Don't show your papers, show your citizenship
Preparing for Phoenix 2013by Saulo Padilla
I remember the first time I was introduced to Dirk Willems, the Anabaptist who escaped and then turned back to rescue his persecutor who was drowning, got caught again and later was burned to death.
When John Driver, one of my history professors at Goshen (Ind.) College, told me the story for the first time, I thought, What a fool! And to me, even more foolish were the Anabaptists and Mennonites who thought he was a hero for turning back and rescuing his enemy.
However, after revisiting Willems' story time after time, I made a correlation between his actions and Jesus' message of how the citizens of God's kingdom were to treat enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). Willems' "foolish" reaction made a lot of sense.
The decision to go to Arizona for the Phoenix 2013 convention has been like walking over thin ice for our church body. Perhaps it seems foolish to go to a place so unwelcoming, that is so hot in summer and where we can get burned—literally.
However, our Anabaptist history and theology is rooted in seeking justice and promoting peace in centers of struggle, and Phoenix, being one of the current centers of struggle, will allow us to rethink our allegiances at this point.
Going to Phoenix is a chance to revisit and reclaim who we are as Anabaptists and Mennonites in the 21st century and where our loyalties are in the midst of so much socio-political-economic instability. Phoenix 2013 is an opportunity to revisit and practice upside-down kingdom theology as a body and put into practice our missional statements.
I have been in Arizona three times in the past six months. Walking in the streets of Phoenix and Tucson, I have envisioned many witnessing activities that will reflect our "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and that will speak to the injustices our immigrant brothers and sisters in Arizona and across the country are facing. I've also envisioned with excitement acts of service—hand in hand with local congregations and partners under the Phoenix sun—that will help restore hurting communities, build bridges and invite Arizonans to experience the foolishness of the gospel.
As an immigrant myself, I will find talking about immigration issues in Phoenix important. But I have learned from my friends in Arizona of many other issues they are facing: Arizona is blessed with a large number of reservations and Native people. There is need for justice and grace where there has been such a history of disgrace, displacement and injustice. In a desert, issues of the consumption of resources—such as water—are huge, so we will need to watch our water consumption.
Enormous wildfires and parching drought have brought many environmental issues to the surface. Unemployment and social hardships are increasing. Racial injustice and marginalization is widespread. I hope we can learn, educate others and speak to all these issues as well.
As a Hispanic Mennonite and as an immigrant, I will miss my brothers and sisters who are undocumented and will not be able to attend from our congregations. I hope my brothers and sisters who have documents and privilege will join us as we carry the suffering for those who cannot come, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3-4)— a hope much needed in our immigrant congregations.
I will also miss those who are from all our Mennonite ethnic/Native groups and cannot attend due to immigration issues, economic hardships and other issues of privilege that affect us, but I hope our conversations about going to Phoenix and our time there will allow us to increase their participation in the future.
I can't wait to be in Phoenix 2013 and claim a citizenship like no other: one that claims that the earth and everything in it is the Lord's and destroys all barriers and walls of hostility. It is my hope that as fellow citizens from near and far we will find the perseverance and character to extend grace in the centers of struggle with hope—even if it looks like foolishness to be "Citizens of God's Kingdom" (the convention’s theme).
Saulo Padilla attends Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor in Goshen, Ind. He has served in this congregation since 2001 as musician and is a part of the church council and leadership transitional team. He is originally from Guatemala, became a Mennonite at First Hispanic Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alberta, when he emigrated to Canada in 1986 and is applying for permanent resident status here in the United States.
This article originally ran on MennoCon.com.
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