Migration resources

These are books, articles, and websites that I have found helpful in thinking about Christian perspectives on immigration. The list shamelessly includes this blog, as well as articles in The Lutheran about the congregation I serve.

Articles and websites

Bailie, Paul. borderpastor.wordpress.com. This is the blog where I occasionally share thoughts and reflections about ministry at San Lucas and Cristo Rey.

Bailie, Paul. “Where the Church Needs to Be,” Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, ePistle, January 2012. http://www.lstc.edu/voices/stories/bailie.php.

Dworin, Diana. “Christmas Journey: Las Posadas Traditions Prompt Holiday Hospitality,” The Lutheran. December 2012.

http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=11137&r=516. San Lucas is featured in an article about Las Posadas, the Mexican Christmas tradition of reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging.

EvangelicalLutheranChurch in America. “A Message on Immigration,” 1998. www.elca.org/socialstatements/immigration.

EvangelicalLutheranChurch in America. “Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform,” 2009.http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Resolutions/Comprehensive-Immigration-Reform.aspx.

Severson, Lucky. “Eagle Pass Border Wall,” Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Episode 1136, May 9, 2008. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1136/feature.html. The video is viewable online, and although made before the wall was built, provides several balanced perspectives about life in Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras.

Sime, Kathryn. “Don’t Just Plan a Mission Trip…Build an Experience,” The Lutheran, June 2012. http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=10749. Members from a mission partner congregation in Iowa are quoted about their relationship with San Lucas.

Tobia, P.J. “Minor Emergency,” Texas Monthly, August 2011. http://www.texasmonthly.com/preview/2011-08-01/letterfromeaglepass. Highlights programs for teen drug offenders in Eagle   Pass, with sobering statistics about the problem.


Bouman, Stephen and Ralston Deffenbaugh. They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009.

Chomsky, Aviva.“They Take our Jobs” And 20 Other Myths About Immigration.Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.

Daniel, Ben. Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

De La Torre, Miguel. Trail of Hopes and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009.

Myers, Ched and Matthew Colwell. Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012.

Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother.New York: Random House, 2007.


Las Posadas

San Lucas once again was mentioned in The Lutheran, the monthly magazine for our denomination. It’s part of an article about Christmas celebrations. I talk about Las Posadas, the Mexican custom of reenacting the journey that Mary and Joseph take looking for lodging in Bethlehem.




You need to be a print subscriber to read the whole article online, but here is my good soundbite:

Las Posadas teaches children valuable lessons about showing hospitality to those whom God gives us the opportunity to greet. “It reminds us of our own journeys in life and how we seek and receive a welcome from others,” Bailie said.


This year at San Lucas, we will celebrate Las Posadas on Thursday, December 20.

Across the River

Whenever I have visitors to Eagle Pass, I love to take them downtown to the shores of the Rio Grande, past the border fence, and near the bridge. You can see the church steeples and the river walk across in Piedras Negras. A giant Mexican flag towers above. Sometimes you can hear soccer games or see cows. Standing by the fence, I often read from Ephesians, thinking of Christ who breaks down our walls.


Last week, a group from our Synod’s Peace not Walls team visited San Lucas and Cristo Rey. Two women on the group have served as ecumenical accompaniers in Israel and Palestine. Officially the ELCA’s Peace not Walls efforts focus on life in the Middle East, but in Southwestern Texas, we find many similarities with the wall we have here.


One of these recent visitors, Pastor Sharon, shared about her experience on her own blog:



A composted church

San Lucas now has a compost bin. Our mission partners from Iowa built it a few weeks ago after I had suggested it as a way for us to deal with our lawn clippings, horse manure, and the produce donated for the food bank that has already started to spoil. We’ve already started to put leaves, branches, rotten tomatoes, and cantaloupe rinds into the wooden containers. In three or four months, these remains will become something new and useful, full of microscopic organisms and minerals that bring new life and help other plants grow. The compost is a good project for ecology and creation stewardship, but it is also a perfect metaphor for resurrection.


Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain: but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).


We can use the compost image to think of the transformation that God makes in our lives  and in the life of our Christian community. The Church is like a box of compost. With the compost, all sorts of things that are going to be lost are mixed together—vegetables that smell, fruit with mold, wet coffee grounds. It is a beautiful transformation.


