Immigration and Process of Humanity


Many of you have been asking about and praying for the unfolding situation at our nation’s border with Mexico over the past month. Shocking images and audio of children being torn from their parents and left in detention centers have been swirling in the media as our nation struggles with how to deal with the reality of many people from Central America and Mexico travelling to or across our border. Breaking the silence around this situation is difficult for some of us – how can we speak in a way that is clear and faithful, yet does not give into the political polarization of our times?

As people of faith, we all are called to think and pray and act around situations of suffering, knowing that God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus promises to be made known among people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25). This is hard work, but it is the work that gives us true, abiding, abundant life in God.

How can we think and pray and act about this situation at the border from the perspective of our Christian faith?

It’s an odd place to start, but I’ve been thinking about the Small Catechism this week. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism in 1529 to teach ordinary folks the basics of Christianity and how they were to live their lives in light of God’s grace for them. I am struck by Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. Luther writes “What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

What might it mean to interpret people’s actions in the best possible light here? There is a lot of rhetoric right now that makes it hard for some of us to see these asylum-seekers in the best possible light. We hear about people from these countries “infesting” our nation, or that they are part of gangs and therefor are sub-human animals. Sometimes we even reduce someone’s personhood to one title: “an illegal.” This rhetoric falls short of what God asks of us.

The voice we are called to raise is one that is clear that people who cross our border legally or not are human, and deserve to be treated as such. We can be sensitive to claims about child trafficking and people not telling the truth so that they can live in America. But, as Luther says, our posture must first be to interpret what people do in the best possible light. In this situation, that means showing compassion toward and listening to the people who are arriving to our country. What has prompted them to make the trek? What are their fears? What obstacles have they faced? What needs do they have? Before wising they wouldn’t break a law, we should ask what motivated them to break it. Before we get tough, we should get wise. We miss God when we miss the humanity of people in need.

And as we discuss policy responses with one another and how our government ought to respond, it would be good for us to have Luther’s words ringing in our ears as we engage with people with whom we disagree. What might it look like for us to interpret where they are coming from in the best possible light? What if we made the conscious choice to ask a question of the ones we disagree with before responding to them with our obviously correct answer? We gain nothing if we assign humanity to these asylum seekers by taking it away from somebody else.

Unfortunately, meditating on Luther’s writings does not point to a solution to this crisis, but it does help us understand how we might begin to interpret the things we see, monitor the things we say, and clarify the things we act on. I rejoice that our government has reversed its policy of family separation, but this is only the beginning of enacting a fair and compassionate immigration process which holds at its center the humanity of everyone involved. And whatever lies in the days to come, I pray that we would heed God’s command to see people in the best possible light, and refuse to give in to impulses that strip anyone’s humanity away from them.

To learn more about how the ELCA (our denomination) is thinking and acting around immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and the situation at our border, I commend these resources to you:

-          Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Statement on Family Separation

-          Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

-          AMMPARO

-          Lutheran Social Message on Immigration (1999)

And as always, we are here to engage you in conversation and prayer. Please reach out to Pastor Beth or myself if you’d like time to process the events of recent weeks.

In God’s great love,

Pastor Joel

stories change us: a reflection at the end of our community book read

stories change us: a reflection at the end of our community book read

Many of you now realize how you’ve been brought up to think about race and how those ways have helped and hindered you along the way. Many of you have confronted prejudices you’ve picked up along the way, or biases you didn’t know you held, and you thought critically about how you might learn to let them go. Many of you have been unable to get this book out of your mind when you’re at your workplace, or the grocery store, or your school – thinking about how this space might feel to someone of a different race than your own. This is what it feels like to be changed by God through the gift of entering a neighbor’s story.

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on Taiyon Coleman's "Disparate Impacts"

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on Taiyon Coleman's "Disparate Impacts"

“We can’t actually say that this one incident of unusually high temperatures at the North Pole is a direct result of climate change. But what we can say is that incidents like these are growing more frequent, and when you take them together, it is climate change. One fluctuation in temperature like this could be explained by other variables, but the overall pattern points to climate change as the culprit.”

I think Coleman is saying something similar about racism in Minnesota.

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on JaeRan Kim's "The Good Kind of Immigrants"

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on JaeRan Kim's "The Good Kind of Immigrants"

You’ve probably heard it, or maybe even said it: “I don’t see color.” JaeRan Kim gives another spin-off: “People can tell you they don’t see you as Korean as if that is a compliment” (126). I think that these thoughts come from beautiful places in white people’s hearts. Perhaps the intent was to say “I want to see you as more than the color of your skin. I want to view you as a unique person. I’m not judging you as less than me because of your skin color. I see that there is a similarity between us even though our race is different.” These are wonderful things to intend. What we need to learn is that there is a difference between intent and impact.

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on "People Like Us," by David Lawrence Grant in A Good Time for the Truth

Stories Change Us: A Reflection on "People Like Us," by David Lawrence Grant in A Good Time for the Truth

I think about that pastor at the Bible study. He didn’t throw out the entire Bible and despair of himself because he no longer felt like Samuel. He just changed the way he saw the story, and changed the way he saw himself as fitting into it. I wonder if we can do the same for Minnesota Nice as we learn to tell ourselves a new story about ourselves.

Building and Grounds: Looking Ahead

 Vision Wall

Vision Wall

What do you see when you think about our place in the community" What are is your vision for our future? What does it encompass?

The Building and Grounds Vision Team was commissioned this fall to listen, learn and explore how our buildings and grounds can be utilized going forward to better serve our community.  This is a different approach than we have taken in the past when we primarily examined what our own congregation needed and built a plan to meet that need.  Instead, at this place and time, we believe God is calling us to look outside our four walls and find out what needs exist within our community that Mount Olivet is uniquely gifted to respond to and then together with our own ministry needs, devise a plan for our Buildings and Grounds that can help us better serve the community around us. 

