Memphis churches provide 'radical hospitality' while hosting mobile unit of Guatemalan Consulate

1/11/2016

A mobile unit of the Guatemalan Consulate was hosted by the Southeast Memphis Cooperative Parish (Aldersgate, Asbury and El Redentor UMCs) Dec. 5-6. The event allowed Guatemalan people living in the U.S. to travel to one place at one time to get photo IDs and passports made, as well as conduct other consulate business such as recording births, marriages and deaths. Photos by Lane Gardner Camp. Click on link top left to see more photos.


Story and photos by Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference

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More than 800 immigrants and strangers were served by the Southeast Memphis Cooperative Parish of The United Methodist Church over two days when it hosted a mobile unit of the Guatemalan Consulate in December.

The parish includes three congregations in the Metro McKendree District: Aldersgate, Asbury and El Redentor.
 
Guatemala is a democratic republic located on the Pacific Ocean in Central America. It shares borders with Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
 
LOGISTICS
 
The mobile consulate event took place Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6, on the campus of Asbury and El Redentor UMCs on S. Mendenhall in Memphis.

Guatemalan people now living in the U.S. were able to travel to one place at one time to get photo IDs and passports made, as well as conduct other consulate business such as recording births, marriages and deaths.
 
Demand for the mobile consulate’s services was so high over the weekend that people started lining up Friday night, according to Rev. Dr. Virginia Jones Finzel, lead pastor, who serves the three-church parish with associate pastors Rev. Luz Campos and Rev. Goyo De La Cruz.
 
Campos was first contacted about the parish hosting the mobile unit because Guatemalan Consulate representatives said the United Methodist Church is known for helping people, explained Finzel.
 
Once it was determined the Asbury-El Redentor campus had suitable space and parking, as well as sufficient Internet capacity, plans were underway to host the mobile unit – a process that took about five months.
 
Finzel observed that the church’s parking lot stayed full over the two days with vehicles from throughout West Tennessee, as well as other southeastern states, especially Mississippi.
 
Consulate employees arrived the Friday night before Saturday morning’s opening, bringing and setting up all their own equipment.
 
RADICAL HOSPITALITY
 
“Dealing with the unknown” is what Finzel said was the hardest part of hosting the event for the parish. “We just didn’t know what to expect – how to accommodate the anticipated numbers of people and have enough volunteers.”
 
Finzel praised George Whitworth of Memphis, who serves as the volunteer consul of Guatemala in Memphis, for his help. Because he has been Guatemala’s local consul for 48 years, Finzel said he has a lot of knowledge and experience and provided helpful advice about how to get organized and be ready.
 
Finzel said Whitworth reminded her repeatedly that what the area United Methodists were doing was “very Christian.”
 
She agreed, saying, “We are reaching out, welcoming strangers and showing hospitality.”
 
Moving around and checking on activities Saturday, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Davis, Metro McKendree District superintendent, said, “Radical hospitality and abundant grace – that is what is happening here.”
 
Davis noted that without a “one-stop shop” like the mobile unit, Guatemalan people living in the U.S. might remain “in the shadows.” Documentation is a complex process that requires a lot of time and travel to be done correctly, she said.
 
Janice Barnes, chair of the trustees for Asbury UMC, said the church never hesitated when it was asked back in July about hosting the mobile unit.
 
VOLUNTEERS AND DONATIONS
 
Due to the high number of guests and level of activity, Finzel said the success of the event would not have been possible without valuable contributions of supplies and volunteers from other Metro Asbury and McKendree District congregations: Faith UMC in Frayser (Memphis), St. Paul UMC in Lakeland, Covenant UMC in Cordova and Peace Tree UMC in Collierville.
 
Additional contributors and supporters were nearby Fox Meadows Elementary School, Asbury UMC’s adopted school; Workers Interfaith Network; and Memphis Conference Director of Connectional Ministries Dr. Joe Geary.
 
Among the supplies donated for the weekend’s activities were snacks, water, paper goods and hand sanitizing liquid.

Volunteers contributed their time by directing and managing waiting lines, distributing tickets that determined the order in which people were seen by consulate employees, entertaining children and staffing a copy room.
 
“Peace Tree UMC was especially generous and helpful,” said Finzel. “I don’t know how we could have done it without (them).”  Youth and adults from Peace Tree, along with student volunteers from Briarcrest Christian School in Eads, Tenn., were easy to spot with their matching green t-shirts. Engaging in sports and crafts with children were among their contributions.
 
Diana Bedwell, a member of Aldersgate UMC, helped organize all the volunteers for the event and thanked the many groups and individuals who collectively were “so instrumental.”
 
El Redentor UMC prepared and sold food on the church grounds as a fundraiser for their congregation that allowed Guatemalan families to eat while they waited to conduct their consulate business.
 
Victor Ramirez, Guatemala’s Consulate General based in Atlanta, Ga., was in attendance and working, He expressed appreciation to the United Methodist Church for helping his team serve people in the Memphis area.
 
MORE INFORMATION
 
Ramirez said there are approximately 200,000 Guatemalans currently living in the U.S. for employment and education opportunities.
 
To learn more about this ministry project, contact Rev. Dr. Virginia Jones Finzel at the office of Asbury UMC at (901) 363-1135 or office@asburyumc.org.

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