Category Archives: Uncategorized

The View from México

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez on right speaking to the U.S. Women to Women delegation visiting México in 2013.

“I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years” Rev. Lisania Sustaita Martinez comments in the interview below. Lisania completed her studies at the Ecumenical Seminary of Puerto Rico in 2013 and returned to her hometown of San Luis Potosí. She now serves as Associate Minister of the downtown Central Christian Church and Education Coordinator in charge of leadership development with the Roundtable of Congregational and Disciples of Christ Churches in México. In this interview, she describes what gives her hope as a young woman working in the Protestant Church for a more just social order in her nation and the continent of North America.

What has been Mexico’s reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President? What are the greatest concerns in Mexico resulting from his election?

Mexico is also shocked by the elections in the U.S., the election of Trump in particular. Mexico is shocked and concerned about the things that he said, talking about Mexicans, talking about Latin people in general, talking about not just Mexicans in Mexico but Mexicans, Latin people living in the U.S. The general opinion of the people around me is that what he is saying cannot be done because many Latin people have been working in the U.S. for many many years so it would bring problems to the economy. We are concerned because even if he doesn’t do everything he has promised, his words and pronouncements have encouraged other people to be aggressive with Latin people, with Mexicans and with other people who are not male, white, adult. We are concerned because violence is always the result of such pronouncements.

We have been made more aware of the deep divisions in our country caused by racism and economic inequality in our culture through the election contest this year. How about in Mexico? What divides people in Mexico today and how does the culture, the political realm and the Church respond to those divisions?

What divides us most in Mexico is the economy. We have extreme poverty and we have a small group of rich people, entrepreneurs who own and control the economy. And it also has to do with our government. I think you just got the President of the U.S. that Mexico has had for many years. If I compare and contrast Trump and our President Peña Nieto, I have to say it is the same thing. A person who doesn’t know about working with people, a person who doesn’t know about how a nation develops and grows, a person who doesn’t know anything beyond the economy and its industry.

They both don’t know about working with people in need and rising up from the bottom. Peña Nieto and his government have been focused on the economy at the highest levels, industry in particular, and he doesn’t talk about agriculture and education. They only know about their world and they don’t know how to work with people in need, people who have been excluded from their economy.

I think the Protestant Church, the evangelical churches and the Catholic Church as well have felt the urgency, the importance of walking with the people since our governors, the government, don’t know how to walk with the people. I think the church has tried to walk with these people. Walking with the hungry, with the poor, with people in the hospitals and helping to grow micro enterprises, to give attention to children, to women, to the elders. Since we have such a bad government we have to stand up for these people.

We can’t say we have a good country because of our President. We can’t claim to be good because we have a black President. We have to stand up for black people, we have to stand up for dignity, for equal rights because our president is not black. And now you have to do as we have done since we have had this President and because it’s become worse and worse with each President in Mexico. So you all now have to say that in spite of this President, in spite of Trump, we are good people. In spite of what he has said, we take care of our people, we respect our differences, not as boundaries, but as diversity, a good thing. In spite of our President we stand up for diversity and taking care of people in need.

For example , the Theological Community of Mexico City (ecumenical seminary in Mexico City) has had many programs encouraging churches to open their doors to people who are suffering because of the crime, because of the poverty, because of the natural disasters in the country. So I think we have to do that since we can’t count on the government.

We hear in the U.S. that the generation now named “the millennials” are rejecting “established” churches, or, put another way, “the establishment church”. What issues are “the millennials” in Mexico most concerned about and how is the Disciples of Christ Church responding to their concerns?/strong

Well, we don’t use the word “millennials” in Mexico much; it’s not frequently said. But we have found that the new generations of youth here are also looking for other kinds of experiences of faith, new expressions of faith. They are finding the new in Buddhism, in oriental faith practices, in yoga and science, in agnosticism and atheism. The new generations have to study and work and they are looking for ways to earn money not just in industries or in traditional ways of working. So as they experiment with new ways outside the traditional to earn money they are as well seeing the traditional church as the church that tells you, “don’t do this or that. Don’t, don’t.”

So they are looking for churches who are capable of walking with them and who understand that they have to work and

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year's Day

Youth at the annual Huentepec Camp held between Christmas and New Year’s Day

study at the same time and can’t be the people the traditional church expects or wants them to be. Some of the new generation are struggling with their sexual orientation, struggling with broken relationships, broken families and others are struggling with what the new science about our earth is saying. And so churches are seen as old and traditional when they can’t respond or haven’t responded to these realities, these new realities. So we may not talk about the millennials but we know how the new generations are looking to be their own boss, looking for what I can sell, what I have to contribute to my people, what I can do for better life today. So we are not just talking about traditional church but traditional everything.

What is most encouraging, what brings you hope about the church’s part in God’s mission in Mexico today?

I think those who are looking to create the new bring me the most hope. Those people who are looking for a new experience of God walking with them gives us opportunity to rethink the Bible and rethink theology and rethink church. And I have to say this is a hard time for us because rethinking is never soft, rethinking is rough, rethinking is contrasting, rethinking is debating and arguing. So it is hard to destroy, and I have to use this word because we are talking about rebuilding. So it’s harsh but I think it is necessary.

This new generation with this new way of thinking may be what the youth, women and children need today. They feel the need to stand up for the sectors of people who have been pushed away from God and they feel the need to give them some kind of answer. So I think this can be good as youth and other people are asking “why” and the answer “because the bible says so” is not enough. So they need a different kind of answer. This gives me hope because people are thinking; people are asking questions; people are trying to understand; people are looking for a genuine faith of their own not one given to them because they’ve been told they need it. They need a faith that is their own. This gives me hope in this time of transformation, this time of crisis when you are closing an epoch and opening another.

