MCC leaders fasting for immigration reform

Sep 22, 2013 by and

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Saulo Padilla is fasting for immigration reform. And the hunger he feels is familiar. mcc-fasters A few years ago while living in Goshen, Ind., his daughters were threatened with deportation. For four days they waited for border patrol officers to make a decision. “There was a hole in our gut every day,” he said. “This is the same hole in my gut that I feel now when I’m hungry.” Padilla coordinates the immigration education national program for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He’s joined the Fast Action for Immigration Reform, a national effort Sept. 9-Oct. 18 organized by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which MCC is a member. There are 6,300 and counting registered participants in the 40-day fast, including four from MCC: Padilla, executive director J Ron Byler, board chair Ann Hershberger and Virginia representative of MCC East Coast Luke Schrock-Hurst. All are skipping at least one meal a day during the work week. Current politics are adding pressure for immigrants and activists, Padilla said. With energy unexpectedly focused on Syria early this month, House leaders said immigration reform was not likely to be addressed this fall. Many fear a window of opportunity is closing, because election campaigns begin in the spring. “[There] is a sense of urgency for us to start speaking more vocally about immigration reform,” Padilla said. “If we don’t pass immigration reform at this point, then who knows when it will come up again?” He, Byler, Hershberger and Schrock-Hurst are fasting for many reasons, but all want to urge the church to get more involved. Along with using meal times for prayer or contemplation, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition urges action with resources at fastaction.us and regular email updates. Take the energy forward For Mennonite Church USA, immigration issues were brought to the forefront in July at the national convention in Phoenix. “I am very impressed with the depth of conversation and desire that I experienced at Phoenix at the convention,” Byler said. “And I’m equally impressed with what I see as a desire to take that energy forward.” Delegates decided to revise a 2003 document regarding immigration. Padilla is part of the team reviewing the document. “I hope we will make sure that this continues to be in the forefront of the church,” Padilla said. Byler said there’s enough material in the Bible about loving people on the margins that all people of faith have reason to support reform. It starts with the Israelites of the Old Testament. “They’re people on the move, and they’re dependent on others for their well being at times,” he said. “There’s significant conversation about laws for caring for foreigners, strangers.” He’s disappointed more didn’t join the fast and action. “I’m embarrassed by the smallness of this effort,” Byler said. “We want to identify with the folks that are suffering, but what we’re doing is barely able to identify with the depths of the suffering around us.” Spiritual connection In Padilla’s life and work, immigration issues can’t be ignored. But immigrants, he said, are part of or affect every community in some way. No one should be able to ignore the issues. The hole — the hunger — he currently feels in his stomach connects him to them. “When they get up and they get in their cars, they have a hole in their gut, that sensation that they don’t know if they’re going to come back,” he said. “There are people in the church who have carried that for 15 years.” The hunger Ann Hershberger feels when she fasts each day from 10 a.m. until dinner reminds her of undocumented students in the nursing classes she teaches at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. Many can’t get loans or jobs because they don’t have social security numbers. “I have worked with some immense suffering and mental health results of that lost potential,” she said. “People who we have invested in our local school systems and then say, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ ” The fast helps her connect to the spiritual aspect of the issues. Initially, she agreed to do the fast because of the specific situation of one student. “It starts with the personal and then moves broader than that,” she said. “That is because of the spiritual connection. This work cannot be done without a miracle.” Hurst-Schrock, a pastor in Harrisonburg, feels the same way. “Something like this is clearly spiritual,” he said. “It takes a miracle to happen for the complexity of the issue of immigration.” Schrock-Hurst and Hershberger both served with MCC in Latin America, where they saw firsthand the reasons people move to the U.S. Hershberger saw work opportunities lost by farmers in Nicaragua because of trade agreements. Hurst met people fleeing conflicts in El Salvador. And it surrounds them in Harrisonburg, where there’s a high population of immigrants, many of whom are refugees.

“It’s those personal connections in an ongoing way here that sensitized me to what’s at stake,” Schrock-Hurst said. He thinks it’s a connection all Anabaptists should be able to make. “The growth edge of our people here in the Shenandoah Valley is going to be immigrant churches,” he said. Byler said that’s a trend in all of MCC’s constituent denominations. “This is not about folks outside our community. This is folks within our community,” he said. Byler has been using his lunch hour to read Our God Is Undocumented, by Mennonite theologian Ched Myers. “Early Anabaptists were people on the move,” he said. “It just seems so appropriate for Anabaptists to give special attention to the questions that surround us today regarding immigration.” Schrock-Hurst asked: “If we as an immigrant, refugee people historically cannot open ourselves to the story of this immigrant generation, who is going to?”

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