About two weeks before Christmas, Christie Latona, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Emma Escobar, Coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Ministries for the BWC, and Julie Wilson, Chair of the BWC's Immigration Task Force, were south of San Diego, Calif., at the border with Mexico. They were there as part of a group of more than 300 faith leaders who marched to the wall on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, in a “moral call for migrant justice.”
“The Bible presents migration as an on-going, human phenomena, not as a crisis to be managed or a policy problem to be solved,” wrote Latona during the four-day trip. She shared her thoughts and lessons learned on the BWC website (www.bwcumc.org/united-to-love-at-the-border).
The trip was transformative. It also took her out of her comfort zone.
“I have a confession,” she wrote. “This kind of thing makes me very uncomfortable. I have never considered myself a protestor or social activist. While I have marched and helped plan and execute a rally in recent years, I have never participated in an action where civil disobedience was a part of the plan. I ended up as a part of our BWC delegation because Bishop Easterling's and Stacey Cole Wilson's, Executive Director of Justice and Service, schedules didn't allow them to go.”
Latona said that she wasn’t prepared to participate in the act of civil disobedience, but that Escobar and Wilson were. “I was seeking to discern what God was calling me to do.”
At 9 a.m. the day of the march, Latona suddenly found herself the keeper of several items for safekeeping. Watches, phones, jewelry, a Bible, and “a backpack that contained a battery with enough juice to recharge a car battery.” Latona carried that on the bus ride to the park, and the subsequent march to the ocean and the border.
“Soon after the picture of the United Methodist group was taken, buses were loaded based upon our role,” Latona wrote. “Risk-takers first, Peace Keepers second, and then the rest of us. The Rev. Carlos Rodriguez (Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference), the Rev. Duane Anders (Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference), Lori Valentine de Segovia (Virginia Annual Conference) and I redistributed our loads to accommodate the backpacks and bags of the risk-takers and boarded a bus.
Rodriguez was the designated UMC spokesperson who wasn't in the risk-taking group, Latona said. On the bus, he circulated the group photo and a message crafted in conjunction with the organizers of the action as an example of what can be shared.
At a press conference before the march, UMC participants stated their reasons for being at the wall.
"(The) UMC presence in San Diego, CA, at the ‘Love Knows No Borders’ faith manifestation demands the US government to:
Respect human rights with dignifying treatment to
End militarization in border communities. No more guards, soldiers
End detention, separation
Before the march, Latona wrote that they were powerfully reminded of why they were there.
“While people were there for a variety of personal reasons — including the recent tear-gassing of children, wanting to make love visible, and to help shed light on the current unjust immigration policies and more — we were there for a common purpose,” she wrote.
Dozens of protesters, including two United Methodist pastors, were arrested and charged with civil disobedience when they stepped across the barrier set up by the U.S. Border Patrol. Neither were from the BWC.
At the end of a long, emotionally exhausting day, Latona spoke with United Methodist News Service.
“The whole idea of humanization and how we miss that when we call people categories of things — migrants, immigrants — we lose the thread of the individual human story,” she said. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about what is a human right versus the political spin on the law. It is way more complex than many people understand.”
In addition to the blog posts, you are invited to go deeper by exploring a piece of the immigration/migration topic with a nine-part daily devotional that encourages you to pray, love and do. Learn more at bwcumc.org/united-to-love-at-the-border.