If the church doesn’t rethink itself it will get old and become obsolete. But now new generations and people are starting to find and explore what they don’t understand about the Bible, and about theology and God and the church and that brings me hope. With this rethinking we are transforming ourselves.

A Malnourished Democracy ??

During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., which lasted until 1947, many of the all black teams went to Mexico to compete during the winter months.

During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., which lasted until 1947, many of the all black teams went to Mexico to compete during the winter months.

Dear Friends,

In the United States, we are all trying to decipher the messages sent us by the resounding election victories of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While the election’s handwriting on the wall will continue to be interpreted in different ways as in chapter 5 of Daniel, one area of the message is certain. As much as we try to ignore or put it behind us, mistrust, fear and abuse of the Other (persons of other races and nationalities) continue to threaten the rule of democracy in the United States.

Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the African American baseball players who never made it to the major leagues of the “great American past time” not because they didn’t have the talent but because of their exclusion from U.S. professional teams until the year 1947. The Kansas City museum also honors the memory of those white players who in the winter off season during the years of segregated baseball played on teams outside the country with black players.

Surprisingly, some of those white players, like the brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, had grown up in the fiercely segregationist southern states which enforced separation of the races in their territory. For some of the whites like the Dean brothers, the wintertime move to Mexico, Cuba and other nations of the Caribbean was motivated by the desire to play baseball against and with the best U.S. players, whether black or white.

For the African American players, leaving their home country to play baseball brought benefits the whites took for granted in the U.S. As the black player Willie Wells said of playing ball in Mexico, “We live in the best hotels, go to the best restaurants, and can go anywhere we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States.” In short, Wells and the other African Americans found “respect, freedom and democracy. In Mexico.”

Today of course, professional sports teams in the United States are fully integrated and black players excel. But the recent election provides additional evidence of a strategy to restrict if not suppress the rights and the impact of African American and other voters in U.S. elections.

Anti- democratic voiding of the ballots of several thousand black voters in Florida in the 2000 presidential election put us on notice. Since then we have learned of defective voting machines, closing of polling places, new voter identification requirements, redrawing of voting districts in the states, and new voter registration procedures all implemented within states, in the south and the north, controlled by Republican legislatures intent on limiting the impact of the increased numbers of persons of color in American elections.

One of the most troubling aspects of the past election is summed up by the observation made by one U.S. political scientist who said, “this is the first election held in this country without the full protections of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965”. One way to better understand the importance of this statement is offered by viewing the 2014 film “Selma”.

This film recounts the history of the struggle for African Americans’ right to vote in southern states. For decades since the Civil War southern politicians had devised various ways to deny African Americans the right to vote. Now in our day, the 1965 Act that prohibited such practices has been weakened through devious legislative maneuvers in many states of the U.S.

What might the long term effects on American democracy be if such practices continue and a wall is built between persons of color and the U.S. polling place? Let me share a story, a kind of parable, that suggests what we might be in for.

In the mid 1970’s a friend here in Kansas City played basketball for one of Kansas’ community colleges. The team had black and white players on it and had a couple of games against teams in the southern State of Texas. When they got to the small town’s biggest restaurant the black players were told, and this only forty years ago, that they would be served in the room behind the kitchen.

My friend and the other black players went to the back room and enjoyed meeting the entirely black kitchen staff and eating what they cooked for them. Their portions were more than ample and the kitchen help offered to make the leftovers into sandwiches for the team’s trip north. That night some of the white players got to sample what their black teammates had eaten. When they returned after the next day’s game to the same restaurant all the white players told the coach they wanted to eat the better food and bigger portions provided in the back room too.

The story suggests what this country will lose if the campaign continues to limit or exclude the human rights of segments of the population. Not only will citizens of the nation, of all ethnic backgrounds, be deprived of the best a democracy offers. The image of the U.S. as a bastion of democracy world wide will be malnourished. And this means we all will suffer the consequences.

Border Convergence in Nogales

Mural on the outskirts of San Salvador includes the quote: "Whether they shoot me or however they kill me I will rise in my people".

Mural on the outskirts of San Salvador includes the quote: “Whether they shoot me or however they kill me I will rise in my people”. Photo by Jorge Dan Lopez for Reuters

On March 25, 1980, during my lunch break from teaching English in Guadalajara, Mexico I strolled past jacaranda trees in bloom and while waiting for my tacos to be prepared bought a newspaper. On reading the bold headline I knew that the news would somehow deeply afffect my life.

I had followed the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and their overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. On reading “Archbishop Romero Killed in San Salvador” I knew the armed struggle against the oligarchy in El Salvador would now rage more intensely in that small country. I also knew that the U.S. CIA, diplomats and the Army’s School of the Americas had played a major role in preparing the Salvadoran army and intelligence officers to defend the rule of the Salvadoran elite.

What I did not know or anticipate was that the war in El Salvador would cause thousands of young men to flee conscription by the guerrilla forces or the government’s Army and arrive in Tucson where I would be living three months after reading the news of the Archbishop’s death. Helping organize Tucson First Christian Church’s aid and refuge for the Salvadoran refugees brought me greater understanding of what is driving migration to the U.S. in these times and guided my return to the wellsprings of Christian faith.

Since graduating from seminary and ordination as a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) thirty years ago this year, I have kept these words of Archbishop Romero near my desk: “I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation, the affirmation of God who loves us.”

This month hundreds of people gathered on the Mexican border south of Tucson to express solidarity and compassion for those forced to flee their Central American homelands still wracked by authoritarian rule by the elite. Among other things they paid tribute to the courageous young Honduran woman Berta Cáceras who had organized opposition to transnational corporations threatening the environment and the people of her country. Like the Archbishop she was assassinated early this year.

The following report on the gathering at the border in Nogales, Arizona is by Scott Nicholson who serves the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (House of Hope and Peace) in Nogales, Mexico. Scott’s volunteering is made possible by the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ.


Hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the border wall that separates Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona on October 8 and 9. The convergence was organized by SOA Watch to protest the militarization of the border that is causing so much suffering and death for our migrant sisters and brothers.

This militarization was started by Bill Clinton and has been further escalated by Barack Obama. A “crisis” of unaccompanied minors that were fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and seeking refuge in the U.S. occurred during summer 2014. The response of the Obama administration was to pressure the Mexican government to further militarize its southern border with Guatemala. Millions of dollars were given to implement Plan Frontera Sur (Southern Border Plan) which placed more immigration agents and checkpoints in southern Mexico.

The binational organization "Dreamers'Moms" marches at the Convergence in support of their children's dream of getting an education in the U.S.

The binational organization “Dreamers’Moms” marches at the Convergence in support of their children’s dream of getting an education in the U.S.

Sister Guadalupe; of the Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca; told us that the militarization in southern Mexico has forced migrants to pass through more isolated, and dangerous, regions. She said that nine of every ten migrants arriving at the shelter have been assaulted, and more than half the women have been raped. Mexico is now deporting more Central Americans than the U.S., and this repression and violence have reduced the number of people arriving at the U.S. border.

“I very much appreciate Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children who we saw spiking during the summer,” said Obama in January 2015. “In part, because of strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border, we’ve seen those numbers reduced back to much more manageable levels.”

The Nogales Wall was first built by the Clinton administration in October 1994 – just three months after he visited the site of the former Berlin Wall. The Obama administration built a taller, and stronger, border wall in the summer of 2011.

“We celebrate unity,” Clinton had said in Berlin. “We stand where crude walls of concrete separated mother from child, and we meet as one family. We stand where those who sought a new life instead found death. Berliners, you have proved that no wall can forever contain the mighty power of freedom.”

The Clinton administration created the Border Patrol’s first national strategy in 1994, “Prevention through Deterrence.” The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry… Illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing.” Since then, the bodies of more than 6,000 people have been found in the southern border region. The actual death toll is much higher because many bodies are never found.

Last month, we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11 and I found myself reflecting on how we define terrorism. It seems to me that terrorism involves the use of violence, targeting civilians, to achieve a political objective. Thousands of civilians have now died after being forced over hostile terrain along the border in order to deter people from entering the U.S.

“No más, no more, tear down the border walls!” we chanted during the litany for those victims at the end of the convergence here in Nogales.

In Love and Solidarity, Scott Nicholson

Scott’s report is from the web site of Global Ministries:

For an excellent article on the background to Archbishop Romero’s assassination and the recent beatification of the Archbishop by Pope Francis go to:

Answering the Wall with Solidarity and Compassion

Praying at the Mexican border.  Photo from United Church of Christ News.

Praying at the Mexican border. Photo from United Church of Christ News.

This coming week a mass demonstration will be held in solidarity with the thousands of children and adults who have been detained and brutally treated as a result of the unprecedented border security policies of the current U.S. administration. There will be calls for recognition of the causes for the migration from the south of the border, and our U.S. role in many of these causes, along with proposals for immigration reform in the next Congress. Following is the announcement (edited slightly by Erasing Borders) of the gathering at the southern border in the United Church of Christ News of September 7 written by Connie Larkman.

“At Border Convergence in Nogales, Arizona/Senora, Mexico, UCC congregations will join the School of the Americas Watch, immigrants’ rights groups and interfaith partners during the first week of October to demand justice for immigrants and laws that address the root causes of migration.

Thousands of activists are expected to gather at this vigil to push back against militarization of the border, against criminalization of migrants and refugees, and to name the root causes of migration. As the denomination’s October multimedia initiative, the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration has identified goals that also include a commitment to immersion education, and work to stop deportations.

The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ is hosting the denomination’s delegation, along with Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer will be speaking at the bi-national interfaith service and vigil.

“Jesus put his body on the line for the sake of justice and to save others,” said the Rev. William M. Lyons, designated conference minister. “The Southwest Conference is calling the Body of Christ, the Church, to stand on the line between the U.S. and Mexico October 7-10 to bring attention to the injustice of militarizing rather than economically revitalizing our border communities, and who will build bridges rather than walls between privileged and marginalized people.”

“It is important for the United Church of Christ to have a presence at the School of the Americas Watch convergence in Nogales because it allows us to be witnesses to the injustice at the U.S./Mexico border, but it also allows our church to be in solidarity with the throngs of people from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and beyond that have been violently pushed out of their countries of origin and pulled into the United States,” said the Rev. Randy Meyer, pastor of Good Shepherd UCC and member of the UCC’s Collaborative on Immigration. “It doesn’t take a genius to follow the root causes of that push and pull. Without much effort you begin to uncover that the United States has a long history of manipulating foreign economies to its favor while in the same breath propping dictators and their officers who create terror and repression. As people of faith we can no longer stand by as our nation helps ignite the fires that are ravaging Latin America and pushing its humble masses to our border.”

Thousands of people are expected to attend the event, including members of more than a dozen UCC congregations representing six different conferences. A few days before the weekend program, which includes a march to the border wall between the United States and Mexico, the UCC participants will have the opportunity to take part in an immersion experience, with a desert walk with Samaritans, theological reflections on border ministry and a strategic discussion on immigrant justice.

“As a follower of Jesus and faith leader in the United Church of Christ, I am grieved that current U.S. border security policy targets human beings and violates everything I know of what it means to be a Christian,” said Lyons. “If even one person in our land can be targeted or labeled illegal, every person runs the risk of being targeted or labeled illegal. No one should ever be put at such risk.”

“Walls and security will never be the answer to the problems of fear and greed.” said Meyer. “Instead we must search our hearts and recognize our wrongs—and build a world that is free of suffering and violence—a world where all have opportunity.”