We have started over the last few months by listening to the partners we already have in the community – Prism, Home Free– as well as partners we hope to have in the future – Armstrong High School, Robbinsdale ECFE, Three Rivers Park District, to name a few.  These conversations have consisted of a few questions, but mostly listening around the questions of “what are your hopes and dreams for your organization” and “how can MO help”?– especially as it relates to physical indoor and outdoor spaces.

We have also started listening to our own ministry leaders and staff at Mount Olivet, including the Childhood Learning Center – to find out what their hopes and dreams are as well.  This has been in the form of an email survey in December. 

We would like to listen to each of you.  Please use the comments section below to tell us your thoughts.   Don’t be afraid to THINK BIG (even if it is something beyond our current capacity) …were is Mount Olivet called to serve our community?  What is possible?

After we receive your ideas and thoughts, we will translate what we have heard into a Vision for Mount Olivet’s Building and Grounds that reflects how Mount Olivet can better serve the community using our unique gifts.  We imagine there will be short-term and long-term elements to this Vision as well as creative and unique ways to fund this vision, as we know building a Vision is not free.  Stay tuned for a progress update in April – until then, keep telling us your hopes and dreams. 

We are listening.

Pastor Beth Horsch

Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth

A Medley of MO Stories

Over the last few weeks we have been talking about Mount Olivet’s mission, vision and where we are headed. Our impact to the community is noticeable and far reaching. There are other stories that happen around us that are not as well known.  Here are some stories of how God’s love is connecting people and building community:

Fredrico and Paola moved to Plymouth from Italy. By chance one Saturday, Fredrico and his father-in-law, who was visiting from Italy, stopped by to learn more about Mount Olivet’s chapel. Fredrico, Paola and their new baby Lorenzo visited Mount Olivet again, and found connection in our community as a young family new to the area. They met Mount Olivet member Vicky who just happened to live in their same apartment building.  Vicky, a retired teacher has found a new calling as a Grandma. The relationship of support continues, and Fredrico and Paola asked Vicky to be Lorenzo’s American Godmother. 

A Mount Olivet family generously offered to pay for Bible Explorer registrations for all children at Mount Olivet for this program year. This anonymous gift of close to $5000 is investing in kids and families. We then invited families to pay it forward. Because no registration cost was required, families were invited to share the fee which they would have paid to invest in our community and in our mission at Mount Olivet. Twenty-two families responded—the ripples of generosity continue.

A Mount Olivet family planted and tended plots in our community gardens for the sole purpose of sharing the harvest—132 pounds of fresh produce was grown and given to PRISM so families in need could literally eat from garden to table.

Director of Worship and Music Angela Gritton connected with Dr. Eileen Guenther, author of In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals and Professor of Church Music at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Through connections with Mount Olivet member Diane Dickmeyer and Robbinsdale Community Education, our Mount Olivet Chancel choir will join with Armstrong High School Choir and the Robbinsdale community to present a concert and community sing around Spirituals to celebrate black history month this coming February. Our church is joining voices in the community to sing about the power of love and light to change the world.

Each Monday for 52 weeks of the year, Alcoholics Anonymous holds a meeting at Mount Olivet.  We are a safe place for people and families in addiction and recovery.  We walk with people in transition and trust in God’s healing and wholeness that is found in sharing stories and mutual support.

Have you watched our kids run, jump and meander their way up front for the offering each week?  They bring delight as their curiosity and eagerness teach us what it means to give abundantly from our hearts.  Each year, their pennies and dollars come together so we can share over $3000 for ELCA world hunger initiatives.  Mount Olivet kids are teaching us that joy is found in generosity.


None of these stories would have happened if our church hadn’t existed here. Your continued investment and engagement help make these and other stories possible and allow us to build community and our future together. Thank you. 


Mount Olivet and the Cranberry Ridge Affordable Housing Development

Mount Olivet and the Cranberry Ridge Affordable Housing Development

One integral belief that Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth holds is that God is active not just in church, but in our world. We look and listen for what God is up to through the work of our community partners - organizations such as PRISM, Northport Elementary School, and the Home Free women's shelter. Through these partnerships, we have discerned that God is calling us to be a church that works toward feeding people, housing people, accompanying people in transition, and working with faith partners.

One of our housing partners, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, has asked our congregation to support their work of developing new affordable housing right here in Plymouth through the Cranberry Ridge project

Daily Update from Chicago - Kate Pletcher/Claire Redding

The day started off bright and early with our group’s 6:00 am shower time. Everyone was a bit groggy due to the previous night’s prayer tour around the city. We crowded into our vans and split off into two groups to see different sides of the city. From block to block, we encountered various economic situations and cultures. Our service group drove through neighborhoods with extreme poverty and gang violence, then quickly moved into areas with lots of wealth. While observing the city, we learned staggering facts and statistics about Chicago’s socioeconomic structure. After our early morning, we headed out to our service site in Chinatown. We helped run a carnival that was being held at a Chinese Christian summer program where we had the opportunity to run games and interact with the kids. There was a large difference in culture, and many of these children have grown up learning English as their second language. We all had a great time laughing and playing with the kids while simultaneously seeing a glimpse into their culture. Next, we visited low income housing for the elderly and played “Bingo” with them. We got to interact with some residents, and make small talk with them as we played the game. The residents brought a lot of energy and humor to the room with their excitement and dedication to “Bingo”, while also showing compassion to each other as they gave out their own prizes to those more in need. This evening, we had an amazing at an El Salvadorian restaurant and later connected with our smaller and more personal family groups to reflect on the day.