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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Laura's Border Blog, (Cont)

Tuesday, February 22, 2015

Our day began with conversation with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer, Frank.  Frank is a first generation Mexican American who has worked for the Border Patrol, spent many years as an undercover officer, and now is a supervisor in the Tucson and Nogales, Arizona ICE offices.  Throughout the course of our morning together, several clear themes emerged.  First, was the overall complexity of immigration law and enforcement, which seems to be always changing in its interpretation, subject to funding and political winds.  Second were the very real concerns about the influence and power of the Mexican drug cartels,  and their encroachment in the US:  the drug trade, human trafficking, kidnapping, and weapon smuggling.   Photos demonstrated cartel ingenuity, and extreme cruelty.  Frank feels that the biggest factor empowering the cartels is US demand for drugs, and that the only way to effectively disrupt their influence is to reduce consumption.

This afternoon, we journeyed to the US Federal Courthouse in Tucson, a beautiful new building that was to hold a jarring experience for many of us.  Fellow group members  posted the following apt description on the ORUCC facebook page:

Today the group witnessed a Tucson Federal Court proceeding where 68 men and 2 women (Mexican and Guatemalan citizens) were "processed" as part of Operation Streamline. This effort is intended to deter "illegal immigration" by increasing criminal convictions and prison time.
These young men and women, shackled at their ankles and wrists, were brought in front of the Federal judge in groups of 8. Through a translator, each person was charged with felony illegal re-entry and misdemeanor illegal entry. Each person pled guilty to a plea-bargained charge of misdemeanor illegal entry and was sentenced to between 30-180 days in prison, depending on undisclosed circumstances. Each group of 8 was then removed from the courtroom and then next group brought forward.
This experience has had a profound effect on the group, generating a lot of discussion about the disparity of power in the courtroom, the problems of language and lack of education on the part of the defendants, the dehumanizing effect of the process, and the efficacy of this strategy.
We have only been here two days and we are already deep into the issue, gathering information and experiences that, again and again, remind us of the complexity of immigration in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 23
A fascinating morning with Lupe, a historian who gave us a history lesson of the borderlands from the wider perspective of native indigenous people, sharing the rich and layered history of the region.  It has been only recently that the Border between Mexico and the US has become so tightly controlled:  where once families moved back and forth across both sides, and adjoining communities celebrated festivals from both countries, now there is a wall and a strong, militarized US presence.

This afternoon we crossed the Border, 60 miles south of Tucson at Nogales. 
Crossing into Mexico, we descend into a man-made canyon by a road that twists and turns below high red earth walls, peppered with speed bumps and barriers.  To enter Mexico, requires no passports or custom checks. 
We emerged on the other side to be met by Ceci, our Mexican guide.  Taking the wheel of the van she drove us through steep streets to the  colonia (neighborhood) where we were to stay the night.  Our hosts were warm and welcoming, and we enjoyed time together, with the assistance of our capable translators – getting to know one another over appetizers of cactus salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips.
The conversation continued well into the evening at the home of Rosa and Juan where three of us were staying.  Over a lovely dinner of rice, beans, chicken and vegetables we exchanged stories of family and community from both sides of the border. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekly News 02-27-15


This Sunday we will continue our journey along THE GOSPEL HIGHWAY: Lent and Easter in Terms of New Testament Roads. This week’s road, found at Matthew 7:13, is one we are warned not to take: The Easy Road. Mark’s sermon will point out some contemporary easy roads which lead nowhere but which many find inviting. Are you on one of these roads?


On March 4th we will continue our studies in UNWRITTEN CHAPTERS:    The Gospel in Stories Not Told. This time we will imagine the testimony of the little girl who was raised to life in her room. These Wednesday services are held in fellowship hall at 7 PM.


The March meeting of the Men’s Fellowship will be this Tuesday, March 3, at the home of Nathan Bahr. The gathering time is 6:30 PM.


The Women’s Guild will meet at 1:30 on Thursday, March 5. The Guild will give serious thought to its future at this important meeting. Prior to the business meeting, Rev. Jerry Hancock will be present to speak to the Guild about the jail ministry the women of the Guild support.