Juan Gabriel’s Legacy of Courage

A Catholic priest blesses the statue of late Mexican singer Juan Gabriel during a mass in his honor in Plaza Garibaldi, in Mexico City, Mexico August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

A Catholic priest blesses the statue of late Mexican singer Juan Gabriel during a mass in his honor in Plaza Garibaldi, in Mexico City, Mexico August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

When I asked my best friend in Mexico, a leading member of the Central Christian Church in San Luis Potosí for many years, what he thought of Juan Gabriel, he replied, “Well, I don’t like the fact he’s homosexual, but whenever I hear his song, it’s one of his trademark songs, “Amor Eterno” (“Eternal Love”), I just have to cry.” Hemer then went on to say that the song made him think of his mother and that would lead him to describe her for me. “She was so good and kind; I never could thank her enough.” This was said with a trembling of his chin.

I had read an article on Mexico by Alma Guillermoprieto in The New Yorker magazine years before our move there which led off with a description of the peculiar hold the singer/songwriter had maintained on the Mexican public for a few decades. For the writer of the article, it was Juan Gabriel’s in your face, and yes flamboyant, femininity that intrigued her. In the renowned bastion of machismo that is Mexico, one of the country’s leading celebrities had survived, and thrived even, on his ability to make fun of the sombreroed, booted cowboys who came to his concerts to taunt him. They taunted but no one got the better of him, and his quick wit added to his appeal.

I was fascinated by the article as most Mexicans were fascinated for a very long time by the story and personality of a man who loomed larger on the Mexican cultural landscape than anyone I can think of in the U.S. Juan Gabriel was, one commentator has noted, like Elvis and Frank Sinatra combined. But given the nature of his trajectory from orphaned boy vagabond in Ciudad Juarez to Mexico City stardom at age 21, you’d have to throw in Little Richard and Ray Charles too to approximate Gabriel’s appeal among the Mexican people.

His death last Sunday in Santa Monica, California, the fact he had left his homeland to live in a more open social environment, and the enduring power and popularity of his music throughout Mexico may well contribute to the growing momentum to make gay marriage legal south of the border. That he died living in a rented apartment on the beach in “El Norte” could well force some would-be opponents of this significant social change to remain silent or even support it. No doubt the Catholic Church will be more tactful in their opposition. It seems no one in Mexico wants to be seen as hostile to Juan Gabriel at this time. After all, everyone in the country has a mother.

Postscript from the movie “High Noon” (1952):
“It takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man Harvey and you Harvey, you are not a man.” Saloon owner Helen Ramirez as played by the Mexican actress Katy Jurado to Deputy Sheriff Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges).

Changing Boundary Lines and Borders

U.S.-Mexico border to last "forever" by terms of the 1821 Adams-Onís Treaty

U.S.-Mexico border to last “forever” by terms of the 1821 Adams-Onís Treaty

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” Psalm 16:6

Celebrating the increasing cultural diversity of our new environment has helped move me to a new reading and new appreciation of my favorite verse in Psalm 16. Gratitude for the opportunities in Kansas City, heartland of the U.S., to relate to people of diverse cultures – from the Middle East, from Congo, from Mexico – leads Kate and me to contemplate again the real, tangible “boundary lines” and borders of our lives. In serving alongside Disciple and UCC church members in Mexico for three years we experienced many ways that extended the “boundary lines” of our lives as we sought to strengthen ties between churches in the U.S. and Mexico.

In reading verse 6 of Psalm 16 today, “the heritage” I embrace is that of being a Christian concerned about the prospects for full and abundant life of all human beings. In reading the Bible I am now guided by the conviction that the Bible testifies repeatedly to God’s love for ALL people and never should be read as favoring one people over another based on national identity. In a nutshell, the Bible, I now believe, aims to shape and strengthen persons whose fundamental loyalty and identity will be to think and act as “global citizens”.

Reflecting on the changes in the “boundary lines” in my own life has heightened my attention to the changes in the borders of my country and especially the changes in the U.S.-Mexico border.
Two artists, a Mexican and a U.S. citizen, have recently called attention to the redrawing of that border in the negotiations with Spain that resulted in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1821. The Treaty ceded Spain’s claim to Florida as well as much of the Pacific Northwest to the U.S.

U.S.- Mexico border south of Brookings OR with Monument 1 placed by artists Marcos Ramirez ERRE and David Taylor

U.S.- Mexico border south of Brookings OR with Monument 1 placed by artists Marcos Ramirez ERRE and David Taylor

After undertaking a survey of the 1821 border, the first time it had been formally surveyed, the two artists placed 47 steel obelisks along the 726 mile boundary in towns such as Dodge City, Kansas and Medicine Bow, Wyoming. One of the artists, David Taylor, notes that surveyed borders were the outcome of European settlement in North America. Prior to European immigration to the U.S. “There were transition zones. You left one place and it blended into another” Taylor commented.

Although in Article 3 of the 1821 Adams-Onís Treaty the U.S. agreed that it “renounces all claim to the said Territories FOREVER (my emphasis)”, twenty seven years later Mexico lost a half million square miles of its Territory in the Mexican-American War of 1848. The artists’ “DeLIMITations” project thus reminds us in a dramatic way of what Mexico lost. “So that’s the thing for both of us — let’s mark the wound, let’s make the scar” declared¬¬ the artist Marco Ramirez.

The “DeLIMITATIONS” project also reminds us that both the actual borders between nations and the border policies of nations are in flux today in an increasingly interdependent world. In placing the obelisk of the 1821 Mexico-U.S. border in Dodge City, Kansas the artists learned that the town where “Gunsmoke’s” Sheriff Matt Dillon kept the peace is now 60 per cent Latino. And recent travelers in Europe return with accounts of crossing borders on that continent with no visa requirement.

