July 11, 2014

Austin Justice For Our Neighbor clinic opens

Services for immigrants offered at organization’s once-a-month program

By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

There is a woman from Ghana, displaced in a tiny little community, a historically-documented Ku Klux Klan territory, who was promised citizenship through her involvement with a  man, a heavy-handed man, who turned out to be just another con.

A Methodist Church took the woman under their wing, surrounded her with love and tried to do everything they could for her.

But now, they are “scared to death” for her because of her immigration status

Volunteers at Austin’s Justice For Our Neighbor clinic, which runs the last Saturday of every month, wait for clients to show up for their immigration consultation.

This woman and others like her are the reason Justice for Our Neighbor (JFON) exists.

While two conference Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) programs have suspended clinics due to funding issues, a brand new one opened this summer in Austin.

Operated out of the facilities at Servant Church, Austin, the new clinic serves a wide population helps relieve other organizations of the overwhelming numbers requesting assistance.

“We’re a culturally diverse city,” said Kevin Reed, a lawyer who is board president of the Austin JFON. “We have a huge need for immigration services. We have an enormous need for those people who are unable to afford the service.

“I think we’re filling a much-needed niche.”

Volunteers talk while they wait for clients at the new Justice For Our Neighbor (JFON) in Austin. JFON was begun to provide immigration counseling and assistance.

The beginnings

The National JFON organization was founded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief in 1999 to provide a way for churches to walk alongside immigrants and provide immigration counseling and assistance in finding “places where to belong, ways to contribute and individuals who care about their lives here,” according to the national Web site.

JFON clinics throughout the country have helped countless immigrants reunite with their families, escape from abusive situations and find work.

The oldest clinic in the Southwest Texas Conference is the JFON in the Valley area. San Antonio began operating one in recent years, and the newest is the Austin one.

Collectively, the clinics have helped thousands of immigrants find citizenship and counseled others on their inability to gain citizenship, a service in itself.
Reed said the Austin JFON was dreamed into being a few years ago, when the then-superintendent, Bobbie Kaye Jones, called him and Jay Brim, conference chancellor, together.

One of the first things they did, he said, was go around visiting the existing providers of immigration services.

“No one ever said, ‘You’re going to compete with us,’” Reed said. “They said, ‘Oh, bless you, thank you for coming. We’ll refer people to you,’ and it immediately started. This was just another indication of the tremendous need that’s out there.”

Like most JFON clinics, the Austin one runs on volunteers, with only a staff attorney to provide the actual services.

When asked about the reason Austin JFON was begun, Reed referred to the woman from Ghana, living in a community as an illegal immigrant, under the wing of a Methodist church.

It was one of the first calls Austin JFON got.

“To me, that’s the reason we’re here,” he said. “We have congregations who take people like this, who are in need, and they rally around them and support them, and then we need to be there. We need to be helping them. We need to do whatever we can to take the next steps and be there.

“If we can’t be there in this circumstance to respond to calls like this, then we don’t have any reason to be around.”

The Austin Justice For Our Neighbors clinic, which operates the last Saturday of every month, includes a children’s area, after immigrants with children showed up at several previous clinics. JFON provides immigration counseling and assistance and has helped thousands of immigrants find citizenship and counseled others in their inability to gain citizenship, a service in itself. Leaders say a JFON in Austin was necessary because other programs were inundated with need from immigrants.

Volunteers in the waiting room of Austin’s new Justice For Our Neighbors clinic talk while waiting for clients to show up.

What JFON does

JFON clinics provide immigration services to undocumented people. For those who have a legal solution to their immigration status, lawyers guide them through. For the segment that has no legal solution, lawyers tell them that they are not entitled to get what they are seeking.

“This is important,” Reed said. “We tell those people who, under the current law, have no legal solution. Currently those people are being victimized by people who just take their money. We’re telling them the truth. When they don’t have a legal avenue, it’s important for them to understand the current law.

“That’s a service to them, too.”

“One of the most valuable things (the lawyer) does in our clinic is telling them that what they want is possible,” Brim said. “That’s part of what we do: make sure people understand what their rights are, what they can and can’t do.”

Lawyers at the clinics have a defined list of immigration services they can provide, and staff attorneys interview each applicant to make sure they fall within the boundaries of who can be helped through JFON.

