God and humanity, Immigrants, Latin America and humanity

It’s not about the ships.

The important thing is how cargo gets from one part of the world to another.

Sometimes the best way is on a ship that passes through the Canal.  But not all cargo stays in ships as it goes through the Canal.   The canal administration understands that is a node in a flow of global commerce from everywhere to everywhere.  The canal is an important part of Panama’s brand:  “Bridge of the World, Heart of the Universe.”

Panama is about connectivity between humans.   But the Canal doesn’t produce the

Who gets to participate in “being”? Images of refugee camps, part 1


What opportunities do people in the camps have to leave, to work, to create a future for themselves? How much does humanity lose when they are, seemingly, excluded from participating in the “ongoing event of being”?

I also wonder what happens when these places start to become “home”?

Are subjects here socialized into despair and swayed more easily to support terrorism or are they motivated by their experience to become contributors to a better world for all humanity? How does Jesus show up here?


Singular Things

This is the first in a series of posts about images of refugee camps. For three earlier posts about images of refugees, click here, here, and here.

1 Zaatari Refugee Camp, Dezeen

You’ve already seen this photo, or one like it. It’s Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, home to a large (though fluctuating) population of Syrian refugees—about 80,000 at the time of writing, according to the UNHCR data portal’s page on the camp, though it’s been higher. At the moment, Zaatari is probably the most famous refugee camp in the world, though there are many that are older, or bigger, or both. Politicians, diplomats, celebrities, and tourists visit it, and so do many, many journalists. That’s one of the reasons why I say that you’ve already seen this photo, or one like it: if you pay even the slightest bit of attention to the news media, your eyes have…

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Images of refugees, part 3: refugees at sea


Check with your grandparents before you decide what you think!

Singular Things

This is the third in a series of posts about images of refugees. For the first post, click here. For the second, click here.

Photographs of refugees on land often work to make both the refugees themselves and the landscapes they’re walking on interchangeable—so many huddled figures trudging across so many featureless bits of countryside. My last post explored some of the reasons for this: they’re partly to do with the choices that picture editors make, and partly to do with the standard formats of newspapers or news magazines and the cameras, lenses, and film that were typically used to take the photos that appeared in them. (Only rarely do refugees’ own views or choices come into it.) And in the post before that I wrote, more briefly, about the typical news photograph of a group of refugees in flight, burdened with their possessions. The aesthetic roots of…

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Immigrants, take America back!

Immigrants, Leadership, Life and Faith

The cover of Atlantic Magazine this month asks if America can put itself back together again. Convoluted thinker that I am, I wondered where this “again” came from and where (or who) some people want to take America “back” from (of course some of us know that it is on the brink).

When was America “together” in the first place?  If there was a time when this country was not on the brink, your ancestors may have missed it.  Some of mine were in “the home country” until the Gold Rush, and others didn’t come until the 20th Century.  On the other hand, maybe some of yours were already here.  That’s possible if you are from an old California or Texas family with a Spanish last name family, but then maybe “America” was about to invade them.

Leadership, Jesus style

Immigrants, Leadership

Tuesday nights in February I teach a class at a church in Oakland on “Liderazgo al Estilo de Jesús” (that’s Spanish for “Leadership Jesus’ style”).  My students are mostly tri-lingual.  And, one of the three, is likely to be one of three different dialects of Mam, a Mayan language from the highlands of Guatemala.

After my one week introduction to the story of Jesus’ leadership, I have invited guest

They want to be leaders. Jesus has something to do with leading.

Immigrants, Leadership, Oakland

I will spend the next four Tuesday nights in Oakland with a group of immigrants from Guatemala who want to lead.  Our task together is to think about leadership in light of Jesus.

Where do they lead? If by “leader” we mean someone who shows the way for others, or someone who redefines the future, then these immigrants are already leading in multiple contexts.  Some might find it surprising to think that they lead on a global stage–even though many might consider them to be victims of globalization.  But their leadership extends beyond the local.  They lead their families who are scattered in

Migração árabe ao Brasil e influencias transnacionais

Brasil, Immigrants

Resumo escrito desde perspectiva brasileira: A imigração árabe no Brasil

Palavras chaves:

Nahda — literature and the rise of Arab Nationalism.
Mahjar — Arab Diaspora
Liga Andaluz — Organizada em São Paulo em 1933, com o objetivo de dar continuidade ao Renascimento Literário Árabe.

An area to explore:  Arab-Jews and the migration of Arabs and Jews to the Americas.

I began by watching this video by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite of NYU about the historical roots of the reality of Arab-Jews today.

