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Borders and Ministry to Immigrants

by Dr. Jesús Romero


August 31, 2015

Borders and Ministry to Immigrants

Dr. Jesús Romero

Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

En Español

My entire life has been one of crossing borders between the United States and Mexico. It started in 1978, when I came to the USA as an exchange student. I was barely 15 years old.

My stay in a small town in Western Pennsylvania changed my life entirely. English, which was an unknown language to me, became my second language and opened doors for my future academic, professional and ministerial growth.

Living in the United States at such a young age and far, far away from my family, became my first great multicultural experience. I met people from ethnic groups totally different from mine; I tasted food I had never even seen before; I heard new music and read new books; I wore clothes I did not even know existed. Who would have thought you need so many layers of clothes to endure the frigid winters of the Northeast?

Coraopolis, PA became the locus through which I was able to look at Mexico, my home country, and see it in a new light. I learned to see it with eyes of love; a love that was not blind, but was even yet passionate.

The United States had stolen my heart. This country that the whole world admires and wants to migrate to, has an easy time seducing foreigners through the promise of new beginnings and dreams realized.

In 1979 I returned to Mexico, and my hometown, Monterrey, became the locus through which I was able to look at the United States and see it in a new light, with all its virtues and all its defects. My love for the US, just as the love I have for Mexico, is not blind, but is even yet passionate.

1987 was the year of my return to the USA for graduate school. Six years later my studies culminated with a Ph.D. degree. Immediately after I graduated, I tried to cross the border into Mexico to stay there for good, but to my total amazement, the doors closed shut. How can someone who obtains a doctoral degree from an American university be incapable of getting a job in his own country? But that was what happened to me.

It was in Mexico that I had a personal encounter with Jesus in 1981, but it was in the United States that I grew as a believer. It was in Mexico that I met and married the woman of my life, but it was in the United States that I learned to be a good husband to her.

It was in Mexico that I was called to be a college professor, but it was in the United States that my dream of teaching at a Christian university was fulfilled.

It was in Mexico that the seeds of faithful discipleship had been planted by a caring mentor, but it was in the United States that I was ordained to the ministry and given the opportunity to pastor. After serving for six years, I was called to dedicate my life to loving, serving and caring for immigrants in this country. What a privilege and honor!

It is impossible for you to love someone the way God intended for you to love, if you do not feel empathy for that person's needs. Moreover, you cannot love someone else well unless you become at the same time an advocate for that person.

Feeling empathy and identifying with those who are vulnerable, helpless and who need our love and protection is neither easy nor simple, but it is what Jesus would have us do. That is the way he lives.

One should not presume on what the future will bring, but I pray that the Lord will allow me to invest my life even further in loving the least of these, the strangers in our midst. It is the main way in which my faith becomes tangible and real.

Jesús Romero is a professor of Spanish at Baptist University of the Américas and director of the Immigrant Service and Aid Center, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife Elsa. They have three children: David, Ana Laura and Daniel Alejandro.

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