These developments point to the day when the longest border in the world dividing a rich nation and a developing nation will be viewed very differently by the people of the U.S. and Mexico. The rise of the Latino population in “El Norte” and the more permeable borders in Europe today fuel the hope that historic changes are indeed “erasing borders” throughout the globe.

Make It Stop

The Sig Sauer AR 15 model such as the one used in the Orlando shootings.  John Sommers II photo, Reuters.

The Sig Sauer AR 15 model such as the one used in the Orlando shootings. John Sommers II photo, Reuters.

“They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east,
they shall run to and fro,
seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.” Amos 8:12

Last Saturday night June 11, Kate and I sat under a clear sky at Kansas City’s Starlight amphitheater swaying to the mostly familiar words of singer, songwriter Paul Simon and his band. Most of the audience joined in the last song of the second encore, “Sounds of Silence”:

“Silence like a cancer grows,
hear my words that I might teach you,
take my arms that I might reach you,
but my words like silent raindrops fell
and echoed in the wells of silence.”

Three hours after we sang “Sounds of Silence” at the concert, the gruesome siege of party goers exploded on the night in Orlando. As in most of the recent mass murders, the assailant used a military style assault weapon whose sale in the United States is not only legal but on the rise. While sales of other long rifles have risen 3% in recent years, sales of the AR-15 and other “modern sporting rifles” have risen 27%.

For whatever reason – the unprecedented number of victims, the evidence that loathing of gays dominated the perpetrator’s psyche, the steady recurrence of mass shootings making use of such weapons – there is renewed concern in this country over continued marketing and sales of the AR-15 gun model. Re-enacting in Congress the ban which expired in 2004, or passing a stronger ban with fewer loopholes, will not, however, be easy. The National Rifle Association (the NRA), the most powerful lobby working for gun manufacturers and gun retailers, now refers to the AR-15 as “America’s rifle”.

How could this be many of us are asking? How could a rifle which was originally manufactured as the M-16 for soldiers in the Vietnam War now be marketed to and widely purchased by civilians? How could the nation with the largest number of Jesus’ followers permit sales of a weapon which has killed dozens of schoolchildren, movie goers, co-workers and party goers in the last five years?

Sign at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Photo by John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Sign at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Photo by John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation

But the nearly unfettered sale of assault weapons to civilians in the U.S. may not be so surprising to our friends in Mexico. Since the Mexican Revolution at the turn of the 20th Century, the U.S. has supplied most of the guns for revolutionaries resorting to violence, for the Mexican army and police forces and for our neighbor’s criminals. An estimated seventy percent of the deaths during Mexico’s “drug wars” were due to weapons imported from the north. Signs at the border reminding visitors that it is illegal to bring guns into Mexico are a weak defense against the dangers resulting from Mexico’s proximity to the country which exports far more weapons than any other in the world. The well known saying, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States” has taken on new weight in the aftermath of 80,000 plus “drug war” victims.

In Mexico, research teams continue to pursue what really happened to the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In the U.S. we know very well how 49 young people died in the Orlando nightclub. We may never know what primarily drove the killer to act but we know he acted alone that night and we know his primary weapon continues to be advertised using militaristic language like “get your man card” and “the opposition will bow down”. We know that using the AR-15 model Sig Sauer MCX he was able to fire into the night club crowd 24 shots in nine seconds. We know that in 2012 the Newton, Connecticut 20 year old who fired 154 rounds of bullets in less than five minutes in an elementary school killed 20 children and then killed his mother, who had purchased the Remington Bushmaster for him.

Lacking the sweet, high voice of Art Garfunkel at his side, Paul Simon did not sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the concert last Saturday night. But thousands of people this past week in vigils around the world sung the lyrics in solidarity with friends and family members of the Orlando victims:

“When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.”

We who live in and love this country stand in gratitude for the words of solidarity, of comfort and consolation that have been offered by persons worldwide. But after this latest in a long list of horrific acts of violence suffered from San Bernardino to Orlando, from Roseburg, OR to Newton, CT, we also stand in need, seeking “the word of the Lord” for this nation at this time.

Senator Patrick Murphy of Connecticut stood in the U.S. Senate chamber this week speaking for 15 hours before Republicans consented to talks about acting on gun control legislation that remains pending. That legislation has to do primarily with background checks on those purchasing guns. None of it calls for reducing or outlawing sales of military style “modern sporting rifles” within the borders of the United States of America.

Go to

for an excellent Boston Globe editorial published Thursday, June 16, 2016 titled “Make It Stop”

Muslims and Christians “Together Towards Life”

These days, we in the United States continue to discover new intersections of our personal political positions and our personal theology. In this year’s campaign for President, the issue of immigration policy has taken a new direction with even more obvious theological overtones in the contrasting positions of the two parties on admitting Muslim refugees.

As we approach the presidential election, it is likely that Donald Trump’s opposition to Muslims being admitted into the country will continue to feed the perception that the nation with the most Christians in the world is conducting a war on Islam. Some U.S. Christians counter that perception with action such as helping Syrian refugees resettle in the country (as reported in the last posting of this blog). In our context of xenophobia and fear, such action needs now to be joined by defense of freedom of religion along with declaring trust and respect for adherents of Islam.

It is also important if not urgent for Christians in the U.S. to clarify their views on mission and evangelism in the Muslim world. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, conservative Christian mission boards in the U.S. had considerably stepped up efforts to convert Muslims overseas to the Christian faith. The Southern Baptist Convention began distribution of a prayer guide in the late 90’s to guide their followers in praying for conversion of Muslims at the same time they considerably increased the number of missionaries being sent to majority Muslim countries such as Kyrgyzstan.

