May 12, 2016 | 1 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, Digital Media Strategist
The G92 Immigration Conference on April 21 and 22 gave the Bethel community a chance to hear from prominent leaders in immigration services and reform, and also find ways to advocate for immigrant communities and develop a biblical view of immigrants. A student-led event, and part of the national G92 movement, it opened with a panel of immigrants sharing their stories and giving students first-hand accounts of the challenges that often come with immigrating to the United States. Lutheran Social Services, International Institute of Minnesota, Arrive Ministries, Catholic Charities, Urban Ventures, Neighborhood House, Minnesota Council on Legal Affairs, and Lao Assistance Center representatives took part in an Opportunity Fair that gave students immigration-related job and volunteer opportunities. Many also gave more in-depth workshop presentations later in the day.
Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and founding pastor of Chicago’s La Villita Community Church, was the keynote and Chapel speaker. He recounted walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and meeting many people who were voluntarily taking time to reflect and experience the journey outside of their normal routines. He began to see the juxtaposition between that journey and the unwelcomed one of many people forced to leave their homes.
“There are millions of men, women, and children who have to immigrate, to migrate…to survive. This is a reality that most of us in this country know very little about,” says Castellanos. He mentioned Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of John 1:14, which says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” By coming to Earth, Christ became, in essence, an immigrant. And even the context in which Christ lived was one of social strife. “Jesus was a day laborer—a migrant worker. He worked hard. He was insignificant. Nobody thought he could possibly be the Messiah…We need to hear the story of God in a new way to understand how we can, as believers, bring about justice for immigrants.”
Marisa Tillman ’16 is an international relations and sociology major who hopes to work in immigration law after graduation. She was one of the student leaders for G92. While there was factual information shared at the event, she says the most important element was to give students exposure to the stories and faces behind immigration, since many don’t know immigrants personally.
“This isn’t just a topic. It’s real life,” says Tillman. As a missionary kid who grew up in the Philippines, she noted that her own experience of growing up outside of her cultural context has informed her understanding of immigration and desire for justice. “This is a topic that’s all over the Bible. It’s close to God’s heart…the Church needs to be on board with caring for immigrants.”
Matt Runion, associate dean of Campus Ministries, says that G92 is part of a long history of social justice groups and initiatives at Bethel, but that the focus has changed somewhat in recent years. “There’s always been this heart amongst college students for social justice,” says Runion. “One of the things that’s misunderstood about millennials is that they’re so relationship driven, which gets dismissed. But it’s out of relationship that they get stuff done!” He says the local, immediate aspects of immigration are what most excited students as they planned for and participated in G92.
The G92 Conference was the second of its kind at Bethel, with a similar event in 2013. Both have been funded by an anonymous donor.