Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Director the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo preaches on failing to see the faces among us
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Those attending the PC(USA)’s first-ever Young Adult Advocacy Conference, “Jesus and Justice,” concluded their time together Sunday morning with a silent march and a prayer at the steps of Old National Bank in Louisville, where on April 10, 2023, a former bank employee killed five people before being fatally shot by police.
“How long, O Lord, how long?” said Christina Cosby, a conference organizer who works in the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. “We cry out for the lives lost here in April.”
“Your scripture guides us, comforts us, gives us wisdom when we don’t have words to say,” Cosby said.
Another event organizer, Ivy Lopedito of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, read the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the director of advocacy in the PMA, then prayed, asking the Almighty to “consecrate this ground.”
Hawkins asked God to reshape weapons “into spoons to feed hungry children.”
“Make each of us a peacemaker,” Hawkins said. “Our souls are stirred to act, knowing we never act alone.”
“We pray each day for peace in the name of the One who sets us free,” Hawkins said. “Let all God’s people say, ‘Amen!’”
Earlier at the Presbyterian Center, a few blocks from Old National Bank, participants worshiped together, with the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, serving as preacher.
Before González-Castillo preached, participants offered up slam poetry, a medium they’d explored during a workshop offered by the Rev. Samuel Son, manager of Diversity and Reconciliation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. One young adult took on the moniker “UFO” for “Unidentified Foreign Object.” “I am Asian American — no, I am Alien American,” this young adult said. “Where is my home? I am not allowed to have one.”
“‘What is it to be oppressed?’ asked the straight Caucasian man,” said another advocate. “I have learned to give voice to those without one. After all, isn’t that what the church is? For now, I fight — not with fists, but with the way I live my life. Try to do your worst; I am a beloved child of God. I won’t just pray — I’ll advocate until the fighting ends.”
With help from the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, a group of drummers played a Funga, a welcoming song from Liberia.
Some conference-goers put words to their own advocacy stories. One from Southern California already has a history in a professional youth circus, where she was accomplished at foot archery and contortion. In 2017, she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway, speaking at the press conference that preceded the concert. The recipient that year was ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
As part of her personal advocacy, she visits schools to both perform and give talks. “It’s culminated in combining faith with these actions,” she told her fellow young adult advocates. “Demilitarizing and living in peace remain my main message.”
Another advocate discussed Title IX reforms that were needed on their college campus. “We didn’t just rant on social media,” this participant said. “We organized. We planted seeds without seeing how they turned out … It’s about taking that first step and being brave as you go forth.”
When it was his turn to preach, González-Castillo displayed the flag of Puerto Rico, which for nearly a decade had been forbidden in Puerto Rico. “It’s a sign that says, ‘We continue to resist,’” he said. His mother was born in the Dominican Republic and took an arduous journey by boat to Puerto Rico “to give her children something better.”
Growing up, González-Castillo said he appreciated the term “aquellos sin rostro,” or “those without a face.” He never really understood the phrase until as a college student he went one day to pick up his mother from her work cleaning offices. He asked several people where she might be, “and no one knew her. She was the cleaning lady. I learned [that day] she was one of those without a face.”
Part of PDA’s job is to “to celebrate and put the light on people who can speak for themselves,” González-Castillo said. “Our job is to move the spotlight to celebrate the work of those who are doing the work, the communities that have been invisibilized, recognizing that we have to continue to bother people and write letters over and over until change happens.”
Being an advocate is a role that’s not often celebrated, González-Castillo noted. “We don’t do it to be celebrated,” he told his fellow advocates. “We do it because it’s God’s call on our lives, to recognize the injustice we continue to see.”
We keep resisting,” he said. “While others continue to be invisible, we’ve got work to do.”
“My invitation is to look around and continue to find aquellos sin rostro,” he said. “They are all around us. … It could be as simple as you or me. The work of the church — the call we have received — is not just to preach the good word, but to make people live and celebrate the good work, to be ambassadors of hope and justice until the day there are no more aquellos sin rostro in our society. May God help us! Amen.”
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