Fortunately, U.S. Christians seeking ways to unite with Muslims in movements of reconciliation and healing worldwide can find guidance and encouragement in the beautiful statement written by the Commission on Mission and Evangelism of the 349 worldwide churches making up the World Council of Churches. Led by a Bishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Commission unequivocally proclaims that the aim of Christian mission and evangelism today is to join with persons of other faith traditions in affirming human life and the whole of creation.

Bishop Mor Coorilos of the Syrian Orthodox Church is Chair of the Commission

Bishop Mor Coorilos of the Syrian Orthodox Church is Chair of the Commission

A summary statement of the Commission’s 2012 document “Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes” declares, “Authentic evangelism is done with respect for freedom of religion and belief, for all human beings as images of God. Proselytism by violent means, economic incentive, or abuse of power is contrary to the message of the gospel. In doing evangelism it is important to build relations of respect and trust between people of different faiths.”

At the beginning of the document, the Commission envisions its task as discerning the implications of the “shift of the centre of gravity of Christianity”. One outcome emphasized is the accompanying “shift in mission concept from ‘mission to the margins’ to ‘mission from the margins’” and the ensuing question of “what then is the distinctive contribution of the people from the margins?”

Living the Christian faith as a minority community on the “margins” leads to some profound reflections on our relationships with persons of other faiths: “Plurality is a challenge to the churches and serious commitment to interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural communication is therefore indispensable. What are the ecumenical convictions regarding common witnessing and practicing life-giving mission in a world of many religions and cultures?”

One conviction that emerged from the Commission’s deliberations is that “mission activity linked with colonization has often denigrated cultures and failed to recognize the wisdom of local people. Local wisdom and culture which are life-affirming are gifts from God’s Spirit.” Christians in mission today who join with “local people”, whatever their faith tradition, in life sustaining and life enhancing actions find that “marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God”.

Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan has just been elected Mayor of London

Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan has just been elected Mayor of London

In this time of deep division within the two political parties of the United States and within the country itself, the World Council of Churches’ overview of Christian mission and evangelism calls us to a new vision of unity. The document “Together Towards Life” challenges us to include the entire human species in our interpretation and celebration of the familiar words of Psalm 133:

“How very good and pleasant it is/ when kindred live together in unity!” (NRSV version)

Pour la traducción en español du document de la Comisión ver

For a copy of the “Together Towards Life: Missiona and Evangelism in a Changing Landscape” document go to:

Report from Kansas City / Un Informe de Kansas City

The redbud trees in bloom are among the first signs of spring in Kansas City

The redbud trees in bloom are among the first signs of spring in Kansas City

So lawns are a big deal in Kansas City – no all over the U.S. Midwest wherever you have the four seasons. The hum of lawn mowers calls us to tend to the rapidly growing grass this time of year. But what might be considered an annoying duty is offset by the beauty of forsythia bushes bulging with yellow blooms as redbud, dogwood and wild plum trees also begin to display their colors. On nearly every street, poor neighborhoods and rich, trees are now in bloom. On some streets, one or two neighbors will defy the spring ritual and let their lawns grow with weeds and they too wave purple or yellow flowers in the wind.

It’s amazing what 39 inches of rainfall will do to an environment as opposed to the 15 we’ve been accustomed to in southern CA. But life in general, compared to southern California, is easier here. Above all, there is less struggle due to economic pressures. Here a working class couple can buy a house in a quiet neighborhood twenty to twenty five minutes from downtown even during the rush hour. A similar house that was affordable for them in the Los Angeles area would likely require a two hour drive to reach.

For the wealthy in Kansas City, a short drive from the office downtown will get them to neighborhoods that look like Beverly Hills. The neighbors will more than likely be in the “white” category on the U.S. Census. Ethnic diversity reigns farther out in the newer outlying districts of the City where African Americans and Hispanic Americans, along with the more recent immigrant population, move from the urban core neighborhoods that remain in decline. There are some mostly “white” suburban towns in the Greater Kansas City area but the districts near the city’s borders reflect a rainbow diversity.

Twenty five minutes from downtown, ours is a majority African-American neighborhood with a sizable Arab American presence. The largest mosque among the five in the Kansas City area from our home. This week Kansas City welcomed the first Syrian family to be admitted to the U.S. under a new Obama Administration resettlement program. But in a strange twist they will not be welcomed on the Kansas side of the City.

The Kansas – Missouri border runs north and south through Kansas City and the Kansas Governor Sam Brownback sides with those wanting to bar Muslim immigrants from the U.S. Before the U.S. Civil War, Kansas opposed slavery when Missouri joined the Confederate cause and Kansas led the way in the integration of northern U.S. public schools during the last century. So Governor Brownback’s opposition to Muslim immigrants stands out as a betrayal of his state’s support for equal opportunity and ethnic diversity in the past.

To those who live outside the U.S., this article’s focus on race and ethnicity may appear strange but the current Presidential campaign should help you understand why we in the U.S. are preoccupied with this aspect of social life. Thanks to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the country’s distrust if not fear of the “other” remains a favored means to gain donations and votes in this country. Like segregation of neighborhoods, public schools and churches in the past, the current efforts to arouse suspicion of Arab immigrants wins votes but goes against the progress of racial equality in Kansas City.

This presidential election year, we can hope that among the 10,000 Syrian immigrants entering the

Syrian refugee family arrives in Kansas City.  Father holds his new baby born in Jordan./La familia siria llega a Kansas City con un bébé nacido en Jordan

Syrian refugee family arrives in Kansas City. Father holds his new baby born in Jordan./La familia siria llega a Kansas City con un bébé nacido en Jordan

U.S. before September 30 will be persons who eloquently remind us of the country’s founding values. As the father of the Syrian family who arrived in Kansas City this week declared, “I am Muslim” and then went on to say, “We are all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve”.

