Recently, the Synod of the Sun has adopted the practice of trying to rotate its 2 yearly meetings throughout the 11 presbyteries that make up the synod. In the 2018-2019 cycle, the synod has met in Desoto, TX, Norman, OK, Little Rock, AR (at Ferncliff), and in McAllen, TX. The EP Forum, which consists of the presbytery leaders from each of the 11 presbyteries has followed suit in moving meeting locations throughout the synod. One of the benefits of this practice is the opportunity to witness and experience mission and service opportunities in the communities where we meet.
At the recent synod meeting in McAllen, the synod sponsored an “Imagine Compassion” event that was tagged on to the end of the synod meeting. In addition to our synod commissioner Kathy White from First Presbyterian Hot Springs, Marti and Leigh Woodruff from First United Presbyterian in Fayetteville attended along with Rev. Maggie Alsup who brought a group of students from Lyon College (a 14-hour van ride!!) An article about their experience is below.
During the 40 hour event, participants learned about issues along the border and were taken to various places that are helping with the humanitarian crisis there. Several of us walked across the border from Brownsville, TX into Matamoras. I had heard about the immigrants that were stranded there, waiting and hoping to be able to enter the United States. But it was startling to see the number of tents and people and the conditions they were living in. There were just a few portable toilets and showers to accommodate such a large crowd. Whichever side one takes on how to implement needed immigration reform, the humanitarian needs there are immense.
We were introduced to a group called “Team Brownsville”. They are able to organize groups to bring food across the border and provide much-needed food and assistance to the crowd of people waiting on the other side. As my group walked through the makeshift refugee village, I was surprised to see the community that had formed there. As the meals were being provided, people engaged us in conversation. Children were playing, a game of soccer was being played by youth, and a cheerful spirit was in the air.
All of that in spite of the fact that they were living in tents without mattresses, sharing just a few portable toilets and showers, and not knowing how long they would have to endure these conditions. I think the cheerful spirit was due that they were filled with such hope of entering the United States for a better way of life. But sadly, we learned that very few would be able to enter.
Last week, the presbytery leaders from our synod gathered for the EP Forum in New Orleans. As part of our schedule, we went to tour Whitney Plantation. Whitney Plantation is very different from the other plantation tours around the New Orleans area. This is the only plantation museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people. The stories of enslaved children that lived on the plantation have been documented along with extensive research of the area to provide a powerful and painful memory to the reality of life for so many enslaved people. As you walk along the grounds, stories are shared of the long hours of working in the sugar cane fields and the harsh punishment that was doled out. The last part of the tour took us to the “big house”. We entered from the back and when you walk into the front you notice the beautiful oak trees that line the entrance. I was humbled at the thought that on prior visits to New Orleans, I wanted to tour the beautiful plantations that were symbolic to me of the “grand old south”. On previous trips I failed to fully understand how much the beautiful plantations were built from the efforts of human beings that were treated as property and forced to endure unthinkable conditions.
I came back from both of these experiences feeling overwhelmed and asking the question, “what can I do” when the problems seem so great? I was given an example from a group of women I met at the airport when leaving McAllen. I had seen them the previous evening serving food in Matamoras. This was a group of six women who live in Indiana. Three of them go to the same church. Two joined them for a monthly book club and one brought her daughter. They had taken a week of vacation to come down and provide food. Their daily routine consisted of buying their supplies, cooking the meal and carrying the food and paper products across in wagons and serving meals for five days. Team Brownsville provided help with all the logistics including finding a kitchen where they could cook.
As I listened to their story, I thought about our Matthew 25 initiative. These women were moved by their faith in God, to respond in a tangible way to provide food to people who are in need. They were “Matthew 25 people”. In addition to being a Matthew 25 presbytery, or a Matthew 25 congregation, we need to be Matthew 25 people. We don’t have to travel to the Mexico border to find people that need to experience the love and grace of Christ in meaningful and tangible ways. There are plenty of needs right here in the communities where we live. I believe that Jesus calls us to be involved in addressing those needs and do more than just gathering for worship on Sunday morning.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we have so much to be thankful for. But I am reminded that far too many in our world will not enjoy a fabulous feast and won’t have as long of a list for gratitude. May we continue to be about the task of making the kingdom of heaven more of a reality here on earth, by becoming more intentional “Matthew 25 people”.
I continue to be grateful to be partnered with you in that task!!