The Austin clinic runs the last Saturday of every month. But Brim said a JFON lawyer works even between clinics, since after about five or six months, she’ll have about 30 or 40 files of applicants.

Funding issues

While the Austin JFON has started out well, both Reed and Brim say they and other board members will be working diligently to secure consistent funding.

For two other JFON clinics, lack of funding meant the end of services.

JFON in the Valley has not completely disbanded, but no intake clinics have been held since July, said Carole Lahti, who helps run the Valley branch. People who had cases that were open-ended continue to be served by the program’s former attorney on a contract basis.

“The reason we have become inactive is very simply lack of funding,” Lahti said. Fundraising is especially difficult in the Valley for several reasons, she said, including a “prevailing negative attitude toward immigration and the fact that we are located in the two poorest counties in the United States.”

The start of JFON in San Antonio and Austin impacted their fundraising, she added, because the Valley program had several supporters in those areas “whose support naturally is going locally now.”

“We are still hoping that JFON can be reactivated here, and the single best way people can help is by contribution,” she said. “We need help with fundraising locally and with grant writing, and anyone in the Valley area who can help with those is very welcome.”

For similar reasons, JFON San Antonio, though more recently formed, has taken a break, after three clinics in 2013. Board members’ focus recently has been “building up the board and focusing on fundraising to become more sustainable,” said Lisa Gonzalez, chair of the JFON San Antonio board.

In 2013, the contract attorney interviewed 35 clients at the three clinics between March and May, with 21 of those successfully closed. Ten of the 21 were for youth who had been brought into the country as children, and several of them were college students, Gonzalez said.

The attorney met with clients and closed out seven more as of November of 2013, she added.

“The 28 people who were assisted with legal immigration services are very appreciative,” she said. “In fact, five of the youth who were assisted connected with a  local United Methodist Church on the south side and are very active on the worship team and with the children’s ministries. They now have drivers’ licenses and work permits and feel more confident contributing to their church.”

Why JFON is necessary

JFON is important in San Antonio, Gonzalez said, because there are many more people looking for immigration services than there are slots available from other service providers.

“Specifically, it’s important for our church to be involved as we unify both conferences and consider the mission field in San Antonio,” she said. “The work of JFON will help us build leaders in our churches and help them come out of the background to use their God-given gifts in their communities. Another very important reason to continue this work is so that our own brothers and sisters can be reminded about the Scripture to treat foreigners as if they were our family.

“In Scripture, we see evidence that God cares for the sojourners. In the Old Testament we are reminded that we are to care for the sojourners among us as native born, loving them as we love ourselves, and never oppressing them.”

Lahti said JFON in the Valley is hugely important because of the “reality of poverty, especially among recent immigrants” and the large numbers of immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

“Domestic violence is a major problem here, and many women have been helped to escape horrible living conditions with the help of JFON,” Lahti said. “Certain medical procedures are often not available south of the checkpoints, and persons who are undocumented are not able to access the needed care.

Their clinic, Lahti said, has helped several people in those situations get permits to travel for medical care.

And she has personally seen how immigration services change the lives of those who seek them.

“I personally have had the joy of attending naturalization ceremonies for several individuals who could not afford the legal assistance they needed to reach that point,” she said, “but with the help of JFON and the citizenship test preparation classes we offer, they are now United States citizens.”

A Biblical component

Reed said he hopes for both the churches in the area and the community at large, that JFON Austin is “one of those things that allows us to be the hands and feet we talk about so much.”

He referenced a passage from Hebrews, about not forgetting to show hospitality to strangers, because some of those who have done it have entertained angels.

“We need to remind our congregations of that over and over again,” he said.

Brim said that JFON’s purpose is not only to be a “practical provider of social justice” through the clinic, but it’s also to educate people about issues around immigration.

“There are folks who come to the clinics and want to be lawful residents of the country,” he said. “They are coming to us, to The United Methodist Church, for assistance, and we need to be open to them. We can’t have this attitude that anyone who tries to come into this country we have to push them away.

“What we’re doing is the way we can do it right, but it’s going to take some advocacy.”
For more information about JFON, visit www.jfonaustin.org.

To donate to the JFON in the Valley, send checks to Rio Texas Border JFON, P.O. Box 626, Pharr 78577. To donate to the San Antonio JFON, send checks to the United Methodist Center, 16400 Huebner Rd., San Antonio, TX, 78248. Designate checks “San Antonio JFON.”

