A Letter from the Executive Director
January 18-25 is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The text chosen for this year is Acts 27-28, which focuses on Paul being shipwrecked on Malta and being shown “unusual kindness” (28:2). In reading about this week, I was moved by a reflection by the World Council of Churches which invites us to connect the story in Acts to current realities.
“Today many people are facing the same terrors on the same seas. The very same places named in the reading (27:1, 28:1) also feature in the stories of modern-day migrants. In other parts of the world many others are making equally dangerous journeys by land and sea to escape natural disasters, warfare and poverty. Their lives, too, are at the mercy of immense and coldly indifferent forces – not only natural, but political, economic and human. This human indifference takes various forms: the indifference of those who sell places on unseaworthy vessels to desperate people; the indifference of the decision not to send out rescue boats; and the indifference of turning migrant ships away. This names only a few instances. As Christians together facing these crises of migration this story challenges us: do we collude with the cold forces of indifference, or do we show ‘unusual kindness’ and become witnesses of God’s loving providence to all people?”
While these reminders are depressing, I am also encouraged. I find hope because you are anything but indifferent. I am proud to be with you battling forces that do not care enough about others. I am proud that this network witnesses to the power of unity. Your models and orientations are varied. But you collectively witness to the power of faith, service, and justice. In a world too focused on division, you exhibit kindness that is not unusual for you, but that challenges others.
This week, I was challenged regarding commitment to self-reflection and honesty. I joined pastors and activists from across the Christian spectrum to engage some of the terrors facing migrants today. As part of an annual faith leaders retreat, we visited churches in Tijuana, Mexico to learn about their ministry to migrants. We were challenged to understand how we can be kinder to those on dangerous journeys by understanding the supports and justice they need, which includes assessing both the helpful and harmful aspects of mission. We were encouraged to consider if our theologies needed deconstruction and reconstruction based on deeper understanding of other cultures, histories, and contexts. We were invited to recognize how our religious perspectives are shaped by the story and goals of America – and that other cultures may have a truer understanding of the Gospel because of their very different experiences.
During all this head-spinning and heart-wrenching reflection, we were shown great kindness.
We were guided with great spiritual hospitality by several “puentes”: multi-cultural, young leaders who live the often-painful borderland reality, and serve as a bridge of trust between the Brown Churches and predominately white churches. They shared in ways that were hard for them, but that were great gifts to us.
We were greeted at a shelter for migrants with a traditional Christmas feast that truly reminded me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Such welcome and plenty despite huge need. Such hospitality.
One leader (and really most of us) received gratitude and acceptance when he confessed and repented for decades of former mission work that disrespected the culture and people who were hosting us. Whether one finds that unusual or not may offer an invitation for reflection on many other realities.
As I return, I pray for openness to how God will keep moving in me, and that I will not collude with indifference or inadequate approaches to faith and relationship. I pray that Christian unity with an expanded circle of fellow disciples can teach me and strengthen me in the pursuit of justice. And I pray that you find more ways to give and receive unusual kindness that transforms your journey.
With you in service,