Bishop José García: Why I am doing El Camino

Prior to coming to Bread for the World, I served as the State Bishop for the Church of God of Prophecy in California. About seventy percent of the churches under my care were Latino churches. In many of them, I came across families that were undocumented. Many shared with me their stories of why they made the dangerous journey, risking their lives, seeking a better life for their families and loved ones. Political and social injustice, violence, war, hunger, poverty, crime, persecution, lack of opportunity, among other reasons would be prevalent in their stories.

 I realized that their stories were not much different from those of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, and many others in the Bible. At one time or another, these same people had to escape for many of the same reasons listed above, and they became aliens in a foreign land. Even Jesus, our savior, experienced the journey and life of an immigrant family. When Joseph and Mary faced the threat of Herod’s order to kill all children under two years old, they fled to Egypt. More than likely, they sought a community where Jews could find refuge during the time of captivity (cf. Jeremiah 43, 44). Like most immigrants, Joseph might have had to find a job, affordable housing and find a place to shop for kosher food. 1

Reading about the plight of so many immigrants in the Bible made me realize that our response to the issue of immigration needs to be directed by a worldview that is shaped by biblical principles rather than secular rhetoric.There is ample evidence in the Bible indicating that we should care for the “stranger among us.”

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34). 

“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). 

Immigrants should not be considered foreigners; they are our neighbors. In the Old Testament, God reminded his people that they should recall their roots as aliens and, thus, identify with their plight. In the New Testament also, we are called to welcome the sojourner and extend hospitality to strangers (Romans 12:13).The Bible clearly informs us that we need to make the choice “to do good to whom good is due” by showing God’s love, compassion, and His Spirit of service towards our neighbor, the “stranger at our gates.”

However, the sad reality is that most immigrants are not treated with compassion, as the Bible teaches us to. While the lives of most immigrants improve in the United States, many also face rejection for not speaking English, and being “different.” They suffer disproportionately from hunger, food insecurity and poverty. About one-quarter of undocumented immigrants live in poverty. Thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrant adults live in poverty (this is almost double the 18% rate for the children of U.S.-born adults). Undocumented immigrants receive lower wages and many times are exploited because of their undocumented status and fear of deportation. This status limits their access to the social safety net and leaves them less likely to have adequate housing, education, and health services.

And that is why I walk in solidarity with my undocumented brothers and sisters. To call to attention the root causes of hunger, and highlight the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants.  At Bread for the World, we believe that addressing the nation’s broken immigration system would lift a significant number of undocumented immigrants in the United States out of hunger and poverty. This will benefit the country as a whole.

As Christians, we are compelled by God’s love to “receive the stranger”. By doing so one day we will surely hear the words:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:34, 35).

 Bishop José García, Director of Church Relations. Joined Bread for the World in August of 2014. He plays a key role in carrying out Bread’s Long-Term Plan and the newly-adopted Three-Year plan, emphasizing grounding our work in God’s love and becoming a more diverse organization. Previously, he served for ten years as the Presiding Bishop for the Church of God of Prophecy in California. He has served as Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for Community Health, a non-profit organization that dealt with the numerous disparities in health, social and economic status faced by Hispanics in the US. He has served also in local and national boards that advocate for immigration reform, such as NALEC and “La Red de Pastores del Sur de California.”

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