Organizing for Mission
Report of the President to the Women's Division Board of Directors
United Methodist Women President Inelda González addressed directors, guests and staff at the annual Women’s Division board of directors fall meeting, paying tribute to the work of early women missionaries and challenging attendees to be proactive in mission work today, especially regarding immigration.
Early Women Missionaries
Women from different traditions in the early United States organized for mission when they themselves were legally classified as “nonpersons,” Ms. González stated. “There was little service to women because of prejudice and limitations of cultural attitudes both in the church and in the society. This only created a stirring to proclaim the gospel in its many forms.” Early women missionaries took seriously Jesus’ word that the deeds done to “the least” among them were done to him. They helped the hungry, the sick, the lonely, and those with no voice, Ms. González said.
When America was growing, immigrants from various countries answered the call to help build it, immigrants who needed help finding a place to live, food to eat, a living wage. “One American Christian woman, Alma Mathews,” Ms. González shared, “was concerned with shiploads from other countries that included young women she met as passengers arriving on the shores of New York City. She was known to provide rooms at ‘Alma Mathews House’ for a small monthly fee to the young women who paid once they were employed.” The Alma Mathews House today is owned and still used by United Methodist Women.
Mission for Today
“Today, immigration is not the same as what Alma Mathews confronted,” Ms. González continued. The world has become smaller and job opportunities for immigrants fewer. “The United States of America has become the coveted land of opportunity for persons who enter this country legally or illegally,” Ms. González explained. The U.S. immigration system that has emerged because of this is broken, and efforts to repair it have not only failed but have caused further problems.
Looking to the future, Ms. González shared that “on October 1, 2010, global humanitarian agency Church World Service applauded Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for their introduction of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010.” Church World Service is a partner of United Methodist Women.
Passage of this act will “reduce waiting times for separated families to be reunited, protect both U.S.-born and immigrant workers, provide a pathway by which undocumented immigrants could earn their legal status and eventual citizenship, admit refugees as lawful permanent residents, improve immigration detention conditions and increase the quality of border enforcement by working with local border communities,” Ms. González explained, also stating that these changes would “increase the gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, including increases in tax revenue, investment, wage growth and job creation.”
Ms. González encouraged attendees to ask, Who is my neighbor? Who will advocate for the voiceless? “Let us not be complacent!” she proclaimed, instructing those present to fight exclusion on every level and for all reasons. She urged United Methodist Women directors, members and staff to take action to help our neighbors find a place to live, food to eat, a living wage, a friend, a voice.
Report of the President to the Women's Division
We, United Methodist Women, are different than other groups, clubs, or fellowships. What makes us different? We are organized for mission. Although individually diverse, we make mission possible when we come together with a shared mission focus. We are women of faith who discern God’s will for our lives and the world while at the same time try to deepen our understanding of God. Yes, we have been led to faith by those who have come before us. They followed the way of the divine human being who calls us all into his fellowship.
The women who came before us, serving the church at home and in other countries, were at the forefront of movements for change. When the women from the different traditions organized for mission about the same time in history, women were legally classified as “non-persons”. There was little service to women because of prejudice and limitations of cultural attitudes both in the church and in the society.
This only created a stirring to proclaim the gospel in its many forms.
When Jesus declared that deeds done to “the least” of us are done to him was truly taken seriously. Women responded to the needs of people. Those that were hungry, lonely, ill - those with no voice.
Today, we seem to live in a world full of barriers and forms of exclusion. We find signs posted everywhere that keep people out: “Private”, “No Trespassing”, “No Entry”, “Members Only”. We congratulate ourselves that we are accepted where others are not. People are excluded because of their skin color, their gender, their age, their language and even how they are dressed.
Who is my neighbor? Our country is rich in its diversity. People have come from all over the world, bringing their own cultures, language, beliefs, and talents. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked in his last book, “Where do we go from here – chaos or community?” That question and the answer are more relevant today than ever before.
From the very beginnings of the women’s missionary movement through the present day, we have been empowered to be in mission in new and innovative ways. We are energized, encouraged, and challenged to create partnerships with women different from ourselves by embracing the concepts of inclusivity and acceptance. We are putting our faith into action as a part of our Christian responsibility by: engaging in study and reflection, spiritual grounding, participating in Ubuntu or hands-on projects, studying emerging issues and so many others. Women have given generously and with much sacrifice in responding to the needs of other women.
Our inheritance from our foremothers includes many behaviors besides the ones aforementioned. At the time when America was growing by leaps and bounds, workers were few. The opportunities for a variety of available jobs were answered by immigrants from a variety of countries.
One American Christian woman, Alma Mathews, was concerned with shiploads from other countries that included young women she met as passengers arriving on the shores of New York City. She was known to provide rooms at “Alma Mathews House” for a small monthly fee to the young women who paid once they were employed. This service Alma Mathews provided was one of many that helped the immigrants at that time. Eventually, most young women who stayed in the US became naturalized citizens. By the way, Alma Mathews House in NYC is owned and still used by UMW.
Today, immigration is not the same as what Alma Mathews confronted. The world has become smaller with all the advances and inventions that have come to be. The variety of job opportunities have diminished in many parts of the world. The world has become very complex and greatly populated in many countries throughout the world. The United States of America has become the coveted land of opportunity for persons that enter this country legally or illegally. This is not an issue that just immerged. Many factors have contributed to the “broken immigration system”.
Years of trying to correct or repair the immigration system has been for naught. Policies related to the Immigration System have created a variety of other problems that have yet to be resolved. One such problem is that families have been separated whether the children are US-born or not. Parents are sent to Detention Centers and children are resettled in foster care, but only in designated houses. Every designated house will only house either same age boys or girls.
On October 1, 2010, the global humanitarian agency, Church World Service (CWS), applauded Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for their introduction of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 would reduce waiting times for separated families to be reunited, protect both US-born and immigrant workers, provide a pathway by which undocumented immigrants could earn their legal status and eventual citizenship, admit refugees as lawful permanent residents, improve immigration detention conditions, and increase the quality of border enforcement by working with local border communities.
CWS’s work for immigration reform is informed by the daily experiences of local congregations of its 36 member denominations and communions, and of its 34 refugee resettlement affiliate offices in 21 states.
A recent report by the Center for American Progress shows that providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants and reforming the visa system would increase the Gross Domestic Product by $1.5 trillion over 10 years including increases in tax revenue, investment, wage growth, and job creation. Erol Kekic is the Director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program.
Let us not be complacent! Let us be proactive. Who is my neighbor? Who will advocate for the voiceless? Our foremothers emphasized the contributions and support of all women to the total mission work. In the earliest organization, the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, each member was asked to give “two cents a week and a prayer.” What is your response? How will you respond?
Tara Barnes is staff editor for the Women's Division.