A United Methodist Response to Immigration – Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

A few weeks ago United Methodist leaders from General Board of Church & Society visited the valley with Bishop Schnase. Among those visiting was Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. Reflecting on the trip, she wrote this reflection entitled “A Meditation on Psalm 84:  In light of 48 Hours in McAllen with Rio Texas friends and Sunday morning with Mt Sylvan UMC, Durham, NC.”

Approaching my aisle seat on row 17, I saw a beautiful boyish face and smiled.  He smiled back with eager shyness.  We were both departing McAllen.  It was 104 degrees outside, yet he wore a new sweatshirt, bright blue.  I remembered that color, that sweatshirt.  With a glance to his feet, I recognized his shoes as well.  We had seen those sweatshirts and those shoes in Ursula, the immigration processing center in McAllen.  Four large wire “pods” were created in the 55,000 square feet of quickly erected human warehouse on Ursula Street.  The detainees were sorted by gender and age and family status:  boys 10-17, girls 10-17, mothers with small children, and men with small children. Strongly air-conditioned, the space was cold.  Girls and boys, women and men wrapped in mylar “space” blankets, thin but effective for warmth.  On shelves were sweatshirts, mostly bright blue.  On a cart were new canvas shoes, slip-ons and lace-ups.  My traveling neighbor was wearing slip-ons.

 My heart ached.  This beautiful child beside me, no longer in Ursula, remained in the cold, siloed frightening maze of the immigration system of the United States.

 I longed for greater facility in Spanish,  but seeing that he welcomed my attempts with a smile, I ventured as far as my vocabulary would take me.  I learned that he was 12, from Honduras, a first- flier but not fearful of being in the air, alone but with a group of 4 on the plane, headed to New York.  I glanced forward to scan for other sweatshirts and immediately saw two more, about eight rows forward.

 We had been told that when the children are moved, they are given new shoes and sweatshirts.  Accustomed to desert heat, they experience the chill of air-conditioning.  The shoes and clothing help them blend in and not draw attention. 

 The beautiful boy pulled his hood up, glancing over from time to time with a grin.  I turned to work more on my sermon for Sunday.  The appointed text was Psalm 84, a personal favorite, made more so by the use of the Psalm as our conference theme for a quadrennium.  “Strength to Strength.”

 I fought back tears as I meditated upon the lovely image nestled in the Psalm:  Even a sparrow finds a home, a swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.

 In McAllen, we met with people on all sides of the ongoing crisis:  Customs and Border Patrol, Ursula staff, organizations offering comfort and help.  Custom and Border Patrol staff told us that there was one constant in every arrest.  Whether younger or older, alone or with others, all who was apprehended had the same first words:   “Tienes agua?”  “Do you have water?”

 Psalm 84 describes the desert wilderness.  As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs, the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength. . .

 Jesus described the welcome and blessing of God as giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones.

 We blessed 190 backpacks for children at nearby public schools this morning at Mt. Sylvan United Methodist Church.  They were beautifully arranged around the altar.  Each backpack has a laminated tag.  On one side of the tag:  You are Strong.  You are Protected.  You are Loved.  On the other side of the tag:  This backpack belong to__________        and has been blessed by Mt Sylvan Church.   A backpack, a cup of cold water – tangible means of grace.

 A baby girl at Mt Sylvan is named Sparrow.  How lovely!  I asked her mom and dad about the name.  They replied that they chose it from the Bible, so that she would always know that she is safe.

 I suppose I was not meant to know the name of my traveling companion on the flight from McAllen to Dallas.  It occurred to me to have him write it down because I could not understand it as he pronounced it, trying several times with repeated laughter at my attempts to say it.  For some reason I let it be, even after glancing at his boarding pass where it was spelled out. 

 Named and loved by God, blessing my journey and touching my heart, he becomes every child for me.  Real, incarnate, beautiful – even more than himself.  In his honor, this morning we pray for him, and for every child,  to be as safe as the sparrows in the Bible.  God who cares for the birds will also care for us.  But will we care for each other, for all in the human family, young and old, near and far?

Psalm 84, with poetry of sparrows and swallows, of desert heat and refreshing water, of doors and doorkeepers, of weakness and strength, of humility and confidence, is alive with invitation.  Let us be strong to receive it, love it, live it, dream it, create it for all God’s children.

