Pastor David Vasquez is an inspirational champion of welcome. As Senior Faith Advisor to the #ActOfLove advocacy campaign, he boldly reminds us how the plight of Central American children relates to our faith tradition, and how young people can change society for the better with their creativity and hopefulness.
Pastor Vasquez was recently named President of the Pacific School of Religion. Today, he shares with us his hopes for the future, and how to live faithfully in a globalized world.
This interview was conducted by Clarissa Perkins, LIRS Marketing Project Manager.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What first led you to become involved in immigration advocacy?
Pastor David Vasquez (DV): Migration is at the center of many aspects of my life—I was born in Guatemala and came to the United States motivated by a hope to fulfill my call to ministry. My academic interest and understanding of Scripture are built around the Bible’s perspective that we are sojourners (Hebrews 11:13) in this world and its call to remember that our very identity is that of a foreigner in the land (Exodus 22:21). My own family has its roots in three different continents. Increasingly, this is the reality for more and more of us as we seek to live faithfully in a globalized society. My call to advocacy for immigration comes from the many voices in Scripture who like the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:25-30, dare to claim God’s blessings for all, even those who are denied access to the table of abundance.
CP: The border crisis has sparked an outpouring of generosity from Americans, but some resistance as well. How does our faith tie in to welcoming migrant children and families?
DV: The plight of children on the move across the world has become familiar to us because of the growing number of unaccompanied children coming to our borders in search of safety, protection, and hope. They represent a much larger group of people on the move across the world, close to half of them children. Drawing on our faith and tradition, we can respond to this situation with depth and perspective. The book of Ruth in the Bible begins with the phrase, “In the time of the judges there was famine in the land.” By this simple phrase, we are reminded of the importance of context for understanding our own story. The time of the judges was a time of political crisis when “everyone did as they saw fit in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25), which is then paired with the environmental crisis of a famine. Like Naomi in the book of Ruth who leaves home and heads into the uncertainty of a new land, the children seeking refuge at our border are caught in a much larger systemic issue not of their own making. Our response must be informed by a faith that always sides with the outsider, the outcast, and the foreigner, and driven by a commitment to justice and mercy exemplified in our faith traditions and lived out in the liturgies and lives of our congregations.
CP: How does your work with LIRS relate to your new position as President of Pacific School of Religion?
DV: As Pacific School of Religion builds on its tradition of boldness, it is seeking to re-imagine theological education. A key part of that renewed vision is the preparation of spiritually formed, theologically rooted leaders for social transformation. My partnership with LIRS has given me an opportunity to live out this kind of vision as faith communities respond with depth and resilience to the challenges surrounding immigration. These experiences in connecting with faith communities, producing resources, and engaging political and community leaders around immigration can be applied to other areas of social transformation.
CP: What do you look forward to most in your new role?
DV: I am excited to continue to serve as part of a ministry committed to connecting faith communities with the depth of academic reflection and the work of social transformation. From its founding in 1866, Pacific School of Religion has been on the leading edge of theological reflection around social issues. I am excited to join a community that has been at the forefront of bringing the good news of the Gospel to bear on issues as diverse as gender equality, civil rights, LGBT inclusion and equality, peace and justice, and that is poised to be a catalyst to continued conversations that broaden the spectrum of people of faith and conviction that want to join together in shaping the future.
CP: How do students or young people play a role in social justice? How do you encourage their role?
DV: As part of Luther College’s co-equal pastoral team, committed to shared leadership and to connecting faith, learning, and action, I have been privileged to see the gifts and passion of college students and other young adults. I have seen an awareness in those who are discerning their vocation about the many challenges facing the world, but also a deep hopefulness about realizing God’s vision for the world. The church and society is in need of their creative responses, their hopefulness, and also their demands for a more just society. At the same time, religious communities, traditions, and long-standing institutions can offer depth, experience, and perspective to a new generation. I have seen my work at Luther, and envisioned my role at Pacific School of Religion, as a facilitator who joins others in connecting people to resources, individuals to communities, and institutions to the wealth of their own traditions and sacred texts.
Check out Pastor Vasquez’s #ActOfLove Bible study, “The Other Side of Chosen,” and go to www.lirs.org/bordercrisis to learn more about how LIRS is supporting vulnerable children and families from Central America.