|Rachel Keller and Joe Hopkins in New York Harbor,|
with the Statue of Liberty to the right. (Photo courtesy of Joe Hopkins)
"What are you thinking about?" my friend Rachel asked me. "You just look so pensive."
I was deep in thought, lost in my imagination of what the tens of millions of immigrants must have thought as they moved across New York Harbor to Ellis Island. What did the Statue of Liberty mean to them when they first saw it?
I was on one of the New York Harbor ferries that transport tourists from Manhattan to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. With me were my United Methodist young adult missionary peers, a collection of 10 people from all over the United States who had been sent out for two to three years to serve in children's homes, youth centers, homeless service centers, and advocacy organizations (among others). We had converged in New York City to celebrate the completion of our terms and to continue our commitment to justice in the world.
But what would that look like? What does the future ever look like?
In the last two years, I had served in the national office of Interfaith Worker Justice, working diligently to help coordinate campaigns, facilitate communication, and make sure the logistical i's and t's were dotted and crossed. IWJ had sent me to Madison, Wisconsin, at the high point of union protests in February 2011 and then to Indianapolis in January 2012 just before right-to-work legislation passed in the Indiana state house. Outside the IWJ context, I had developed roots in the near-South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, getting involved in a little Lutheran church, helping to form a new grassroots power organization, and living the daily chaos that is my housing co-op.
I brought those memories, and many, many others, with me to the US-2 missionary end-terms. And my peers brought their own triumphs, setbacks, pains, and joys with them to share with the rest of us and with the staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.
However, we didn't just come together to share our individual pasts. As young adult missionaries, we learned about the uglier sides of church and society--how people are excluded and oppressed for a large array of reasons. While we mourned the pain of those experiences, we also got righteously pissed off. How can we as a church deny the full humanity of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer sisters and brothers? How can we collectively wash our hands clean of the blood that runs in the production and distribution lines of goods we use every day? How can we claim vitality by consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands, leaving all but the already privileged and powerful out in the dark?
We couldn't, wouldn't, and didn't claim such preposterously anti-Christ-like ideas. In response to our collective sharing, we made the compact to continue our mission, though under different auspices. We were leaving our placement sites for grad school, seminary, and the larger workforce, but we would continue to carry our commission with us. We do not need the hands of a bishop to urge us to justice, though we sure do hope that bishops will join us in our missional lives.
A few years ago, I learned from a Dominican priest at the Universidad Católica de Argentina that we can look at our lives as perpetual pilgrimages. David Wildman at Global Ministries would argue that we are all migrants, "undocumented Christians," living in an increasingly hostile world. So we wander, guided by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, in the missional life where we cannot return to the ignorance of a materialistic, middle-class life.
In the missional life, I live in solidarity with the tens of millions of people who left all they knew to find a new home, beginning at Ellis Island. In the missional life, missio dei connects me to my young adult missionary peers and the global, apostolic, and catholic church.
In the missional life, what I call the Red Poppy Fields, I hope to find you there, too.