Fearless Dialogues

A Word from Teresa – 9/7/18

Earlier this summer, my family celebrated my sister’s wedding at the State Capitol. It was a small, lovely service. After the reception, my siblings, our spouses and our children walked around downtown to soak up just a bit more time together. At one point my daughter and I were several steps behind everyone else when we passed a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. I rushed by, holding my daughter’s hand and pulling a bit so that we could quickly catch up with everyone. After we passed by, Clare said, “Mom, you weren’t very nice to that man.” I stopped in my tracks. “You’re right”, I said, “What do you think we should do?” She looked at her bag of cookies from the reception and said, “We could give this to him?” I said, “That sounds good.” We turned back and Clare offered the man the cookies, which he readily received. As we walked away, Clare said, “You know, mom, it’s not about the cookies. It’s about treating people like they matter.” As any parent knows, it’s humbling to have your own words come out of your child’s mouth. Even more so for them to pick up on the fact that you don’t always practice what you preach.

I know I’m not the only person who has been convicted by the things her kid has said. 

Over the summer, I spent time looking back at old journals. I came across some notes I’d jotted down at the last Jurisdictional Conference. The last morning of the conference, Bishop Schnase met with the delegation for an informal breakfast. The night before we had heard he would be assigned to Rio Texas Conference and this was an opportunity for him to share and begin casting vision. Among the words he spoke were these: “We need to be about crossing borders.” 

In life, we encounter a great number of borders – both literal and figurative. Clare helped me cross a border to engage the homeless man we saw. At other times, we might cross a border by engaging in conversation with people who do not have our same values or theological perspective. Many of our congregations are engaged in border-crossing ministries as they connect with the changing mission field around their churches. When we consider borders, my heart is also drawn to the many persons who have crossed the border along the Rio Grande Valley in search of safety and a better life. 

Last week, Bishop Schnase and the cabinet met in McAllen. Part of our time together was spent hearing the testimonies of our own Rev. Robert Lopez and Rev. Laura Merrill. They shared about their experiences along the border. Days earlier, these two colleagues had led worship at the Tornillo detention center. They were quick to say that the invitation to be there was a privilege, and of course heart-breaking. They described the powerful experience of being asked to lead worship, only to find that the young people embodied the very spirit of the word liturgy – which means “the work of the people.” As we visited together, we shared a desire for future visits to the McAllen area. As District Superintendent of El Valle, Rev. Lopez is committed to arranging these opportunities for groups throughout the conference who are interested in learning more and being in prayer. While a trip from the Austin area is not yet scheduled, feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in such an opportunity.

I am grateful for the ways you follow Jesus in crossing borders. As you well know, the crisis along our south Texas border is complex. I have much to learn. I think back to the homeless man I quickly passed on the streets. I confess at times it’s a metaphor for how I live my life. On any given day, it is easier to avoid people who make me uncomfortable and to ignore news that is painful. I need God to strengthen me for the journey of crossing borders. I need to remember that being uncomfortable is often what leads to my own transformation. Perhaps we all need children to lead us and show us the way.

Be encouraged,


It is at the margin that we fulfill the mission of the church. – Bishop Schnase

There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried. – Oscar Romero

 Staying Posted about Teresa’s out of town travel:

The Leadership Institute at Church of The Resurrection takes place later this month. With my Fall schedule, I’ll unfortunately not be able to make it to Kansas City for this event. I attended years ago and know this will be a rich time of learning for all who go. Let me know if you and/or folks from your church are planning to attend!

September 12-15: In Chicago for Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s Fall Board Meeting

October 4-5: In Oklahoma City for South Central Jurisdictional Meeting

October 11-13: In San Antonio for Do No Harm Conference

November 7-9: In Dallas for Texas Methodist Foundation event for District Superintendents in South Central Jurisdiction

Pastors & Professionals Mtg and Safe Gathering Training Sept 2018

Pastors and Professionals meeting

Tuesday, September 25

9:30 am – 12:00 noon

Tarrytown UMC – Administrative Building

2531 Exposition (corner of Exposition & Greenlee)




Safe Gatherings facilitated certification session

1:30 – 3:30 pm

Same place, same space – Tarrytown UMC

Register at https://riotexas.org/safetrainings

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