and the understanding. In ministering to these families, the members of this smaller Spanish congregation have found their voices and their power at the table. The English-language congregation understands their dependence on the gifts these individuals offer. These two congregations become equal partners at the table. Omar and I help facilitate the dialogue, but all of the members bring special gifts that are needed and welcome. We may only be providing services to a small number of individuals in need, but this ministry is creating swaths of change at University Presbyterian Church.

We also know that those who have passed through our doors are truly touched by the grace they are offered. Several still contact Omar to let him know how they are or how their legal case is going. They always ask that Omar let the congregation know how grateful they are for the kindness that was given. Their journeys have not yet ended, but we pray that during Advent they find safety, security, and enough to provide their families with a special holiday. We know we will be celebrating the season with both the Spanish- and English-language congregations at UPC, and we will be praying that these families are finding their way. And may God’s heart be filled with the joy that we can give so freely.

This ministry can only happen because you all support us, prayerfully and financially. Omar and I have found a special satisfaction as we watch these two worlds collide—Guatemala and the United States. We know how difficult and dangerous life can be in Guatemala. So, thank you for providing us with the strength and financial support to be able to extend ourselves in such a meaningful way. Please know that your gifts are being well used. And if you feel called to assist more, we thank you.

This Advent season is about slowing down and remembering the promises God shared through the gift of Jesus. We have been honored to be a part of this unique and mercy-filled work. It allows us to witness the bright star that leads the way. We hope you find God working in similar ways in your life during this special season.

Amanda

Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)
Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Amanda Craft and Omar Chan this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout Mexico.

Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Omar and Amanda. Our global church partners greatly value their service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Mexico.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Amanda and Omar doing the life-giving work God called them to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,

Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


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