Greetings to all in the Love of Jesus Christ:
First, I want to thank everyone who helped make my installation weekend a complete joy. I am grateful for each of you, excited to be part of the Arizona region, and look forward to our ministry together.
Now that the installation is in the past, we continue moving into the future – a future in a world which is desperately in need of the healing power of God’s love. Towards that end, I want to share a story of pain, love, and the multi-faceted meaning of church …
This past Thursday, about 20 Arizona Disciples, gathered together at the Federal Courthouse in Phoenix in support of hermano (brother) Ramon Bejar, member of Iglesia Alas de Salvacion and moderator of our Hispanic Convencion. Ramon has been a faithful leader in the Christian Church in Arizona for several years. Ramon is married to a legal resident. He is the father of 4 children, 3 of whom are U.S. citizens, and the other is a DACA recipient, and has lived, worked, and worshiped in Arizona for most of his adult life. Ramon was pulled over and detained by ICE on December 18 while driving his son to school. After spending a month in federal prison, Ramon’s first hearing was Thursday.
I found it emotionally difficult to see this kind and gentle man I’ve come to love walk into a courtroom with his hands and feet shackled, as if he is a menace to society. Just 36 hours before his arrest, Ramon and I were laughing and smiling at the annual Hispanic pastors Christmas fiesta. I never imagined what was about to happen. I wish the court system knew the man I know. I longed for a chance for him to come over and talk with us, and for him to get to hug his family members. All that, of course, is not allowed. U.S. Marshals stood between us and Ramon and emphasized that we were not to try to communicate with him at all. During a 90 minute recess, I petitioned for the opportunity to make a pastoral visit. That, too, was denied. The absence of grace, for someone who is used to the openness and blessings of the communion table, was stark.
As cold as the halls of the courthouse felt, however, I was warmed by the presence of Arizona Disciples. Although we only sent notice of the hearing a few days before, I counted at least 9 congregations who sent representatives in support of Ramon and his family: Alas de Salvacion, Templo, Alfa y Omega, Iglesia Dios de Segunda Oportunidad, Community CC of Tempe, FCC Scottsdale, Foothills, Larkspur, and even one dedicated soul from FCC in Tucson. Some who gathered in support have known and worked with Ramon for a long time; others have never met Ramon, but they came to support a Christian brother during a time of difficulty. I was honored to stand among that group.
Sometimes we think “church” means to gather on Sundays and praise God. And it does. But “church” means so much more. “Church” means spending the night with teenagers at the Winter Youth Experience, as a number of our leaders did last weekend at Foothills. “Church” means taking food to a family after a surgery or death. And sometimes “Church” means spending your day at the courthouse with people you’ve never met because you so deeply feel united in God’s amazing love.
Ramon plead guilty to the charge of entering the U.S. without authorization. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 3 but will likely be moved earlier. Following that, Ramon will have another hearing about his immigration status. We will send out notice about both of these future hearings to Arizona Clergy and Regional leadership. If you would like to also receive notice of these events, click here to be added to the communications. You are also invited to read and sign this letter in support of Ramon. Because sometimes being church means writing letters and pleading for grace and mercy of strictness and punishment.
The Disciples of Christ is a movement in which many of us have differing viewpoints about a number of things, and immigration may well be one of them. But what holds us together is our deep belief that we are all God’s children, that everyone is welcome at the table, and that we stay in conversation even when we don’t see eye to eye about politics, theology, and biblical interpretation. Because we DO agree that God’s love is paramount, that God’s vision is unity, and that Christ came for all of us. I ask you to pray for Ramon and his family and to help embody grace, love, and peace in whatever ways you can. Our world is so in need of it – and I am so grateful to be in ministry with each of you.
Dios les bendiga!
Regional Minister and President, Christian Church in Arizona