In the church, all sorts of potentially lost things get mixed together—all of us. With the odor of our sin and the mold of our imperfections, here we are, ready to be mixed, heated and transformed. With the power of Christ, God transforms us into healthy soil that feeds, helps, and sustains. It is a beautiful transformation.


What needs to die so that we can live? What do we need to compost in order to be a beloved community full of new life? Pride? Conflict? Disagreement? Prejudice? Jealousy? Inferiority?


When we see the compost, it’s easy to only see rotten cabbage greens, grapefruit peels, and pony shit. We don’t see the invisible process with the organisms and minerals that helps new life grow. But it’s there and at work, becoming something healthy and sustaining.


When we see a congregation like San Lucas, it’s easy to see gossip, conflict, and disagreement—sin. We don’t see the invisible process of God’s Holy Spirit, transforming our lives and our communities. We, too, are becoming something healthy and sustaining. Yes, there is acid, but we also have assets. Yes, there is hiel, but there is also miel.


Like in the compost bin, God is at work, transforming us into something new:

  • A community of unity, where every person is important.
  • A community of hospitality, where we want to invite and include our friends and neighbors.
  • A prophetic community, where we recognize the injustice in our world and work with others to change it.
  • A teaching community, where we show the wider Church what it means to be an international Christian community, without borders on the border.
  • A community of unity instead of uniformity, where we find value in our diversity.


I can imagine a life together of abundance, celebration, and proclamation.

What needs to die so that we can live?

We are compost. We are the Church, trusting in the power of God to heat us up and mix us around into something new that feeds, helps, and sustains.

Advent at San Lucas

Advent is here at San Lucas—waiting, watching, preparing. After our worship service on Thanksgiving Eve, we lingered around, sipping hot chocolate and noshing on pumpkin pie, decorating the sanctuary with Advent greenery. Our regular Wednesday night Bible study is on hiatus so we can gather for Evening Prayer these December nights. In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate Las Posadas, the beautiful Mexican tradition of reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for respite and lodging en route to Bethlehem.

In my first months as pastor here, I have felt a sense of welcome and hospitality. As the congregations and I have adapted to one another, we learn. My Spanish is getting better, and I’m gaining sensitivity to nuances of Mexican culture. I’m figuring out the process of bridge-crossing. The food bank continues to feed local families. A new guitar group has been developed to rise up worship music leadership. The Word is proclaimed; sacraments are administered. We journey together.

 Week after week, a vanload of San Lucans heads across into Piedras Negras, Coahuila, to worship at Cristo Rey, our Lutheran mission site about 13 miles away in Mexico. I am one of just a few ELCA pastors who preach in more than one country on any given Sunday. Once a month, nearly fifty Cristo Rey families receive some food assistance. It is getting more difficult to bring food and supplies across the border. We’ve started to buy more food in Mexico instead of risking crossing at the bridge. In October, we were not allowed to bring medicines for the free medical clinic across the border. There seem to be more Mexican soldiers near the bridge.

Advent is a time of hopeful anticipation. Here are some things to watch for at San Lucas in the time ahead:

  • Training a few new assisting ministers
  • Introducing an occasional childrens’ sermon
  • Some sort of ecological project—perhaps a community garden or maybe a goat or two
  • More intentional stewardship education
  • Developing a leadership team at Cristo Rey
  • Hosting a Cub Scout pack at San Lucas

Come and see! We sincerely hope that you consider visiting us at San Lucas and Cristo Rey some time in the next year. You can read this blog and check out pictures posted on facebook, but there’s no better way to understand the ministry here than to visit. Because the church property had long ago been an orphanage, San Lucas has dorm space available for visiting groups. Past congregational contingents have done cleaning and construction projects, helped with the food bank, and hosted medical clinics and health fairs. A fun potential project for a first-time mission partner congregation might be to help with a Saturday afternoon children’s event and/or help prepare a community meal. When you come, we can go to see the controversial federal border fence in downtown Eagle Pass so you can get a firsthand glimpse at our human boundaries. There have been concerns about safety and security along the border. We do take precautions. Both church campuses are surrounded by locked gates. If we do cross into Mexico, we go only in the day, taking a church van instead of personal cars.

¡Muchísimas gracias! In a context with much poverty and unemployment, San Lucas and Cristo Rey are both very dependent on the generosity of our mission partners and supportive donors. We are ever so grateful. Due to internet privacy concerns, we won’t list individual donors here. Besides ELCA and Synod support, we have been impacted by the munificent benevolance of so many others. Thank you!