In Scripture there is great emphasis on welcoming sojourner

On June 26, 2014, Bishop James E. Dorff was in Laredo, Texas, visiting Holding Institute (Community Center) and having a personal experience about the work being done by United Methodists and other Christians, to assist immigrants who are in need. He participated with Roman Catholic Bishop James Tamayo in a press conference and met one on one with people who were confused, afraid, hungry and vulnerable. Bishop Dorff was not trying to make a political statement; he was not trying to lay blame on anyone. He was being faithful to our Judeo Christian tradition of being with the sojourner.

As I meditated on this issue it came to me that in the Scriptures there are several words for the “sojourner.” In Hebrew there is a noun that refers to “foreigners” and it has a negative connotation: Something that is a corrupting influence or damaging to the well-being and the way of life of the Hebrews. There is another noun that is used frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures that means someone who is taking residence and this word is the one which is translated as Sojourner. “Someone who is taking residence and intends to become part of the community of Israel.”

In the New Testament, there are also words for sojourner; one of them also has a negative connotation. This Greek word is the root for xenophobia (irrational fear of what is perceived as foreign or strange).

But we have to remember that throughout the Scriptures, there is a great emphasis on welcoming the sojourner and the Scriptures remind us that God loves the sojourner (Deuteronomy 10:14-19; Psalm 146:6-9; Jeremiah 7:4-8; Zechariah 7:8-10).

Without making political statements or trying to blame anyone, let us be mindful of the call from God to be with those in need, especially the sojourner.

There are a good number of Christians from many denominations who are working together in response to the humanitarian needs of sojourners who for different reasons are on the move.

Jesus began his life as a refugee. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph moved with Mary and the baby to Egypt in order to avoid being captured by the agents of Herod the Great.

This means that Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived for some time as displaced people in a foreign land and in a foreign setting.

Perhaps this experience served to help Jesus understand the plight of those who were rejected and unwelcomed. Is it surprising that the story of the good Samaritan sets a despised person as a hero?

I am deeply moved by the wonderful reaction of persons through out our area. They have come to the Conference Center and have brought gifts meant to alleviate the needs of the persons in the Valley and in Laredo. We are grateful that our connection is responding so well to the crisis that is developing along the border.

May we remember the words from our Scripture: God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

A journey of faith: the stories of migrants unfold at Holding Institute

Shortly before the annual conference, the reality of the U.S. / Mexico border has come into the center of conversation, particularly as children—many unaccompanied, and adults—mostly women are now arriving by the hundreds in our midst. The United Methodist Church and the community at large have responded and continue to respond. Responses are coming in the immediate forms of monetary donations and as support items like toiletries, underwear, diapers, clothing, travel supplies and food. This emerging reality reflects many complexities—political, social, economic, cultural, humanitarian and spiritual.

In a November 2013 report of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops titled “Mission to Central America: The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States” [1], the following questions are posed: Why are so many children making the dangerous journey north? Are there recent developments in these countries that have led to the spike in child migration over previous years?

In short, there are no simple answers. The delegation found that a series of interrelated factors have contributed to this dramatic increase in migration and that a “perfect storm” of a number of these root causes has coalesced to create this phenomenon. Push factors include the absence of economic opportunity, the lack of quality education and access to education generally and the resulting inability for individuals to financially support themselves and their families in their home countries/local communities. The desire to reunify with family in the United States, in part driven by these forces, also has contributed to this increase in migration. While these factors were omnipresent, the delegation found that one overriding factor has played a decisive and forceful role in recent years: generalized violence at the state and local levels and a corresponding breakdown of the rule of law have threatened citizen security and created a culture of fear and hopelessness.

A recent trip to Laredo allowed me to witness firsthand the manifestation of the phenomenon mentioned. The Holding Institute is serving as a key partner of Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team [2], an ecumenical coalition of support offering the simple hospitality of a shower, food, clothing and travel supplies for migrants seeking to unite with relatives located somewhere in the United States. It is at Holding where the stories unfold. Migrants speaking of their journeys, one account 12 days travelling across Mexico fleeing from difficult conditions in their homeland in hope of connecting to a relative in the United States.

