A Reflection From the MNYS Sanctuary Committee
Jan 17, 2023
By The Rev. Fabián Arias and Diaconal Fellow Erin Brown
Pastor Fabián Arias, Chair of the MNYS Sanctuary Ministry*, and Diaconal Fellow Erin Brown, Saint Peter’s Church, Manhattan, went to Panama in December to attend a conference for churches and Christian organizations accompanying people who are migrating. On the last day of the conference, there was a trip to the Darién Forest, the 266-kilometer (165 miles) jungle that spans through northern Colombia to eastern Panama. Crossing the Darién has become part of an expansive informal route for many people from South America, the Caribbean, and Africa — all with the hope of traversing all of Central America and Mexico and reaching the United States. This is their reflection on the trip:
When reading the word of God in the Bible, we find a special and loving focus directed toward the migrant. “In the same way you must show love for foreigners because you too were a foreigner in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). “The Lord protects the foreigner and sustains the orphan and the widow but frustrates the plans of the wicked...” (Psalm 146: 9). These are just two of the many biblical texts that describe God’s love for the vulnerable migrant community. But the biblical texts, from Genesis to Revelations, speak to us about migrating, about being in movement, of humanity searching for a home, a Heavenly homeland.
Visiting the Darién Forest recently and seeing how it has become the irregular route taken by hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters who believe in achieving the elusive but enduring myth of the “American dream” was very heartbreaking. Many call the route through the Darien Forest the “Route of Death” because of its dangers, such as steep mountain terrain, poisonous snakes, powerful rivers, and exploitative thieves.
Crossing the Darién is not the desire of anyone but is a necessity for many. Fleeing from violence, greedy autocratic governments, and economic instability, many people decide to take the risk. While visiting a camp in Lajas Blancas, Panama (right at the edge of the forest), we heard many stories from those who trekked the Darién. While crossing, many people drowned or were swept away during river swells. Others fell down ravines or were killed by armed groups taking advantage of people’s desperation. Many people, selling everything they owned to pay guides, boat drivers, and coyotes, were left stranded.
And this is just the beginning of the journey.
Being here in New York City, geographically distant from the Darién Forest, it can be easy to think that what is happening is far away. However, many people arrive here — in this Sanctuary Synod’s territory — afraid, alone, and confused. It can be tempting to turn a blind eye or be apathetic to this humanitarian crisis, but we, the people of God, are called to be God’s hands, extending hope to those who have left everything in search of a better life for themselves and their families. We must not remain indifferent or wait for an answer to fall from heaven.
How powerful it would be together in council meetings or parish assemblies and reflect together: “What can we do to alleviate the pain of those who have left everything?” How powerful it would be to meditate together on that text from the Gospel of Matthew (25:35-40) that says: “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, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these [siblings] of mine, you did it to me.” How powerful it would be to let the God of life speak to our hearts and thus discover how God today calls us to rethink our ministries and create pastoral action plans that reflect the reality of our time.
*To learn more about the MNYS Sanctuary Ministry, click HERE.