Veja também  este site brasileiro sobre Judeus Árabes

Outros escritos:
Elias Farhat, o poeta líbano-brasileiro do arabismo

A poesia árabe moderna tem raízes no Brasil


Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Oakland, CA

Immigrants, Latin America and humanity, Oakland

A few weeks ago my student Mario invited me to the ninth birthday celebration for his church in Oakland where he is a leader in training.  The church is made up of immigrants from just one village in Guatemala:  Todos Santos Cuchumatán.

That Sunday at Iglesia Eben-Ezer, I thought about the meaning of the gospel in IMG_3268light of a gathering of 800 Mam speaking Christians in Oakland.  Their story signals a surprising and dramatic reversal in the direction of Christian mission and it should affect how we understand the gospel.

The Christian faith I grew up in assumed the gospel was a formulaic message, and we worked hard to express it accurately.  In the process, we often failed to recognize that, in the New Testament, when Jesus’ talked about the gospel he was making an invitation. The invitation is to enter into a story that God is writing—to involve oneself in God’s project to bring blessing to all humanity.

The movement of people from Todos Santos, Guatemala, to Oakland is becoming part of that story.  Iglesia Eben-Ezer is one of at least 13 churches of Guatemalan immigrants in Oakland that doesn’t use Spanish or English. They speak the Todos Santos dialect of Mam, a Mayan language.

Nearly all the Todosanteros I met that Sunday (not a very reliable sample) were not from any church back in Todos Santos. Most commented about how, when they left Todos Santos, they wanted to live “wild” lives.  They met Jesus in the dangers and loneliness of their migration.  In their exile over only a very few years, they gathered in Iglesia Eben-Ezer, where they are now trying to discover how to follow Christ.  They are doing it in Oakland, keeping in mind the perspective and involvement of family, friends and village back in Todos Santos Guatemala.  How they will end up doing that is part of how the story of the gospel of the Kingdom is unfolding.  It will have ripple effects in all the world.

Over the last 15 years or so 5000 people from Todos Santos, around 15% of the entire community, have come to live in Oakland.  Many Todos Santos young people are raised on the streets of Oakland rather than in the mountains of Guatemala.  And they speak English.  This migratory movement has a powerful effect on how life is lived in both places.  They are extending what one might call the “Todosantero space” and its impact to a wider world will be transformative.

The presence of Mam speakers in Oakland stretches and confuses American categories of ethnicity. Most English speaking neighbors do not have a clue that though they are Guatemalans, or that they speak Spanish as their second language.  It does not work to squeeze Todosanteros into the census classification “Hispanic.”   “Hispanic” invokes Spanish language or Spanish traditions–a mold Todosanteros have resisted for 500 years.  They have held onto their language and traditions since they were conquered by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th Century.   Over the centuries they have paid a high price to hold onto this heritage.  Their status as (un)conquered people combined with their commitment to preserving their way of life has contributed to their isolation and impoverishment.  Amazingly, Todos Santos traditions were not wiped out in the recent and brutal Guatemalan civil war.  That protracted conflict lasted from the late 1960’s to the late 1990’s and more than 160,000 Mayans were massacred—the majority of the total 200,000 Guatemalans who died in the conflict.   Todosanteros, though they come from Guatemala, are insistently non-Hispanic.

We lived in Guatemala for nearly a decade of that war. And I learned about Todos Santos early on when I met the Wycliffe missionary who was committed to translating the New Testament into Todos Santos Mam even though his home in the village had been burned down by guerrillas.  He simply moved to Guatemala City and carried on with informants.

We never went to Todos Santos. The journey, itself would have been difficult.  Once we got there, we would have found ourselves in an area where conflict made life dangerous.

We remained aware of Todos Santos because of their particularly beautiful weavings and embroidery.  Each village or region in Guatemala has its own distinctive native dress.  Nowadays it is mainly the women who continue to wear hand-woven native dress.  The men in Todos Santos are the exception.  They continue to wear their native dress perhaps because it is so unique.  The embroidered collars that adorned their shirts are particularly impressive.  We bought a lot of weavings from many villages, but I don’t think we ever got anything from Todos Santos.  The beauty, intricacy and fine quality of their weavings made them too expensive.

Iglesia Eben-Ezer is a local congregation of a Guatemala-based pentecostal denomination that began in 1999.  It now includes more than 500 churches world-wide—most of which I assume use Spanish as their main language.  The one in Oakland was started by Valentin, a migrant from the highland Guatemala town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán.  When Valentin turned away from drunkenness to Christ, Sergio Enríquez, the founding pastor of Ministerios Eben-Ezer in Guatemala City trained Valentin and urged him to start a church among his own people.  Valentin eventually started a church in Oakland among fellow immigrants from Todos Santos.  Two Eben-Ezer churches in Oakland conduct their services in the Mam language of Todos Santos.  Over the last 9 years, these two churches have produced six more Mam-speaking Eben-Ezer churches in the US: one in Stockton, two in Oregon, two in Washington and one in Grand Rapids.

