Grant to help conference with March border trip

David Burke

1/11/2023

A $10,000 grant from the General Commission on Religion and Race will go toward a border immersion opportunity for those in the Great Plains Conference wanting to learn more about immigration. 

The immersion trip, under the umbrella Justice Encounters, will be March 23-28. 

Leaders from the Great Plains Conference went on a border immersion trip in March. Photo courtesy Central Texas Conference

The grant will alleviate some of the cost for the 35 people who have signed up for the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. The conference’s mercy and justice team already had committed to paying half of the cost for the participants, said the Rev. Anne Gahn, chair of the mercy and justice committee. 

“We feel like it’s a really foundational experience as we continue to build up leaders for racial justice in the conference,” Gahn said. “It was important for us to put our money where our mouth was.” 

The funding, the Rev. Sarah Marsh said, also allows a second civil rights trip later this year to Alabama. 

“We didn’t know if we could offset the cost,” said Marsh, conference mercy and justice coordinator. 

Similar to the border immersion taken by the extended cabinets of the Great Plains and Central Texas conferences, as well as mercy and justice leaders, was led by then-Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. last August, the March trip will take leaders to and across the border in Mexico to look at conditions and hear about the concerns of those working with immigration. 

“We knew we were looking for this type of experience, so the chance to travel with the bishop and the cabinet was extraordinary,” Gahn said of her journey last summer. “We could incorporate a system of learning, a system of relationship building, all of those key pieces that are just going to be really good to build the foundation for more.” 

The 35 people from the Great Plains who have signed up are a nice mixture of clergy and laity, rural and urban, and justice veterans and newcomers. 

“We feel a good mix of mercy- and justice-minded folks who are not new to justice work but new to the immigration conversation,” Gahn said. “They’re stretching themselves a little bit.” 

Marsh said her most memorable experience from the trip in August was meeting a nun who ran a migrant respite center and talking with a family from Haiti who was seeking asylum in the United States. 

Andrea Paret, peace with justice coordinator, Rev. Anne Gahn, mercy and justice chair, then-Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and Rev. Sarah Marsh, mercy and justice coordinator, outside a historic Methodist Church in southern Texas. File photo

“I really understood after talking to Sister Norma, in particular, that the Haitians, most if not all of them, are denied asylum. (The woman I spoke with) wished she would have stayed in Mexico because it would get them on a path to residency. It was a very bittersweet moment in talking to the Haitian family.” 

Gahn said, “It was just a really good opportunity for a fuller, wider, deeper look at what is happening to, for and with people who are crossing the border.” 

As immigration continues to be a hot-button issue in the United States, Gahn said those involved in the work can get a better understanding seeing it first-hand. 

“What’s our response as people of faith? These people are human beings, they’re beloved children of God, and there’s a lot of pain and a lot of suffering,” she said. “If the church doesn’t have a faith-filled response, I think we’re missing the mark.” 

The border immersion, Gahn said, is just the beginning of the group’s justice commitment. 

“Our intent is not for this to be a one-and-done experience. Our intent is to be there and support each other for what is difficult work,” she said. “Find people’s niche, where they do feel called to serve and work. … That’s key, not only in our churches and our conference, but in our nation.” 

Marsh said the trip is part of a drive that started last summer by the conference to identify and raise up 26 justice leaders by 2026. 

“This is the first step to be building relationships with new people in our conference who would be drawn to this kind of ministry,” she said. “We’re trying to build community around the call to do justice, especially the kind that reaches across race and culture. This is the first step toward that goal.” 

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org


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