Every day we read about people and places in crisis. We talk about our worries in church during our reflection and prayer time, and we share resources for service and action. Still, it is too easy sometimes to turn away because of something known as “compassion fatigue.” Too much, too often, too hard. Our faith asks that we not turn away, however, but instead to turn to God for strength and renewed resilience.
The following letter was sent to all UCC communities in the Northern California Nevada Conference of the UCC last week by Rev. Ken Iha, our Interim Conference Minister. May his words remind us that even as we share in the pain of the world, we also share in the call to serve in love — and that we are stronger because we serve together.
Thanks be to God!
“I ask you, as people and communities of faith, to continue to be aware of and informed about our troubled, hurting world: Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Nigeria, Sudan, Central America (and its emigrants) and many other places and situations. The news is almost overwhelming, in addition to what we personally may be dealing with, and it would be easy to succumb to ignorance and compassion and justice-seeking fatigue and frustration. But I ask you to pray and continue to respond in ways that make a difference, be it through contributions for relief aid, volunteering with groups that organize relief, writing letters of concern to President Obama and members of Congress, and whatever ways you can imagine.
I pray for your purity of heart and clarity of vision that will allow you to live in the face of suffering, violence and evil and not be overcome by them. May you continue to be a source of blessing to those around you and to our world.”
~ Ken Iha
One of the reasons many of us have chosen to belong to the United Church of Christ is our abiding belief that God has called us to be in community. We believe that God speaks to individuals and we believe that when those individuals gather to discern a common pathway, the light of love is magnified.
We also believe that our best discernment comes as we work together at the grass roots– not from edicts or obligations given to us by a centralized structure of authority. This is the congregational way: the discernment of God’s calling happens first at the local level, moving outward as we join in covenant with other like-minded and hearted communities.
There is excitement in that process, for it means that we can break with tradition when we feel called, in areas of worship, organization – even social justice. It is not a coincidence that the first woman to be ordained was a Congregationalist – in 1857. Or that the first gay minister was ordained here in one of our local sister congregations, decades before other denominations were able to make that move toward openness. The “local” part of our local communities means we can each have a voice, each join in the debates and discussion, each influence the movement of our ministries, as we feel called by God.
We also understand that if we seek to follow in Jesus’ Way as a community, it is up to us to do the work along the way. Nobody can tell us what we must or cannot do. Yet with that freedom comes responsibility, for we must work together regularly and intentionally to make the most of our mutual ministry.
We at First Congregational Church of Redwood City will be meeting this next Sunday, July 20th , for our Annual Meeting. We always have fun at these meetings, as we catch up with each other and hear about what went well (and what didn’t) in the past year, and prayerfully plan for the future. It is a commitment we make to one another and this community to try and be there, but it is much more: it is a sharing of the joy and the opportunity to make a difference through our faith.
I hope to see many of you there. It is a privilege to love one another and serve our community together. Come share your voice, your hopes, your prayers and your creativity. And then stay for dinner in the Fosgett’s lovely backyard – because we have much to celebrate as a community of faith!
Thanks be to God!
Perhaps the greatest challenge of faith is knowing how to respond to real world, real time problems. Where do we start, as we try to find our path through the unfolding events of our lives?
On Sunday, we began with prayer. We lifted our concerns about the migrant children seeking refuge at our borders. We prayed for them and their families, for the fears that sent them away from home. Then we prayed for our country and countries involved, knowing that we need more knowledge to help guide us all as we respond to their needs.
As a step in gaining more knowledge on this issue, we are reprinting an update on the UCC response to the recent migration of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. A more detailed analysis of who these children are and why this recent influx has occurred is available from the United Nations Refugee Committee. A copy of their report is in our office and online (http://www.unhcr.org/53206a3d9.html).
This crisis is multi-dimensional. It will require international and regional responses to the systemic problems in the countries from which these children flee. That makes it a political problem, and an important one to address with our elected representatives. As people of faith, however, it requires that we always start by prayerfully responding to the immediate, human needs of the people involved, no matter the politics. What we do and how we respond to these children is a spiritual and ethical issue. Our faith gives us excellent guidelines about what to do when we meet people in crisis: we ask what they need, and then we seek to serve them with love.
May it be so, today and always.
UCC congregations address humanitarian crisis
of unaccompanied migrant children
Written by Emily Schappacher
July 8, 2014
They are coming to the United States in waves. Thousands of unaccompanied children, primarily from Central America, are crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico, looking to escape violence and poverty at home. To address this humanitarian crisis, President Obama plans to ask Congress on Tuesday for more than $2 billion in emergency funding to help the children seeking refuge, as lawmakers and federal agencies wrestle with ways to stem the flow.
While this urgent and ever-changing situation is leaving many to feel helpless, United Church of Christ members and congregations throughout the country are stepping up to do what they can to help these children in need. “When this story first hit our television screens, as an American, I was profoundly ashamed as I watched angry local residents shouting at innocent children with fear-filled faces,” said the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries. “However, the outpouring of care, protection, and support for these frightened children by thousands of local volunteers all across our nation renewed my faith in human generosity and compassion being demonstrated in the face of this tragic set of circumstances.”
On Tuesday, dozens of congregations from the Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC will be represented in a faith-based delegation that will travel to Naval Base Ventura County in Oxnard, Calif., that is currently housing hundreds of migrant children. Organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the United Methodist Church, the group will seek entrance into the naval base to ensure transparency and oversight at the facility, assess its conditions, and advocate for the children being held inside.