When Jesus talked about “the gospel” it was an invitation to be part of a story like this.  It is a story in which the principal protagonist is God and the people of Todos Santos are participants in it.  God making a way to deliver on His promise to “bless” all peoples everywhere.

When we lived as missionaries in Guatemala in the 1980’s, I took a personal interest in Mayan peoples.  I tried to learn to speak one of the Mayan languages.  I did not study Mam. l studied Kaqchikel because Kaqchikel speakers lived close to Guatemala City.  But, since my language helper could also speak Spanish, our common second language meant we developed a relationship in Spanish and we did not require Kaqchiquel or English to be friends.  So I ended up learning only a few phrases.  But I tried because I thought the participation of Mayan people was and is an important part of the gospel in Guatemala. I was doing my best to live relevantly, understand the message better and assure that it was communicated effectively to all Guatemalans.

Looking back, we suffered under (at least) three illusions.  First, when we talked about “the gospel” we were thinking about a formula for salvation.  We thought our job was to adapt ourselves well and translate the gospel formula so it would be understood and responded to by people who spoke different languages and lived in different contexts than us.  Second, we thought that being “strategic” in our work would be the source of our effectiveness (fruitfulness).  Third, we thought mission flowed from our sending base (USA) to “the field” (Guatemala), as if God lived in the USA and as if we took God in our luggage to Guatemala.  The strategic direction for our work was formulated in an American space—and we were sensitively managed from our headquarters. Our supporting churches in the USA took comfort in knowing that our mission evaluated us regularly according to how effectively we applied the strategy we agreed to take with us.

The presence of Todosanteros in Oakland reminds us that the gospel is a story more than it is a formula for salvation.  Our strategies are not the source of our effectiveness.  And mission flows when God moves people and gets a hold of them in their movement so they can do some good.  We had gone to Guatemala in an attempt to enter a wider world than the USA in the name of Christ, and we did the best we knew how.  Today, so many Mam-speaking people from Todos Santos live in Oakland in their attempt to enter a wider world than Todos Santos.  They also are doing so in the name of Christ and do the best they know how.   They will produce good fruit.

When I lived in Guatemala, I could not foresee the geopolitics that has pushed and pulled many Todosanteros to Oakland.  It seems to have taken the migration experience to show how Gods commitment to bless the people of Todos Santos extends their influence and blesses the peoples of the world through their adherence to the gospel.  Migration is full of difficulty and trauma, particularly when migrants are forced to accept that the border is closed to them, and they must choose between two options in which both options mean that they are forced to the margins (illegality here, or oppressive poverty there).  But God is not callous toward the difficulties and trauma of marginalized and excluded people.

The moment of dispersion for the people of Todos Santos becomes an opportunity for being reconstituted as a people around Jesus, even if it is in “a foreign place” that is not as beautiful as the one they left.  Is this the “justice” that God promises for those whom society does not protect?

Many are learning English and their kids will grow up speaking English more than Spanish, or even than Mam which they may or may not use with their parents. Many Todosanteros are here without a proper visa, so they create an underclass in Oakland and they are subject to fear and lack of legal protection from exploitation by political authorities, employers, and neighbors.  They produce a class of people who have little access to health care, housing, transportation and other services. But, from whatever location in the system, they have become part of the cultural soup of the United States.  That soup blends the Todos Santos flavors with the flavors of earlier immigrants from Europe and Africa, and shapes the emerging new flavors of  Oakland, California and the United States, and further introduces the flavor of the gospel of Jesus Christ into that soup.

Todosanteros here make a big difference in Todos Santos.  Raiders and Warriors and A’s paraphernalia become part of the Todos Santos social landscape.  The kids of migrants come back speaking English and Mam rather than Spanish and Mam like their cousins.  Migrants send back money and provide finances for local development and new businesses. They improve the economy of Todos Santos.  Some migrants return to Guatemala with new visions for their community or new skills to fulfill long-standing visions.

There are more Todos Santos “missionaries” today in Oakland than there ever were American missionaries in Guatemala. 

Each year there was a retreat in Guatemala for missionaries like us.  A majority of all the English speaking missionaries would attend each year, but I don’t believe the retreat ever had more than 500 people in attendance.  On Sundays, some missionaries gather at Union Church for worship in English.  It is a place where they worship God, but it’s also where they think actively about how they fit into the gospel story in Guatemala and in the world.  Other ex-pats go to Guatemalan churches and think about the gospel story from those locations.  In the process, new ways to participate with God in delivering the blessing and justice are thought up, and people are mobilized to bless others.  And so outsiders and Guatemalans responded together to the invitation to participate in the unfolding story of the gospel in and from Guatemala.
IMG_3247The service at Iglesia Eben-Ezer in Oakland was different than a service would be at your church.  It reminded me of church services I have attended in Mayan communities in Guatemala. While I may have felt more comfortable there than you would have, it was not exactly the way I would choose to do church.  The service lasted 4 hours and included a wedding.  The bride and groom sat in the front for the entire service, even though their ceremony did not take place until the last 20 minutes—at the very end.  Some elements were more familiar to me.   Many kids kept themselves entertained through the long service by watching videos on their parent’s iPhones and electronic notebooks.  And there is a good chance that those kids also prefer to speak English.