As for our lawn, it’s doing fine. Last week, a couple of entrepreneurs in their early twenties came by the house and offered their services cutting and edging the grass. That sounded great and the price seemed fair but better yet they threw in a few extras when they mowed for the first time. Unlike California the lawn service workers here usually don’t speak Spanish but with over 50,000 persons who identify themselves as “Hispanic”, there will be plenty of opportunity to keep speaking Spanish.

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Los céspedes son una cosa grande en Kansas City – no mejor dicho por todas partes del Mediooeste estadounidense dondequiera que tenga las cuatro temporadas. El zumbido de cortacéspedes nos llama para tender a la hierba rápidamente creciente en esta época del año. Pero lo que se podría considerar un deber molesto es compensado por la belleza de arbustos de la forsythia que se hinchan con flores amarillas en tanto que redbud, el cornejo y los ciruelos salvajes también comienzan a mostrar sus colores. En casi cada calle, vecindades pobres y ricos, los árboles ya están en la flor. En algunas calles, uno o dos vecinos desafiarán el ritual de la primavera y dejarán a sus céspedes crecer con malas hierbas y en ellas ondan flores moradas o amarillas en el viento.

Asombroso es lo que 39 pulgadas de la lluvia harán a un ambiente a diferencia de los 15 a los cuales hemos sido acostumbrados en California del sur. Mas la vida en general, comparado con la del sur de California, es más fácil aquí. Sobre todo, la lucha debido a presiones económicas es menos pesada. Aquí una pareja de la clase obrera puede comprar una casa en una vecindad tranquila veinte a veinticinco minutos del centro de la cuidad aún en la hora de mayor tránsito. Una tal casa que sería económica para ellos en la región de Los Ángeles requeriría mas o menos un paseo de dos horas alcance.

Para los ricos en Kansas City, un paseo corto del centro de la cuidad los conseguirá a vecindades que parecen a Beverly Hills. Los vecinos estarán más que probablemente en la categoría “blanca” en el Censo estadounidense. La diversidad étnica reina más lejos en los distritos periféricos más nuevos de la Ciudad en donde los afroamericanos y los americanos hispanos, junto con la población inmigrante más reciente, se mueven de las vecindades principales urbanas que permanecen en la decadencia. Hay algunas ciudades suburbanas generalmente blancas en la área al margen de Kansas City pero los distritos cerca de las fronteras de la ciudad reflejan una diversidad del arco iris.

Veinticinco minutos del centro de la cuidad, la nuestra es una vecindad afroamericana de la mayoría mas con una presencia árabe americana importante. La mezquita más grande entre los cinco en la área de Kansas City se ubica de poca distancia de nuestra casa. Esta semana Kansas City dió la bienvenida a la primera familia Siria para ser admitida a los Estados Unidos según un nuevo programa en favor de refugiados Sirios de la Administración de Obama. Pero en una torcedura extraña no serán dados la bienvenida por el estado de Kansas.

La frontera de los estados Kansas y Misuri corre del norte al sur a través de Kansas City y el gobernador de Kansas Sam Brownback dió apoyo con los que quieren excluir a inmigrantes musulmanes de los Estados Unidos. Curioso que antes de la guerra civil estadounidense, Kansas se opusó a la esclavitud cuando Misuri se afilió a la causa Confederada y Kansas sirvió como modelo en la integración de escuelas públicas estadounidenses del norte durante el siglo pasado. Por tanto la oposición del gobernador Brownback a inmigrantes musulmanes se destaca como una traición del apoyo de su estado a igualdad de oportunidades y diversidad étnica en el pasado.

A aquellos que viven fuera de los Estados Unidos, atender como un enfoque de este artículo en la pertenencia étnica puede parecer extraña pero la campaña presidencial corriente le debería ayudar a entender por qué en los Estados Unidos somos preocupados por este aspecto de la vida social. Gracias a Donald Trump y Ted Cruz, la desconfianza del país si no el miedo del “otro” permanece como un medio favorecido de ganar donaciones y votos en este país. Como la segregación de vecindades, escuelas públicas e iglesias en el pasado, los esfuerzos actuales de despertar sospechas de inmigrantes árabes si ganan votos pero van en contra del progreso de la igualdad racial en Kansas City y en la nación.

Este año de eleccion presidenciale, se puede esperar que entre los 10,000 inmigrantes sirios que entran en los Estados Unidos antes del 30 de septiembre sea personas que elocuentemente nos recuerdan de los valores básicos del país. Como el padre de la familia siria que llegó a Kansas City esta semana declaró, “Soy musulmán” y luego siguió a decir, “Somos todos los hijos y las hijas de Adán y Eva”.

En cuanto a nuestro césped, todo muy bien. La semana pasada, un par de empresarios en sus años veinte pasaron por la casa y ofrecieron el servicio de mantenimiento de la hierba. Ese pareció perfecto y el precio pareció justo pero todavía aún más arrojaron en algunos extras cuando cortaron el césped por primera vez. A diferencia de California aquí los trabajadores de servicio de céspedes generalmente no hablan español, pero con más de 50.000 personas de Kansas City que se identifican a sí mismos como “hispanos”, habrá un montón de oportunidades para seguir hablando español.

A Life Transformed/ Una Vida Transformada

Hemer Ernesto Sierra Silva of San Luis Potosi, SLP México, 1934 - 2016

Hemer Ernesto Sierra Silva of San Luis Potosi, SLP México, 1934 – 2016

“Mejor tener un amigo que un peso en el bolsillo” – “it’s better to have a friend than a peso in the pocket” stands out now as among Hemer Ernesto Sierra Silva’s favorite sayings.  And he had a couple of stories to back up the wisdom it conveyed.

Hemer loved to tell the stories – of living on a farm in Oklahoma while a student, of working on Brach’s Candies assembly line in Chicago, of his childhood favorites among the local dishes of Hidalgo and the Huasteca in San Luis Potosí.  His favorite story, the one he loved to tell strangers at least once and friends many times over, recounted his transformation as the son of a Communist school teacher father and a devout Catholic mother to a personal journey with Jesus as an evangelical Protestant.