Please remember in prayer:

  • The mission and ministry of San Lucas and Cristo Rey
  • The ELCA
  • The Southwestern Texas Synod
  • Our mission partners and prayerful supporters
  • Those who receive food from our food bank
  • Families traveling north for agricultural work
  • Teenagers tempted by the allure of drugs
  • Victims of violence on both sides of the border
  • People struggling with their legal immigration status


Advent blessings,

Pastor Paul


Adapted from an Advent 2011 newsletter to friends and mission partners of San Lucas.

A San Lucas Acrostic

In the past months as pastor of San Lucas, I’ve been trying to learn the context, know the people, and figure out what it means to be a Lutheran congregation on Eidson Road in Eagle Pass, Texas. Last month, we had some meetings called Encuentros para Escuchar (Encounters to Listen) where I invited parishioners to identify strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and hopes for San Lucas. I used a travelling metaphor, saying that we needed to know what kind of vehicle we’re driving before we pick a road. You don’t take a go-kart on the freeway, and you don’t drive a semi down a bike trail.

In the months and years ahead, I want to work together with the council and congregation to set some goals and do some planning for future possibilities. We need to find our path. To get us started, I’ve used some of what I’ve been hearing, combined with biblical interpretation and contextual awareness to propose a theological perspective for our identity as a congregation.

I’ve made an acrostic for the name of our congregation, San Lucas. I shared it in my sermon yesterday on Reformation Sunday, put it on a banner, and printed it out as a bulletin insert. My hope is that it will help us have conversation about who we are as a congregation and what that will look like in the future. Here it is in Spanish:

  • Somos la Iglesia
  • Anunciando a Cristo
  • Nacidos en el Espíritu
  • Luteranos en identidad
  • Unidos en misión
  • Cruzando fronteras
  • Alimentando a nuestra comunidad
  • Sin temor y sin excusas


Although the acrostic doesn’t work when translated into English, the idea is still there:

  • We are the Church
  • Announcing Christ
  • Born in the Spirit
  • Lutherans in identity
  • United in mission
  • Crossing borders
  • Feeding our community
  • Without fear or excuses

Migrant Ministry

I’ve been told that in the summer months, worship attendance will go down here at San Lucas. More than a few families from Eagle Pass travel al norte in order to work. People who live in Texas will go to places like Minnesota or Wisconsin to do tough agricultural work like picking sugar beets or working in canning factories. Most leave some time in June, and come back in the Fall. This is one reason, along with scalding heat, that we have Vacation Bible School right away the first week in June. I don’t know numbers for sure, but I’ve heard that a quarter to a third of Eagle Pass residents leave in the summer for work.

I wonder–how can our congregation minister to these people, especially when they are far away? Every Sunday, we’ve been praying for los trabajadores. When I know it is a family’s last Sunday in worship, I have done a special blessing of farewell and godspeed. It’s too late to get something planned for this year, but I’ve been thinking about some sort of special worship service of blessing to send people out with the prayers and support of the community. Maybe this could even be done ecumenically with other local churches.

I’ve thought about sending care packages, but people don’t often know what their address will be until they find a place to live. It would also be ideal to try to connect with other congregations to help our families in diaspora. It’s not like there’s no shortage of Lutherans in the Upper Midwest.

One problem is that people are scattered. It is not the case that people from Eagle Pass all go to the same town; we have people near Moorhead, Rochester, Madison, Green Bay. I’ve asked some of my members who travel if they have been able to connect with Lutheran churches where they go. The common response is that they usually have to work very long hours, even on Sundays, so they don’t get to church easily. Additionally, it is hard to find Spanish-speaking Lutherans, especially in rural areas. One woman told me she went to a Lutheran church in Minnesota that was puro norteamericano. However, one man said that a Lutheran pastor in Wisconsin would bless the cars of the workers before they travel.

When I hear these stories of people traveling for work, I can’t help but think of Biblical narratives, and all the folks that travel in the Bible. Abram and Sarai get up and go to a new place. Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt during a time of famine. In a foreign land, Ruth gleans in the fields of Boaz. Israelites remember Zion by the waters of Babylon. Escaping the tyranny of Herod, the Holy Family finds rest on the way to Egypt. My prayer is that in all of our journeys, Christ might travel with us.