“…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
We all come from many places; we all come from many family branches, but one common vine. We all have dreams and fears, challenges, troubles and joys—we all do, no matter whom we are or where we are on life’s journey.
I am Lizette Merchán Pinilla—a United Church of Christ minister, and an immigrant Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine–made minister from the pew to the pulpit by her local church—Community of Hope, UCC, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This one journey of many is one of interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling(New Interpreters’ Bible –John’s Reflections)as the immigrant and human being I am who belongs to the world. One who has made it this far if not for all those in the community whom stepped out of their comfort zone and companion with me to get where I am now.
From the vine of the tree of life, God sends many images to the world of one within many communities, where there are no free-standing individuals in community, but a branch which encircles one another completely. Where there is neither status nor rank among branches. (The New Interpreters’ Bible –John’s Reflections)
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia where people speak Spanish (as well as other dialects before and after the conquest). My local Justice and Witness Commission from the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference has called me to minister as the Justice and Witness Organizer, my national office as one of the UCC Women’s partners for the Central western region, also as a leadership member of the UCAN UCC–HIV/AIDS Network, as the convener of the Tulsa Hispanic Resource Association (social-services organization). I am also a writer, a bilingual preacher, a translator and interpreter, a librarian, a social-service provider, and an inhabitant of the world.
Surprisingly, most of my work has been in the Anglo context—becoming a builder of bridges…an ambassador of sorts. My mission work has been accomplished through community partnerships, individual struggles of those I serve and have served, and my very own as an immigrant in this country. My community of friends, my family, studies, professors, colleagues, church members, combined with my roots and background have provided me with the tools to step out of my comfort zone and join efforts with others to work for the common good.
The United States of North America has been the path, the branch of the vine that launched this particular journey from all of the many journeys from far south, far north, from within as well as for those communal journeys that have been woven together in this one country, this one world, a world for all. All members, all peoples grow out of the one central vine and are tended equally by the one gardener. For the Fourth Gospel, there is only one measure of one’s place in the faith community—to love as Jesus has loved—and all, great and small, ordained and lay, young and old, male and female are equally accountable to that one standard. The mark of the faithful community is how it loves, not who its members are or where they came from… (The New Interpreters’ Bible –John’s Reflections)
How are you called as an inhabitant of the world? How is your faith community called to be God’s branch of the vine of change, of challenge and of extravagant welcome? How is your commitment to live out that love giving way as Jesus did, and as God encourages us to continue to do so today? Help to open the circle wide, step out of your own comfort zone and support those in the world who are in desperate need of love, compassion and where no one should stand alone, side by side, growing the circle wide…for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.