At least 8 readers will be needed for the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Service, April 2. Please let Mark know as soon as possible if you are interested in being one of these readers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Laura's Border Blog

On February 22, I am embarking on a journey to the Border
A more apt description of my destination would be the borderlands, the places upon and adjacent to each side of the Mexican -American border,  near Tuscon and Nogales, Mexico.
I am privileged to travel with members of Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ, and together we will be hosted by Borderlinks (Borderlinks.org) whose purpose is to educate people about the history, challenges, and humanitarian crisis in our midst through the many perspectives of people and institutions that are a part of this complex tapestry.
I journey knowing that the people l shall meet, and the stories they have to tell, will have much to teach me.  My prayer is that I will listen with an open heart, grow in understanding, and discover how I might faithfully respond to the needs of immigrant people, and all others who live in borderlands places, not only those in the Soudthwest, but within our own community.

Sunday, February 22
My day began in the bright, chilyl morning of Wisconsin winter, 3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Arriving in Tuscon, it was partly cloudy and 73, and as soon as I left the airport I began shedding layers!  It is a quiet Sunday afternoon in Tucson, and our group is trickling in to the Road Runner hostel, a few blocks from the heart of downtown.  There has been time to wander and wonder at the colorful flowers, brightly painted stucco, and historic architecture, the most magnificent of which was St. Augustine’s cathedral. 

There is always something a bit surreal when we change climates and cultures in just a half day’s time.
My journey here, by airports and taxi, was one of relative ease.  For those crossing the desert, the journey is far longer, and much more treacherous.   

Monday, February 23
This morning, we were met at the hostel by our Borderlinks guide, Grace.  It is an apt name for this lovely young woman who is doing a one year internship here through the Presbyterian Church USA's Young Adult Volunteers.  After settling into our dorm rooms at Borderlinks, we spent the morning in conversation and orientation under Grace's gifted leadership.  The history of immigration across the Mexican-US border is a fascinating one.  Over the last forty years each decade has triggered a different impetus for border crossings.  In the 80's, the abusive dictatorships and civil wars of Central American countries caused many to flee their homeland.  In the 1990's, the NAFTA trade agreements contributed to a massive shift in the agriculturally based Mexican economy, making family farms unsustainable, and encouraging many to come to the US seeking work. After 9/11, US border security tightened, and with increasing vigilance, tensions around the border escalated.  In recent years, the Mexican drug cartels and violence in both Mexico and Central America have spurred many to flee for their lives.  Throughout this time, there have been many changes in border policy and public sentiment towards Central American and Mexican immigrants.
Our group has made a covenant for our time together, and our learning will be guided by three words:  "seeing, thinking, and acting". It is important to know and understand how we shall be in relationship with one another as we journey.

This afternoon we traveled to Green Valley, about 30 miles south of Tucson.  Green Valley is known as a retirement community, but it is there that we meet Chura, co-founder of the Green-Valley Samaritans.  Their mission is to provide water and humanitarian assistance to immigrants who are crossing the desert.  Chura is an incredibly energetic woman who is passionate about her desert ministry, and deeply compassionate towards all those who suffer.  We spent over two hours in her home of brightly multi-colored stuccoed walls, as she shared stories of her work over artifacts that she had found in the desert.  It was difficult to see the evidence of people's lives who have crossed the desert - water bottles, family pictures, prayer beads and make-up bags, and a little mickey mouse jacket that couldn't have belonged to a child much older than three.  The stark reality is that many people die in their desert crossing, others are victimized and left behind by their guides, and women are especially vulnerable to assault.  A desert crossing can take well up to 7 days, in heat of up to 130 in the summer.  Often, people are told by their guides - the coyotes - that the crossing will only take a few hours.  It is not physically possible to carry all the water you need for the journey.  And so often, death comes.