Upon arrival in Laredo, the travelers receive information of hospitality services offered by Laredo HRT. In just a short time, now maybe 14 days into this organized effort, families are able to catch a shuttle bus that transports them from one site to another, three in all, with all the sites coordinating their services to provide holistic hospitality to travelling families. Bethany House provides meals, Holding provides showers, clothing and travel packs, and St Peter’s Memorial providing orientation, a place to rest, and assistance with contacting family members in the United States.

Spirit is with us as we sojourn life

In the midst of these mission posts, volunteers listen to the travelers’ stories and offer prayer. As I listened to some of these travel stories, I shuttered to think how close some, if not many, have come through danger—perhaps so close to the trappings of human trafficking, rape or death.

As noted in a GBGM resolution passed at the 1996 General Conference, “Immigrants and Refugees: To Love the Sojourner”[3], it says, “The Bible is full of stories of sojourners, strangers without homes, whom God called people to protect. The Israelites—God’s chosen people—were themselves sojourners for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt as they sought the promised land. God did not let the Israelites forget that they had been without a homeland for such a long time; the ethic of welcoming the sojourner was woven into the very fabric of the Israelite confederacy. It was more than an ethic; it was a command of God. “Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger; you know how it feels to be a stranger, because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). A “sojourn” implies uprootedness; sojourners are uprooted people. At times uprooted people in the Bible were looking for a home, but other times they were not. Often they were telling those that would listen that the real home was a spiritual home, with God providing accompaniment. Sojourners were messengers. The message they sent then as well as today is that the Spirit of God is with each of us as we sojourn through life. We are all on a journey, and God is with us.”

As we step into becoming this bold new conference called Río Texas, perhaps the Lord has presented us with a gift.  A gift that calls to us saying, “Behold, I doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?” The border is a special place, a place of coming and going, a place where many journeys intersect. As our new friends arrive, our journey of faith intersects with theirs. May the Lord lead us to new senses and sensitivities as we continue on this journey. Blessings on your journey.

[1] - http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Mission-To-Central-America-FINAL-2.pdf
[2] - www.facebook.com/LaredoHRT
[3] - https://gbgm-umc.org/mission/resolutions/3-biblic.html

The Rev. Ruben Saenz teaches at joint annual conference

By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

The Rev. Ruben Saenz, who will become the director of the Mission Vitality Center for the Río Texas Conference in January, taught delegates to the 2014 joint annual conference session about being gospel intentional.

Saenz spoke to more than 2,000 delegates to the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences during a morning teaching break.
He began by saying that many people in his life did “amazing things” to bring him along his Christian journey.

There was a woman he remembers well, an African American woman who paid him to mow her lawn. They would share stories together occasionally. He shared his story, and she shared a little about a Jesus, because she was a “devout follower,” he said.

One week it had rained quite a bit. He needed to go to work because he needed to fill his fridge with groceries. He decided to start with her.

It was Sunday, and he revved up the lawnmower, and out she walked from her little house, dressed in her white dress with a white hat on her white hair and white ribbons flapping in the wind and white gloves on her hands and a big tattered Bible under her arm.
“I knew I was in a lot of trouble,” Saenz said.

In his formative years, he “did it all” in church—Christmas plays, Palm Sunday services, fellowship dinners. But in college, he said, he’d “pressed the pause button on God.”

“Religion and faith was at the periphery of my life,” he said. “The Christian life for me at that time was not something I wanted to do. I was afraid of being holy and devoted.”

He finished mowing her lawn, and as he put his equipment back in his car, the woman walked up to him and said, “Child, Sunday is the Lord’s day. And I know you’re trying to provide for your family, but this is the day the Lord has given us to rest and hear a word from him to make it through the week.”

“The spirit was at work within me to convict,” Saenz said.

She told him she’d been praying for him for four months, after God had put it on her heart to connect with a college student, even though she didn’t know how. The day he walked up to her house was the day God said, “That’s the one.”

“She was gospel intentional,” Saenz said. “She saw me as someone who needed to be reconciled, and she was bold enough to say so. She crossed racial-ethnic boundaries. She crossed cultural boundaries. She loved Jesus, and she wanted me to know Jesus. I did. I’d just put him on hold.

“She turned my heart back to the Lord and back to the church. And as I was thinking about what to share with this great annual conference, with its incredible ministry of mission in this geographical area, that is, in a nutshell, what our work is calling us to do.”

He said that we must answer the question, “How is it that we proclaim and present Christ, not just in deed, but also in word so we have a clear articulation of faith that really connects people in such a way that the word does the work in the heart that turns people toward the Word?”

