I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me
The first Friday of March is, for many women around the world, a special day of prayer. It is, in fact, the World Day of Prayer (WDP). "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" is the celebratory theme of this year's service prepared by the WDP Committee in France.
Stories of migrant women intertwine with biblical texts to point us in the direction of welcoming (Leviticus 19) and recognizing Jesus in the face of "the least of these" (Matthew 25). On the World Day of Prayer, these stories were told in many languages, in more than 170 countries. Celebrations were held in migrant and refugee communities, a better understanding of migration was explored, there was a call for welcoming even in the midst of increasing restrictions and laws, and the offering collected went toward supporting women's projects locally and globally as well as the Word Day of Prayer movement. New initiatives and partnerships emerge from the thematic services held each year. The online series of biblical reflections on global migration that United Methodist Women and the WDP International Committee have collaborated on is one example. These stories, drawn from each network, will soon be posted on each one's website.
The worship resource prepared by the WDP Committee creates an opportunity to study the Bible and learn about the context and social issues that impact, in particular, women and children living in the focus country. The grass-roots ecumenical relationship that sustains this movement is grounded in the movement's motto, "Informed prayer and prayerful action." Informed prayer empowers women to tell their stories as they want, to have a say in research and documentation, and to express their hopes, beliefs and concerns. Prayerful action means that, on one hand, the offering collected during the worship service is generally used to support women's projects, especially in poor countries; and, on the other hand, learning about and addressing political, social, gender and economic issues empowers women on all levels.
In 2012, in the Dominican Republic, the service was held in Spanish and Creole. The service took place at the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED), Episcopal Church, Free Methodist Church, Church of God, Evangelicals Temples and Baptist Church. As the Dominican women studied and celebrated that year's theme, "Let justice prevail," written by the WDP National Committee of Malaysia, they realized that their struggles were similar to those of Malaysian women. "There are the laws, but they are not implemented. Women suffer injustice just because they are women. We recognized that we suffer the same injustices but the Malaysian women are courageous. Women can't stop working for justice. We have the right to an abundant life, and it empowers us to claim equality and respect as human beings. As Christians we need to promote women's human rights education and to learn the laws that protect women. Like the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge, women stand up to injustice without considering the consequences. In the service, we told the Bible story from the perspective of courage to challenge injustice in the workplace, in the home, and in the churches where the violence is increasing. To bring it to our context, we shared two stories from our country in our service: Mama Tingo, from the Yamasa community, who lost her life claiming the rights for land, so her family and community could plant on that land; and the story of the Mirabal sisters, known as the Butterflies. They died in the hands of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in their fight for social justice. This entire program inspired by the WDP Malaysia helped our sisters and brothers to realize that they are very important for justice to prevail. Our prayer is that all women and men regardless of their race, beliefs, or economic background can live in peace and koinonia. Our action is to educate women and men, youth and children to justice and peace in our nation and in our environment," reports the WDP Committee of the Dominican Republican for the WDPIC Journal 2012.
This annual celebration is a legacy of late-19th-century missionary movements in the United States and Canada, where women developed a support process through prayer, learning and offering to enable women in foreign missions. United Methodist Women and its predecessor organizations have funded and supported World Day of Prayer since its inception. Today, this movement is carried out by women ecumenically organized as national committees in countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America and the Pacific. In the United States, the World Day of Prayer is promoted by the USA Committee.
The most recent gathering of this worldwide movement occurred June 10-17, 2012, with the support of United Methodist Women. Around 225 women representing WDP committees from 103 countries gathered in New York. Under the theme "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24), migration was explored as the lens through which we can seek justice. Elmira Nazombe, a former United Methodist Women staff member, with Carol Barton and Jennifer McCallum, both UMW staff members, facilitated the transformative educational process during the international meeting.
We listened to the biblical migration stories and our own stories of migration. In the regional meetings, the groups realized that big events in Europe, like the Olympics, can be a "pull factor" for migration, as they attract migrant workers looking for job opportunities. In some cases, this turns out to be a means for human trafficking. In the Caribbean/North American and Pacific regions, natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes or rising floodwaters caused by climate change force people to look for a safer place to live. In the Latin American, African and Asian regions, poverty, insecurity or a search for quality education triggers migration. As the dialog progressed, many of the participants discovered themselves migrants by reason of force or by choice.
With the recollection of the gospel mandate that asks us when it was that we fed or sheltered "the least of these," the meeting entered into what was called the spirituality of recognition by Glory Dharmaraj, United Methodist Women executive secretary for justice education: "In the Matthew passage, the metric is based on one's attitude and action towards the needy, especially in unexpected and unusual places." Groups of WDP delegates then visited 14 nongovernmental or church-based organizations and met migrant leaders and activists who had organized to provide services and shelter, art and education for peace, and to advocate at the United Nations. The spirituality of recognition calls for radical hospitality toward the stranger. And that is where we were as we gathered together March 1, 2013, to claim, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."