We walked into the desert with Chura at the end of her street.  The cactus were beautiful, the earth red and sandy.  But as we walked, we began to see signs of hymn life - a sweatshirt, a backpack, a shoe, a water bottle.  Hardest, was the discovery of a child's shoe, laying on it's side in the scrub.  We can only hope that child survived the journey.  It was troubling to be walking in the paths of immigrants on a harrowing journey, only a few minutes from an affluent desert community.
The contrast between these worlds - the newly built homes, homes, the beauty of the desert, and the desperate journey of people who are hidden from our view was difficult to absorb.

After dinner we attended a vigil at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, a congregation which has been long active in the sanctuary movement.  There, we met Rosa, an undocumented immigrant woman who has been living at the church for the past 6 months, offered sanctuary by the church congregation  facing deportation.  Rosa has lived in the US for many years, is married with two sons, 8 and 11.  There is a vigil and worship held each night with Rosa present, and many who stay with her.  We had the gift of sharing in worship with these folk, in prayer, reflection, and song, and hearing Rosa's story.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekly News 02-20-15


THE GOSPEL HIGHWAY: Lent and Easter in Terms of New Testament Roads is the theme for Mark’s Sunday morning sermons during this season. The first road we will think about is identified from Mark 10:32-34: The Road to Jerusalem. This is a much-traveled highway today, and not just one from first century Palestine. The Barry Robinson Chorus will be singing during worship.


On February 25 our midweek Lenten service will be in the fellowship hall. Mark will continue his series UNWRITTEN CHAPTERS: The Gospel in Stories Not Told with a biographical sermon on the mother-in-law of a disciple.


A five-week Monday night class in Islam is set to begin this Monday, February 23. The opening topic is The Life of Muhammad. This session will help us gain an understanding of the founding of Islam. The class will meet in the Conference Room at 7 and go for about an hour.


Pearl S. Buck’s Sons will be the book discussed at the February meeting of the Book Discussion Group. The meeting will be at 7 PM on Monday, February 23.

FAITH ON THE MOVE: Mapping our Future

Do you have your 2015 stewardship materials? If not, be sure to pick yours up when you come for worship Wednesday night or Sunday morning. Do you have your materials? Have you completed and returned the envelope? Salem is poised to move in significant ways this year, but, under God, it all depends upon the contributions the church receives from people like you.


The Women’s Guild will meet at 1:30 on Thursday, March 5. The Guild will give serious thought to its future at this important meeting.


At least 8 readers will be needed for the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Service, April 2. Please let Mark know as soon as possible if you are interested in being one of these readers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekly News 02-13-15


The Handbell Choir and the Chancel Choir will be doing a combined piece this Sunday and the bells will also play during the Offertory. “Only Jesus” is the title of Mark’s sermon based on Mark 9:8. We will think about situations when many of the props that support our faith are gone or weakened and we do not have much to go on. The “Time with Children” will talk about how worship is organized as a conversation.

FAITH ON THE MOVE: Mapping Our Future

The 2015 Stewardship Drive – FAITH ON THE MOVE: Mapping Our Future – begins in earnest this Sunday. Be ready to be handed the materials you will need to map out your giving to the church in 2015. Anticipate this aspect of your life of faith by turning to God in prayer now, asking what it is God would like you to give in 2015 toward the life and mission of your church.

ASH WEDNESDAY . . . February 18

Wednesday, February 18, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. We will have a worship service, with Holy Communion, in the sanctuary that evening at 7. Mark will open the Lenten series Unwritten Chapters with a meditation on the father of the epileptic boy. The Chancel Choir will sing. Please think about using these Lenten services as a way of strengthening your relationship with God.


Confirmands, please remember we do not have our 6:30 classes on Wednesdays during Lent. But it is hoped you will participate in the Wednesday night services, each of which will begin at 7 PM. Classes in other years have been faithful in Lenten attendance. There is much confidence this year’s class will do the same.


Safe Ministry is the new name we use for what was formerly known as Safe Sanctuary. This program is a method of seeing to it that our children, youth, and volunteers are free here at the church from abuse or accusations of abuse.  A Safe Ministry Team oversees these measures. We are currently in need of people to serve on this committee. To volunteer, send a return email. Thanks! (The change in names was called for because the term “Safe Sanctuary” is under copyright protection.)