Saenz took participants through Acts, examining the church at Antioch and how the gospel was launched into the world beyond Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.

“We must be intentional about keeping our focus on the source of life,” Saenz said. “And as we stay focused on that source, we stay focused on our task to make new disciples for the transformation of the world, whatever context we’re in—county seats, colonias, barrios, that’s where we have been sent to make a visible witness to the life of God that lives in us to our neighbors, so others can come into that abundant life that Christ has to offer.

“Our main business is to recognize what the spirit is doing and how the spirit is at work and then join God in that work.”
This, he said, is the reason why the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences joined together.

“We believe our spirit is using this whole process for a greater purpose than unifying our structures and reorganizing our districts,” he said. “These are means toward an end, and that end is so we can be focused and gospel-intentional.”

Every church, he said, needs to start focusing and acting like a new church would.

The church at Antioch was a gospel-intentional church, Saenz said.

It was also an intentional church, with people from all races, languages, social statuses, who came together under one roof and called themselves the Christian community.

“We have some communities that are small,” Saenz said. “Less than 50,000. We have three or four types of Methodist expressions, each with their own cultural expression of faith, which is beautiful, but, at the same time, sometimes it detracts from our common witness.”

The first question people from the outside ask, he said, is why are the Methodist churches in the same area separated.
It points to some historical realities, he said. But no longer.

“The spirit is about doing a new thing,” he said. “I believe it is a sign of the redemptive work of God bringing us together, to be one church in one mission field for the sake of God’s purposes in the mission field.”

Antioch, he said, was an inclusive church and a generous church. When they found out there was a famine coming through, out of their own poverty they gave.

They were a welcoming church, an “oasis for people who needed a place to stay.” Their doors were always open.

They were an outwardly focused church, because they could have kept Barnabas and Paul, the best Christian leaders of their time, to themselves, but they released them and let them go to the mission.

“They launched new work in new places with new people,” Saenz said.

He said we have a tendency to invite people who look like us, with whom we have an affinity, who think like us. It’s human nature—like gathers with like, he said.

The people at Antioch began inviting all people into their lives, not just their churches, so they began to see how families treated each other and how they managed their relationships and how they handled their money.

They learned how to care for people who were different than they were.

“As they began to relate, the outsiders were drawn into that life, and many were brought into the faith,” Saenz said. “I’m starting to believe that we don’t plant churches. WE seek to plant the gospel, and where the gospel is planted, a church emerges. As we seek to penetrate into the nooks and crannies of our mission fields, in words and deed, the gospel takes root, and people see the life that the spirit makes possible. People are attracted to that, and new faith communities emerge.

“The spirit is at work here, visible in the lines of this community, this international church brought together with all different cultures, forming one body, becoming a new people. The barriers that existed between them were being eradicated. They learned how to be a community.”

He said that in the conferences’ unified future, district strategy teams need to look for ways to celebrate each individual church’s “new work,” how it is not the work of one church or one district, but it is a work of all churches and all districts.

“For 150 years we have worked the same mission field, tilled the same ground, and we have done it independent of each other, to our own detriment, to the poverty of our witness,” Saenz said. “As we work to unify our work, we do it so that we can enable ourselves with what we know from all our contexts, so we can enable ourselves to better understand and better reach the people God has entrusted us with. The multi-ethnic church, in alignment with the Biblical work of Jesus.

“The spirit is helping to redeem and reconcile us into one body and one ministry for one area for such a time as this. This work has fallen upon us to do.”

He said that the Río Texas Conference is “exploding with people,” that we are in a “ripe mission field.”

“As people become receptive to the gospel because of transitions in their lives,” Saenz said, “this is an opportunity for them to make a connection. If it cannot happen in our churches, let’s find a way to make sure it happens outside our churches. There are different people, more people, offering counseling and ministry to children and worship gatherings and food and clothing to the hurting and many other mission opportunities.

“Let us also be gospel intentional and present Jesus, the source of our life and our mission, the end of all that we do.”

He reminded delegates that the denomination is looking very closely at the work of the Río Texas Conference because the South Texas area is what the rest of the jurisdiction, and eventually the “rest of Antioch” will be or become in the next 40-50 years.

