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.


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

Drugs, praying, and church

The August issue of Texas Monthly features an eye-opening article about teens smuggling drugs across the Mexican border from Piedras Negras. In the last eighteen months, 104 teens have been arrested in Eagle Pass with more than fifty pounds of marijuana each.

In my conversations with folks in the wider church, especially with those from mission partner congregations and potential mission partners thinking of visiting us at San Lucas, the most common question I hear is, “Is it safe?”

I personally feel relatively safe. Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras have not had nearly the major volume of violence that has terrorized other border communities, especially Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa. However, whenever I pick up a copy of the local Eagle Pass News Gram, it seems the headline is almost always about another drug arrest on the bridge.

From San Lucas, we continue to cross the border every week to worship at Cristo Rey. I generally follow a few guidelines to help insure safety:

• Travel with at least one other person, preferably a native Spanish speaker.

• Go directly to church.

• Be back in the United States before dark.

• Use the church van instead of personal cars.

There is no denying that there is risk in ministry here. But isn’t there risk everywhere? Upon reading in Texas Monthly about so many young people taking major risks, I start to wonder. I wonder how many kids from our Vacation Bible School have families impacted by narcotraffic.

This week I heard the chief of the Eagle Pass Police Department speak to the Rotary Club, and he said that children as young as third grade have been caught with drugs at the elementary schools. I don’t really have easy answers to all of this. In Eagle Pass, there are drugs, but there’s also lots of poverty, unemployment, and under employment.

At San Lucas, we have a strong food bank that helps people with immediate hunger issues. I’m in the process of building a collection of business cards for agencies to which we can refer people for different forms of assistance. I’d love to eventually explore some congregational-based community organizing to address some of the root causes of the poverty here.

We can organize; we can advocate; we can give out food and start programs. This is all good stuff, but really what we need to do is be present. Prayer is advocacy. It might be a lot easier to be pastor in a different place. It might be more financially responsible for synods and congregations to put their money and prayers elsewhere. Where there’s violence, that’s where the Church should be. When there is poverty and despair, the Church should be present.

I hope that’s what we’re doing at San Lucas and Cristo Rey. On August 21, just before school starts, we’re going to have a special Blessing of the Students at San Lucas. We’ll also pass out school supplies collected by one of our mission partner congregations and surround the young people of our congregation and community with prayers for safety and wisdom as they begin a new school year.

Prayer in the midst of uncertainty is part of our usual practice. Week after week, we usually include in our prayers a petition not unlike this:

O Dios, oremos por los victimas de drogas, violencia, y guerras. Oremos por paz en este mundo. Favor de darnos un espíritu de justicia y hospitalidad para que podamos ser instrumentos de su paz. Señor, en tu bondad, escucha nuestra oración. Amen.

O God, we pray for victims of drugs, violence, and war. We pray for peace in this world. Please give to us a spirit of justice and hospitality so that we may be instruments of your peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

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.

Our own eco-palms

 Hosanna! Today is Palm Sunday. Christians remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with palm branches strewn in festal preparation. For the last few years, Lutheran World Relief has helped congregations use palm fronds that have been harvested in a more sustainable way.

At San Lucas, we didn’t buy eco-palms for our procession around the block, but I think ours were pretty ecologically sustainable–they were cut from our own church grounds!

VBS already!

On Sunday we had a meeting to do some preliminary planning for Vacation Bible School. San Lucas has a strong cadre of teachers and helpers, almost all of whom are returning this year. We’ll likely have over one hundred kids! One of my big tasks will be putting together a theme and activities. Traditionally, San Lucas hasn’t used a lot of packaged curriculum. VBS sets are usually rather expensive, and often in English. It’s hard to find theologically sound and financially affordable materials in Spanish, so we’ll do something more grassroots. Maybe I have a new calling as writer of Spanish-language children’s ministry curriculum…

Beforehand, I brainstormed a few possible themes, and among our leaders, there was a strong consensus for Agua Viva! We will be learning all about water. It’s a chance to do some good catechesis on baptism, and to learn some fun Bible stories. VBS is a week long, with a different lesson each day. It’s hard to pick just five water stories. Right now, I’m leaning toward Creation, Jonah, Naaman, the Samaritan Woman, and the Baptism of Jesus. They seem to be core stories, full of lots of action and neat possibilities for arts and crafts. Though I also considered: Noah and the ark, Hagar and the rock, the parting of the Red Sea, Nehemiah and the water gate, and Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and the vision of the river of life from Revelation 21. These might be better choices later on for a youth retreat or adult class. As much as I like to plan ahead, I will probably wait to do more thinking about VBS until after Holy Week.