Nearly 800 Mam-speaking people meeting in a tent in Oakland is significant.   I don’t think I was ever at a gathering of English speaking Christians in Guatemala that large.  On some of the most violent streets of Oakland, Todosanteros are entering the gospel story.

God must be writing a new plot twist into the story of how he will deliver on his promise to bless all peoples everywhere.  In this chapter immigrants, like those from Todos Santos Cuchumatán play an influential role.


Refugees, the migration crisis and gifts from God


That picture this week of the body of a three year old Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey broke our hearts.  2464When his family’s petition to migrate to Canada was turned down, they found hope only in using other means to try to move on.   Those (we) who had the means to help we did not reach out to them.  And now we feel guilty.  And everyone suffered a loss.

It seems like we are all afraid to lose something by accepting refugee immigration.  For those of us who are already stable here, it feels like a loss and, in the context of global terrorism, it can make us more vulnerable.  We sometimes fear immigrants exploit our prosperity and that we will lose our “way of life”.

557The loss, of course, is greater for refugees.  They suffer the unfair loss of their stability, and of their homes and of loved ones who die on the journey.  In the case of Syria, their status as victims of a geopolitical and religious conflict, they also suffer the loss of trust by those who might help them.  The doors have been shut to most places where they might resettle, because people are afraid they might bring terrorists with them.  With the depopulation of parts of Syria, the world is losing one of the most religiously diverse societies along with its long historical and spacial record of the development of those religions and of their interaction.

Just before the picture of Aylan’s little body was published, I met a German man on the plane from Frankfurt to South Africa.  We got talking about Syrian refugees and their migration to Germany in such great numbers. He is from the Palatine–from whence so many starving Germans emigrated in the two centuries before WWII. He has visited relatives in USA, Brazil and Canada, and they are grateful for the freedom their ancestors had to migrate to these places. This is what motivates him to be on the welcoming end this time. He said, “it is a sacrifice to give up our comfort and wealth for Syrian refugees. But the ones who are making the greater sacrifice are the Syrians.”

This got me thinking…..

It is pretty common, in the other wealthier nations of the world, to fear  overburdening society, or to feel like real threats come along with the refugees.

Meanwhile many of the world’s poorest countries are hosting huge refugee populations, “huge” both in absolute terms and in relation to the size of their economies.

We need a little perspective.  Here are some thoughts I am chewing on:

  • In the Old Testament, migrants and refugees predominate — not only as the targets for God’s promises, but as the bearers and agents of God’s blessing.  In reality, the entire first five books of the Bible are about God’s dealings with people who are not rooted in the land, but wanderers, subject to the whims of landed rulers.  For a time they are slaves.  Much of the time they are fleeing their slavery.  The Torah ends before they settle into the land.  When they are in the land, they wander further and further from the Lord God who brought them there, and they don’t really re-encounter him until they go into exile.
  • In the New Testament, Israel is hoping the exile will end with the coming Messiah.  As it turns out, the announcement of messianic blessing leads to further scattering of the followers of the Messiah and, though it is not recorded in the NT, with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the scattering of all Israel.  But this scattering is related to the gospel: the announcement that the promise of blessing through Israel is now to be made available to all peoples.  The scattering and movement of peoples is related to God’s project to prepare a new heaven and a new earth.  For this, he invites the participation of those who will recognize “the lamb” of God to be the rightful King of all the earth.
  • There are portions of the history of Europe and the Americas that we don’t like to remember, and when we do, it makes us feel bad.  Our ancestors made peoples into refugees, sending them away from where our ancestors wanted to live.   Many died on the journey.  Others were forced to migrate here, and they did some of the work that made our country wealthy.  The city of San Francisco created a prison-like detention center for incoming immigrants at Angel Island in 1910, where officials screened and deported dubious incomers.
  • Portions of our story that we do like to remember are the stories about how the USA received immigrants (the story of most white Americans is a story of migration to a “land of opportunity”).   We celebrate Ellis Island.  The Statue of Liberty includes a stirring provocation to other nations.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty
woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Migration is a gift.  To migrants and to all who welcome them.  In God’s view, migration has something to do with the good of the world.  I pray our eyes can be opened to see that good and to welcome and receive this gift from God!