By Sarabeth Goodwin
I am Latino missioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Just a year and a half old, the Misa Alegria is the youngest of the six Latino/Hispano congregations in the Diocese of Washington. By the grace of God and those who travel the way with me, I have been given a special gift: an invitation to cross into a different culture. I share in the journeys of many who live in the shadowlands—a parallel world often hidden from the mainstream where pain and challenge are daily bread, but faith endures. Here there are crossroads where the biblical stories intersect lives not as metaphors, but as realities.
The recent failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform in this country has been followed by increased raids in homes, workplaces and on playgrounds in our area and elsewhere. Fear and anxiety are commonplace in our community. Current laws do not encourage the integrity of families. We have a broken system that ensures cheap labor while establishing an underclass that labors dutifully without benefit of rights and protections. How we treat the sojourner in our land is a moral question which we as Christians must examine through the light of Scripture and the bond of our baptismal covenant, humbly seeking the guidance of the Spirit.
I share here a story from the Misa Alegría family.
Raids, detention and deportation have been lurking around the Misa Alegría for many months now—nephews, daughters-in-law, friends—but until recently nobody from our immediate family had been affected by our broken immigration system.
Late in August, we felt the impact. Sunday, Aug. 19, we bid a sad farewell to two of our own, a farewell that will mean long years of separation to a young family. Sandy made the painful decision to return to Ecuador with her 3-year-old daughter, Camila. Her husband, Daniel (not his real name) must remain here in the U.S.
Misa Alegría welcomed Sandy and Daniel to our congregation last January. We baptized Camila on July 15. Because of her solid Christian formation, I asked Sandy to help us with church school for the youngest. She was hesitant. The next week she explained why. Her mother was gravely ill and she needed to return to Ecuador to be with her.
Sandy had come to the United States some years ago to work and to study. She met and fell in love with Daniel and overstayed her visa. Three years ago, Camila was born. When Sandy’s mother became sick, the family found itself in a dilemma. Should Sandy stay here and never see her mother again? Should she return to be with her mother, knowing that under the current laws she would be banned from reentering the U.S. for 10 years for having overstayed her visa? And would this country even issue her another visa? And what about Camila, a U.S. citizen?
Together Daniel and Sandy made the agonizing decision for her to return to Ecuador with Camila.
Daniel must remain here. He is the only member of his family in this country. His mother is undergoing cancer treatment in Mexico City and he is financially responsible for her medical care. Only by Daniel’s working here can the family afford her medical care. He must now assist his family in Ecuador as well. If he leaves this country to visit either his family in Mexico or his family in Ecuador, he will not be allowed to return.
The family’s final Sunday at Misa Alegría – the “joyful mass” – was very difficult. We prayed for a safe journey for Sandy and Camila. Then I wrapped my stole around Sandy and Daniel’s joined hands and blessed their marriage. I could hardly see to read the prayer for the tears. When they stood up and kissed each other, I can only describe the response of our congregation as a collective sob.
One bright spot for Sandy is that the Episcopal Church, which she has come to appreciate, is only three blocks from her house in Quito.
Daniel continues to worship with our congregation. He hopes to save enough money to join Sandy and Camila in Ecuador in several years. They talk on the phone every day. Camila misses her daddy. Please keep them in your prayers.
Editor’s note: Shortly after returning to Ecuador, Camila underwent a complete battery of tests and scans to identify a malady that is affecting her bones and neuromuscular system. Both Sandy and Daniel will need to undergo genetic testing to help identify and treat the specific syndrome. You can help this family with your prayers and by making a donation to Camila’s Care, c/o The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, St.Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010.