Last year, Sierra Pacific Mission Center President Zac Harmon-McLaughlin posted a sermon entitled, “Embody and Live” in a Community of Christ resource entitled Witness the Word. He encouraged us to create new ways of being as a community of Christ’s disciples— “… when we find ourselves in our neighborhoods, our communities, the places in which we live, and we begin to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, transforming lives through love, peace, joy and hope.” (Harmon-McLaughlin, 2018). In his message, I saw a strong connection to the teachings of Apostle Will Timms at the Seattle Stake reunion in 1977. Timms challenged us to create “a new culture, a counter-culture.” He suggested that we “organize ourselves” as Christ’s disciples to be “an effective power base” in the communities where we dwell and to “change the environment.” He said that we could become “a redeeming, reconciling influence” in our world. “(We) weren’t to be isolationists over here in the corner, feeling good in our own sanctification and goodness. (We) were to be a people called to a sense of mission, bringing to pass a new era and a new time.” I remember being inspired by Timms as Dave and I moved our family to the street behind the Crystal Springs church right around the time of that reunion. We were excited to be a part of something new in the community near the church and beyond. The fruits of that effort are still being shared and paid forward.
Twenty years after that reunion in 1997, Dave and I moved to the San Francisco Bay area for his new job. After five years of settling in and trying various ways to use my education skills, in 2002 I was supported by Dave to launch a program to teach English to immigrants at the Novato Community of Christ where we had been attending. Having lived the concept of geographical community at Crystal Springs, I convinced Dave to move to a house close to the Novato church. As a result, we met and shared in the lives of many immigrants who lived nearby. With them and volunteers from church and community, we provided English classes, including a Homework Club for the children of our students. Together, we wove the threads of community bonds.
Here is one of many stories of that interweaving. I met Elida Perez through the English classes at the church. She was taking care of one of my students who had come to the US to donate a kidney to her brother who lived here. I learned quickly that Elida lived out her faith in Jesus Christ as a devout Christian, giving of herself sacrificially to others.
After my student had recovered from surgery and gone home to Guatemala, Elida called me in March of 2007. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (ICE) had walked into her home at 7 am with rifles drawn to take everyone in the household to detention. The ICE officers had a warrant for a man who no longer lived there. Since the door to her house was open, ICE officers were legally allowed to take in anyone who was undocumented, including her teenage son, husband and herself. The family’s difficult journey had just begun, and we walked with them, in friendship and spiritual/emotional support. After many years of living with ankle bracelets, paying legal fees, being deported back to Guatemala, and separating from their older children, they are now back in the US on Humanitarian visas.
sWhen Elida’s family was taken in, many of our students were afraid that they could be ensnared by ICE. In response, we invited them to stay after class and share their fears and experiences. Together, and with other churches and organizations, we held “charlas”, or conversations, and learned about the law. Elida and her teenage children spoke at these events. In the process we assuaged fears— the ICE activity in the area was not aimed at picking up people at random. It was being driven for the most part by warrants that were backlogged in the Immigration system. As we learned together, we created “a sanctuary of Christ’s peace…” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:8c). At the same time, I attended the World Conference of 2007 where many concerned about immigration policies convened to share their experiences and ideas. Apostle Susan Skoor was then tasked with writing the first draft of an immigration policy for the church. That updated policy is still in place. (Statement on Immigration, www.cofchrist.org)
Years later, I had hired an experienced teacher, Jaime Goekler, to direct the ESL program which had grown to 120 adults and youth per year. She and I were in the church office one day struggling with plans for the coming year. The teacher for our younger children was leaving, and I did not want to do a search for a new teacher with the time that would entail. As we sat there, I heard the mail slot in the front door of the church clang up and down. Intrigued, I went out to the front door and peeked out. There was young Dulce, Elida Perez’s daughter, playing with the mail slot. She was with mom Elida who was taking a walk to show her visiting mother the church that had helped her in her journey. At that moment, I looked at Elida and remembered that she held an elementary teaching certificate from Guatemala, and she would be the perfect person for me to hire for our program. By then I had learned to hire bi-lingual Latina staff who could work appropriately with our parents and children….and Elida was willing to teach in our program. Here we were, weaving together once again the bonds of community. She continued as our teacher until we closed the program in 2017.
Then last summer, as Dave and I prepared to return to the Seattle area, I called Elida to say goodbye. She said that her family’s humanitarian visas would probably be rescinded, and they would have to return to Guatemala. But she said to me, “I am not worried because I believe we are in God’s hands.” Wow, I responded—you embody the peace Jesus promises. Her faith was a gift to me once again. In my walk with Elida, I learned that we are woven together as givers and receivers, no longer strangers and aliens, but family in God’s kingdom. I learned that new community in mission is about doing things with people, not for them, and trusting in God’s Spirit to lead into the future.
Here in the Crystal Spring’s congregation once again we are called to weave new community to support each spiritual journey and carry out Christ’s mission as a powerful leaven in the world.
Harmon-McLaughlin, Zac. Embody and Live.
Statement on Immigration, www.CofChrist.org
Timms, William E. Seattle Stake Reunion Classes and Sermons. (July, 1977)