“Once we hear back from the delegation in Ventura, we will know more about the needs there and how we can assist,” said Keith Clark, executive associate conference minister of the Southern California Nevada Conference. “It’s a situation where we will have to assess what is being done and how we can help with the immediate situation. I’m sure there will also be advocacy for the broader issues involved.”
The Southern California Nevada Conference is also urging its congregations to send supplies to the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which is collecting donations to distribute to the young refugees. Items of immediate need include baby wipes, diapers, baby formula, baby food, bottles, antibacterial lotions/dispensers, juice boxes and sealed snacks. [Go to the SDIRC site (www.immigrantsandiego.org) for more information on how you can help]
“We are called to care for the least of these and called to greet and care for the immigrant as well,” Clark said. “It’s the responsibility of the faith community and the UCC to meet the needs of these strangers who have come into our midst, and to help communities understand how we can have a loving response to those who are seeking our help.”
The faces we have been seeing on television are heartbreaking: hundreds of children, huddled in detention centers at the US borders, waiting for help. On Sunday, this image was in our minds as we shared these words from Jesus:
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple,
truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matt. 10:42)
I was asked to find out what the UCC knows and is doing about this crisis. The missive below, written just a week ago, is a starting point. I will be sharing more resources in the coming weeks, but for now, here is some context. May our prayers and our actions align with this most immediate call to act as Jesus’ followers in this time and place in history.
UCC response to crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America
Written by United Church of Christ Immigration Task Force
June 17, 2014
We are facing an escalating humanitarian crisis with the increase of migrant children crossing the United States/Mexico border at an alarming rate. Doubling every year since 2011, more than 47,000 children have already attempted the journey so far in 2014. The face of the child migrant has inundated the news cycle, with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services unable to handle the number of children who, by law, are required to be processed to determine the safest option for each child. This often means waiting in the U.S. with a family member or foster parent for an immigration court case.
It is because of dire circumstances that a child chooses to migrate thousands of miles. A report from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees shows that many of these children are fleeing violence, conscription into gangs, and threats to their personal safety, including gender- and sexual- based violence.
As people of faith, we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The majority of unaccompanied children are arriving from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, all of which have seen changing migration patterns due to extreme poverty, violence and rising homicide rates. Displacement rates from these countries into neighboring Belize, Mexico and Nicaragua have soared by 435 percent, according to a recent United Nations report. Likewise, deportation numbers of Guatemalans from Arizona have risen 24 percent in 2014.
Common misconceptions are that policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or lax border security have caused increased Central American migration. However, the Department of Homeland Security has a record 21,000 border patrol agents. Prosecutions of “illegal entries” have risen 130 percent since 2007, and the Obama Administration is spending $18 billion per year on border security measures. We know that these children are not motivated by U.S. policies – they and their parents are making life-or-death decisions based on increased violence and few options for safety.
Many UCC Congregations across the country are wondering how they can help in this time of crisis. The U.S. government is required to take care of these children until the Department of Health and Human Services determines the best space for them, so there is no need for food or supply donations as in many emergency situations. Instead, we have mapped out several action steps for both advocacy and service opportunities.
Ways to Engage:
• If you live near an immigrant holding facility, you may want to start a detention visitation ministry. Check list of detention centers throughout the country and research if they are holding unaccompanied children.
• Volunteer with a program that is helping unaccompanied children, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service, Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services, or Kids In Need of Defense.
Visit the UCC website for more information (www.ucc.org).
Hal Holly is new friend of this congregation. He recently re-located from his long time home where he had been an active member of his church. No longer able to get out and make the commute to his former church, he nonetheless remains a man of active faith. Whenever I stop by for a visit, I enjoy conversations which flow easily through topics as varied as the bible, different religions, and naval aviation.
On one of my most recent visits, he shared with me a rather disconcerting experience he had had the night before. He had fallen and found himself unable to get up. What did you do? I asked. Well, he said, I stayed there for awhile and then I prayed. Eventually, I just prayed myself up.
I’ve been thinking about that phrase for awhile: “I prayed myself up.” I asked Hal if I could share his story because I think it touches on something we all experience, in one way or another. For Hal, it was lying on a cold floor in the middle of a dark night, feeling too weak to get up by himself. For me, it was finding my husband after he’d had a heart attack, and knowing we both needed help. For you, maybe it was when you were lost or sick or in deep grief. But for all of us, there are times in our lives where we realize we simply do not have the strength on our own to face what it is we have in front of us – and yet we have to face it anyway. And so we turn to God, and lean into the power of the Spirit, and we pray. We pray ourselves up.
Richard Rohr writes about this profound powerlessness, saying that it is precisely in the moments when we recognize our own weakness that we are most fully open to God. It is in getting beyond the need to see ourselves as invincible and omnipotent that we can actually see what is right in front of us all the time:
God’s hand reaching out to lift us up, no matter how we have fallen. This understanding, he writes, “…is a spirituality of imperfection, in contrast in Western Christianity’s emphasis on perfection, performance, and willpower.” (Daily Meditations June 15, 2014) In recognizing what is real, our own impermanence and eventual frailty, we are cracked open enough to receive the light, and to pray.
This prayer can take may forms. Sometimes it consists of just one word: ‘help’. Other times it is the sudden wordless recognition that God is there, and we are not alone. In those moments, in concert with our loving God, we reach out to the hand already extended, and indeed “pray ourselves up.”
Hal flew many combat missions in World War II. He knows what it is to take control and be strong and call on every skill you have to make it through difficult times. Yet he knows beyond doubt that when he could not do it on his own, God did not forsake him. Thank you, Hal, for telling me and allowing me to share this story. May it remind us that we can turn to God anywhere, anytime, and God will always lift us up.
Thanks be to God!
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011