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Enrique Journeys to Bethesda

The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.

-Frederick Buechner, from The Sacred Journey

In this past year, congregations of our Diocese have been looking for ways to collaborate with each other in ministry, worship or social gatherings. Often congregations tend to clusters together with others in a sense of shared commonality-- geography, size, diversity, interests, practices of ministry. But I’d like to encourage you to consider collaborating with a congregation that is completely different from your own…so different as to make you uncomfortable when you first meet.

This winter, members of Misa Alegría, the Spanish language congregation of St. Stephen and the Incarnation and members of the Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda embarked upon an adventure in cross-cultural discovery. I had the great good fortune to be Redeemer’s seminarian for two years before heading off with high hopes of planting a new Latino congregation at St. Stephen and the Incarnation, located in the heart of Latino DC. Church of the Redeemer has generously supported Misa Alegría’s music ministry from our beginning almost ten years ago. They also invite our children to participate in their annual Music Camp. This year Redeemer’s Mission Committee decided they would like to see if our communities could meet and get to know each other.

After several conversations we decided that we would read the Pulitzer Prize winning book Enrique’s Journey/La Travesia de Enrique to help gain an understanding of the passage that most Central American immigrants endure in order to come to the United States. It is a true story and a difficult read. It is a story much like those of many members of the Misa Alegría congregation.

Our first meeting was held at St. Stephen’s; 20 some people equally representing each church. We tried not to feel awkward with one another. We shared our names, food, and song. We talked a little about the book and the Misa folks answered some basic questions that the book raised. We took a group picture. Our body language was stiff. Our smiles were for the camera.

Enrique’s story quickly became the springboard into a deep personal sharing. By our second meeting at Redeemer, Santos, Elsa, Azucena, Blanca and others began to open their hearts and generously offer the details of a tough, painful sojourn of hope in search of new life that will enable them to help the families left behind survive and even thrive.

The stories were riveting…a nighttime chase in the desert by men and dogs with a helicopter hovering overhead only to be saved by a cleft in a rock! Eight months in a border detention prison, her US-born daughter is now Misa Alegría’s first college student—and on a full scholarship. Survival after a fall from the top of the train known as La Bestia (the Beast) that is known for its deadly mutilations and deaths. A song of unswerving faith in God’s presence and providence hums through all these accounts.

The sharing of stories and deep listening led to questions and conversations between people who found common threads in their lives. Back and forth in English and Spanish, our conversations aided by the bilingual people in our group. In our time together we chatted about many things, we exchanged children’s books and recipes and celebrated our time together.

Of her experience, Marie of Redeemer wrote, “It took courage to speak up about the abuse, the fear, the danger…To stir up the pain again…Not to return to see the children left behind…To work hard here in a limbo of reward and loss. Some wept. They said that it meant a lot simply to be heard. All of us were moved, as we sat across from each other, to speak and to listen, fellow Episcopalians in the Diocese of Washington.”

The people of Misa Alegría have come to understand that sharing their stories is an important ministry. By sharing their own journeys they change perceptions, open eyes and touch the hearts of many. They become teachers—a new role for many. So much of ministry with the immigrant community is directed towards helping and teaching the newcomer: how to speak English, how to negotiate this new country, how to this and that. Cross cultural conversations such as these help us to become equal partners and companions for a time. All benefit from both giving and receiving.

On our last night together, we held hands and offered one word prayers and then passed the Peace with heartfelt hugs and smiles all around. Our collaboration has not ended there. Members of the group continue to visit each other for worship and for special events. Together, we are strengthening bonds of mutual affection and nurturing some of the deep desires of the human soul—to hear and be heard, to know and to be known, to recognize that we are all pilgrims on the sacred journey.

I am convinced that one of the most effective ways to build and strengthen any community is though the sharing of our sacred journeys. If your congregation would be interested in forming a Sacred Journey circle or a cross-cultural conversation circle please contact me, The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin.

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