This sounds unpleasant, but it is a necessary part of congregational life. Salem’s Constitution, as a way of preserving the meaning of church membership, requires that the Church Council move to a Conditional Member List those persons who have not been present in worship for a period of two years or who have not contributed to the life of the church over that time. Within the next couple of weeks, letters will be going out from the Council to those on the current Conditional Member List. If you have family members or friends you know to be inactive, the Council would appreciate it if you would help interpret, if and when you have opportunity, the nature and purpose of this letter. We do not want to exclude anyone from our fellowship, of course, but we do not want to keep annoying people with bothersome mailings and such if their hearts are elsewhere. Of course, an important piece of the letter invites folks to think about giving church another chance! There are exciting things happening around here, all relevant to life.


Pat Anderson (scheduled to come home tomorrow from St. Mary’s Care Center following knee surgery Feb. 3); Kathy Butzlaff’s father (Dave Stangel, with health issues in Florida); Peter and Julie Flood (on the Feb. 1 birth of their son, Matthew Charles); Bernice Hamilton (recovering nicely after a fall at home); Sarah Pundt’s mother (Ruthellen Phillips, double heart valve surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore); the family of Alice Wittwer who died on Feb. 8

Friday, February 6, 2015

Weekly News 02-06-15


This second Sunday in February will be a Communion Sunday for us. In your anticipation of worship this week, ponder the question of what Holy Communion means to you. What do you bring to the Sacrament of Communion? What do you hope to take away from the celebration of Communion? Sunday’s printed prayers will concentrate on the mysteries of God and the sermon will focus on the troubles (demons) of life. The guiding text is Mark 1:32-34.


Join the Salem music department and friends this Sunday at 3pm for a benefit concert in support of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. In addition to great music, a DAIS representative will speak about current projects and the growing needs of Dane county. The concert will include an intermission and attendees are warmly invited to a free reception afterward. Those wishing to do more for DAIS should bring used cell phones, Walgreens gift cards (for cold/flu medicine), and kids blankets to add to our donation collection. Childcare will be provided during the concert.


We will be observing “Scout Sunday” during worship on February 8. Dan Durnen is Salem’s liaison to the Boy Scouts, and he has sent out an invitation to all the families in Cub Scout Pack 549, encouraging them to worship with us this week. Here is a bit from his email. It speaks of Salem’s long history with scouting.
“This year’s Scout Sunday falls on Feb. 8, which also happens to be BSA’s 105th birthday!  Please acknowledge this EXTRA special scouting day by having your scout wear their Class A uniform to their place of worship.

“As an alternative to your typical place of worship I cordially invite you to attend service at our sponsoring organization since 1964, Salem UCC (http://www.salemchurchverona.org/), located in the heart of Verona starting at 10:15am. During the service there will be a very special presentation by Troop 349 who will be presenting the church with two Eagle Scout plaques indentifying the 81, and still growing, Eagle Scout recipients dating back to 1967!”


Our Sunday School staff of teachers will meet on Monday, the 9th, at 7 pm. The Rev. Tammy Martens, Pastor for Children, Youth, and Families at Orchard Ridge UCC will be present with us to share about what Orchard Ridge is doing in its Sunday School. [Even if you are not a Sunday School teacher, our teachers will not mind if you sit in to learn what Tammy has to say.]


Ash Wednesday, February 18, marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. We will have a worship service, with Holy Communion, in the sanctuary that evening at 7. On the subsequent Wednesdays of Lent we will hold our worship services more informally in fellowship hall. Mark’s preaching theme this year is “Unwritten Chapters: The Gospel in Stories not Told.” Each night we will think about the biography of some Bible person whose life was dramatically impacted by Jesus, but whom we never see afterwards. We’ll imagine each night what that person’s testimony might have been. All along the way, we will think of how Jesus impacts us. Mark these nights on your calendar now, and plan to be present for Wednesday evening worship during Lent.

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grow as disciples,
live as servants, and
share the strength of Christian fellowship
all for the glory of God.
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Verona, WI 53593

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