Here it is, told in his words, as he wrote them down for our blog posting in February 2014.  It is in essence Hemer’s testimony of how he came to live such a long life with fragile health, serving his church and his community with lots of effort and firm opinions shared with a gentle, loving spirit.  During our last visit with him in January he assured us he was ready to accept –once again!- God’s will for his life and we of course believed him.  He died this morning of March 23 at age 81 in his bed with his beloved Marisela and all the children near him.

“As the firewood crackled and warmed the cool, spring night, we youth that had gathered in the circle around the fire listened to the powerful voice of the great missionary, writer and magnificent preacher Frederick Huegel (whose son John with family also served with the Mexican Disciples, ed.). I had accepted the invitation of my friend in the State Public High Schol, Miguel Gallegos, with whom I had had many deep conversations about the Christian faith. Our talks had sown questions, concerns and doubts that I wanted to explore.

My religious advisor with the Catholic Youth Association at that time, Olegario N., never had been able to respond in a satisfactory way to my questions about the numerous statues Catholics worshipped, why we would confess to another person and other questions. I was sixteen years old and Huentepec ( in those days held at the Disciples training center outside Aguascalientes ed. ) was the ideal setting to inspire in me the decision that would would completely change my life’s course.

The preacher’s voice urged us to walk with Jesus and with pounding heart and my mind and spirit fully convinced and then driven as though by a powerful force I stood up and then and there accepted Jesus as my sole and sufficient Personal Savior, my Redeemer and my intercessor with the Lord. This chain of events, my doubts about my faith, my attending Huentepec Camp that year with its unique atmosphere, the inspiration of meeting missionaries in attendance like Paul Kepple, Miss Leila Callender and others, all this combined for an impact that makes Huentepec carry for me the meaning of “to leave behind the old ways and become a new person”.

Everything in my life changed for the good after that night at Huentepec; I was converted and then baptized in my “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)”. It was in Central Christian San Luis Potosi that I had the good fortune to meet my wife and companion of more than 50 years and other good and beloved life long friends. There I met the missionary with a great heart named Guy Mantle ( uncle of the famous Mickey Mantle) who helped me to study in the university in the States on a Presidential Scholarship. He also personally supported me financially at times and thanks to him I was able to earn the degree for the career that I had always dreamed about.

It would make for a much longer article if I wrote of all the blessings that originated with the great event of my life that took place at the Huentepec Camp. So I give many thanks to the Lord for the Disciples Church that continues to organize this event for the youth today.

May the Lord bless you all.”

Hemer's children - Cindy, Ernesto and Eddie - have all participated in Huentepec Camp held anually in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Ernesto met his wife, a member of the Disciples' Guadalajara Church, at the Camp.

Hemer’s children – Cindy, Ernesto and Eddie – have all participated in Huentepec Camp held anually in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Ernesto met his wife, a member of the Disciples’ Guadalajara Church, at the Camp.

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“Se oía el crujido de los leños que alimentaban con su calor  la fresca noche de Primavera y a los jóvenes que estábamos alrededor de ella nos invitaba a oír la potente voz del gran misionero ,escritor y magnifico predicador, Federico Huegel. Había yo aceptado la invitación de mi compañero en la Escuela Normal Estatal, Miguel Gallegos con quien había  yo tenido muchas controversias religiosas  y quien había sembrado en mi ser tantas inquietudes y dudas, que acepté con gusto su invitación para ir a Huentepec; mi Asesor religioso de la ACJM ( Asociación Católica de Jóvenes Mexicanos) Olegario N. nunca pudo contestar a  plena satisfacción mis múltiples dudas ( Los innumerables ídolos y la confesión ante un hombre ,etc )

Tenia yo 16 años y Huentepc (luego ubicado al sitio de la Granja Huentepec de los Discipulos a las orillas de la ciudad de  Aguacalientes, ed.)  era un lugar ideal para que en una noche estrellada tomara yo la decisión que cambio por completo el rumbo de mi vida; la voz del predicador nos invitaba a caminar con Jesús y con mi corazón latiendo fuertemente, mi mente y mi espíritu plenamente convencidos y como impulsado por un potente resorte me paré y ahí  acepté a Jesús como mi  Único y Suficiente Salvador Personal , mi Redentor y mi  intercesor con el Señor.

Esta cadena de hechos, mis dudas, mi aceptación para asistir  a Huentepec,  la atmosfera  única en que se desarrollaba  el Campamento, la presencia  tan inspiradora  de los misioneros que conocí ahí Paul Kepple, Miss Leila Callender, etc. todo esto en conjunto influyeron tanto en mi vida que para mi la palabra Huentepec, significa “dejar  atrás el hombre viejo y ser un hombre nuevo”. Todo en mi vida cambió para bien, me convertí y me bautice en MI “IGLESIA CRISTIANA  DISCIPULOS DE CRISTO”.

Ahí tuve la dicha de conocer a mi esposa y compañera de mas de 50 años, a muy buenos y queridos amigos de toda la vida, ahí conocí a un misionero de un gran corazón, Guy Mantle ( tío del famoso beisbolista Micky Mantle). quien obtuvo para mi la beca “Presidential Scholarship  ” ,fue mi aval financiero, y gracias a él obtuve  el titulé en la carrera en la que siempre soñé.

Seria muy largo enumerar TODAS las Bendiciones que derivan  del gran evento en mi vida que es  haber asistido a mi querido e inolvidable Campamento “HUENTEPEC” , le doy muchas Gracias al Señor por que nuestra Iglesia organiza este evento .

Que el Señor los bendiga.


July 2015 with Hemer, Marisela and two of their children at Central Christian Church San Luis Potosí.