Pastor Brian L. Erickson, Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Arlington, VA engages his congregation in immigrant issues through border immersion experiences, conferences, and community outreach. Rev. Erickson hopes that this work will allow individuals to connect emotionally and think critically about immigration reform and encourages us all to remember our own roots when engaging in immigration reform advocacy.
This interview was conducted over email by Juliet Sohns, LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern.
Juliet Sohns (JS): Faith Lutheran Church of Arlington, Virginia has become very involved in raising awareness about our nation’s immigration system. Can you share some of that history and how the church continues that legacy today?
Pastor Brian L. Erickson (BE): We engage this issue primarily in three ways. Each year we take a different group to the El Paso, Texas/Juarez, Mexico border region in what we call a “Border Immersion Experience,” so that folks can experience firsthand what life is like in that area, and see the effects of our policies along the border. Secondly, we have hosted several Faith and Wisdom conferences on Saturday mornings that explore immigration issues. Our next one is February 28 from 9 am to noon, entitled, “Out of Focus: Our Values, Rights and Laws on the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Thirdly, we have worked at developing relationships with Hispanic persons living in our neighborhood.
JS: You have demonstrated a strong commitment to ministering to immigrants in your community. What inspires and motivates you in that ministry and what challenges have you encountered?
BE: I lived and taught in Mexico in the late 1980s and I have served parishes in southern California and Phoenix. Growing up in North Dakota, I saw the lives of migrant workers. Through all of these experiences I have not only learned about the issues, but I have heard stories and made friends. Issues are intellectual and friends are emotional, with stories bringing the two together. The faith and courage of the people I have met empower me to want to make sure their stories are told and heard.
JS: How do you feel about the lack of progress in Congress regarding immigration reform? What do you see as the reason for this inaction on one of the most important human rights issues of the day?
BE: Change on any issue occurs as people come to a deeper understanding of the actual reality and are moved emotionally by the effects our policies have on actual people. Thus our greatest enemies are ignorance and a refusal to meet people and hear their stories. That is why I take people to the border and our church hosts workshops on these issues. It is why my son, who works on these issues in New Mexico, spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill sharing stories with our political leaders, and the effects our present policies are having on the people in those stories.
JS: In a few days, you are leading eight pastors to the southern border. What are your goals for this trip and what do you hope to accomplish?
BE: On our border immersions we hear the stories of people living on the border, many of them in families where some members are undocumented. We visit the Border Patrol and an ICE Detention Center. We talk with folks working directly with immigrants and with organizations working to change policy, many of them NGOs. Our goal is for participants to connect emotionally and to learn how to think critically about our policies and laws. Then the participants can share their experiences with their congregations, and hopefully bring more people to the border.
JS: What advice do you have for Lutherans who are engaging in immigration reform advocacy? How do you resolve your strength to continue working for a cause when feelings of frustration or hopelessness arise?
BE: We remember. We keep remembering. Jewish people, at every Passover, remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, and have over the centuries been immigrants in many countries. Almost all of us who call ourselves Americans come from immigrant families; in my case, from Norway. And we also remember the people we have come to know who live in daily fear of deportation from their families. Remembering keeps our hearts alive, fills us with compassion, and reminds us daily of the people we are called to love and be loved by.