I am a white, middle-class, 51 year-old American male. My ancestral family’s last immigration to America now happened well over 100 years ago, from Denmark. So my heritage hasn’t really informed me when it comes to the issue of immigration. I am also a second-generation, Christian minister and have been a lead pastor for about fourteen years. So why am I walking El Camino?
Participating in El Camino is a way to help me understand the issue of immigration at a deeper level. It will be both a physical, intellectual and spiritual challenge.
When I heard the idea for this walk a few months ago, from Noel Castellanos at CCDA, it caught my attention. This idea was very different from many of the other ideas that come across my email from other contacts. I was intrigued. So, I decided to ask people in my circle of contacts what they thought of the idea of me participating in this walk.
I ended up engaging with many people in some very deep and meaningful conversations. One of the first of these discussions was with a fellow board member at our church. My initial question led us to talk more deeply about the general subject of immigration. I also sought out people with a Latino heritage since the issue of immigration greatly affects Latinos in the U.S.
I talked with a third-generation, Mexican-American man whose grandmother marched with Cesar Chavez. I also talked with a first-generation, Mexican-American woman who came to the U.S. as a teenager, and is now a grandmother. She told me that she traveled in the back of a truck with thirty to forty people who all feared for their lives. Additionally, I learned a lot from a man in our church that grew up in Central America. He has opened many people’s eyes to the needs concerning those immigrants who are fleeing for their lives. These discussions drew me deeper into the issue of immigration and helped confirm the idea that I should participate in El Camino.
In every conversation, it was my goal to be a good listener. I am now realizing that I have much to learn from these people and their experiences. So far, I am learning that the U.S. needs to do a better job at caring for those immigrants who shoulder part of our economy, by being part of the labor force. One question I have is, how do we help immigrants in the U.S. develop a strong American identity while also allowing them to keep their Latino heritage strongly intact?
These conversations and questions are all relevant to my church, as the demographic of people changes around us. Martinez, the city in California where I pastor, has a growing Hispanic population. On a wider scale, our county, Contra Costa, also has a growing Hispanic population. As a church, we have made some inroads, but there is more that we could do to reach out, welcome and build bridges with our Hispanic brothers and sisters.
I have a lot more to learn about all of this, but what I know for sure is:
“The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD.” (Ps. 146:9-10)
As a pastor and a Christian, it is my responsibility to work with God our Father on this important mission. And so I walk, El Camino Del Inmigrante.
- Pastor Bill Francis
Bill Francis is a husband and a father of 3 young adult sons. He pastors at Morello Hills Christian Church in Martinez, a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was born and raised. Bill walks especially for the hard-working immigrants who find their way to Martinez.