“So much is riding on us joining together in a missional way to try new things with new people, to open our doors, to welcome the other, the strangers, and to find new ways to reach people who are not historically a part of who we are,” Saenz said. “And as we do so we will launch a movement that goes beyond us, a movement that goes to Louisiana and Arkansas and Missouri and Georgia and North Carolina and Alabama and the northwest and east coast and west coast.

Children’s event in The Valley reaches out to hundreds

By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

El Divino Redentor, McAllen, and First UMC, Mission, partnered together for a joint children’s event that reached out to more than a hundred people. Leaders said the partnership helped them accomplish more with joint resources.

We can all work together, Rio Grande Conference or Southwest Texas Conference. It strengthens us to be able to pool our resources together...the potential is wide open.” The Rev. Bill Duke First UMC, Mission

A little girl, along with her dad, came to ask the Rev. Javier Leyva if he could come to their house and pray for her dying grandfather.

It was right in the middle of the Uniendo Familias/United Families Fiesta at El Divino Redentor, a Rio Grande Conference church pastored by Leyva, but Leyva went anyway, walking several blocks to a home he’d never been in.

It was the highlight of the special festival Leyva and leaders hosted for the community around the church.
Families like that are why leaders offered the festival in the first place.

“By opening up the church to invite the surrounding community in, even if they don’t join the church, they know that a Methodist church did something for their neighborhood,” said the Rev. Bill Duke, pastor of First UMC, Mission. “They think, ‘That’s a church that apparently cares about my family.’ It was an opportunity to let the community know us better. It communicates that we are there for them, regardless of whether they come to our church or not.

“So if they ever need help or are in trouble, maybe they’ll be able to go to El Divino Redentor, like the little girl did that day.”
Duke and his church joined Leyva and his congregation to put on the event, which featured inflatable castles with obstacle courses, food and entertainment.

Funded through the Conference Council on Children’s Ministries, Duke said he was able to bring an evangelist, the Rev. Mark Winters, out of Fort Worth, who does a clown and magic show.

The local Salvation Army showed up with a disaster feeding truck, where leaders fed the families who attended, Duke said. The local fire department also brought one of their engines and gave out fire prevention coloring books.

Duke and Leyva canvassed the neighborhoods around the church to let families know about the event. Leyva also publicized about the event in Duke’s area of town, since he helps with some satellite locations there.

About 120 people showed up.

There are many kids in the area, Duke said. Just down the road from El Divino Redentor is a housing authority apartment complex.
Though Duke and Leyva’s churches are about 10 miles apart, they know each other from a joint pastor’s breakfast in the Valley, and they knew the value of working together for a larger scale event.

“With the reality of us uniting into a new conference, we wanted to already build a bridge between our Rio Grande Conference and the Southwest Texas Conference,” Duke said. “To show that we can do something together. My hope is that maybe other churches will do the same thing.

“We can all work together, Rio Grande Conference or Southwest Texas. It strengthens us to be able to pool our resources together. This is a little drop in the bucket. The potential is wide open.”

Leyva said it was a very successful event because they were able to “know each other and work together on a great event.”

Living by God’s standard can be difficult

As I was reading Matthew 10:40-42 this past Sunday, I began to think about what it takes to receive either a Prophet’s reward or a Righteous man’s reward. As a prophet, the main role is hearing God’s word for the purpose of teaching, reproving, correcting and training others to live in righteousness. As modern day prophets, preachers must find it a challenge to teach others to live righteously. There is so much going on in this world that, for some, walking righteously does not come easily. Thankfully, as a prophet or a righteous man, God sees us as righteous because of our identification by faith with His Son.

Living by God’s standard can be difficult. There are so many examples in this day and age that can prove this. The one that comes to mind right now is the immigration issue our country faces. While I can see why some choose to focus on not accepting this, all I think about is the look in the eyes of the mothers and their children. Having grown up in a single parent home, I know the difficulties of not always having enough and barely making ends meet. While it was not my concern, it was the concern of my mother. So I ask the following questions: What are these mothers doing that is so wrong? Doing all they can for their children and trying to give their children a decent way of living?

While I may never understand the big picture of all of this, I can understand Matthew 10: 42, “And anyone who gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” I am humbled by the generosity of the members of The United Methodist Church.

Read the full article at www.umcswtx.org.

It is not an easy battle, however; it is one where we will not lose our reward in the end.

Conference must forget former things

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” [Isaiah 43:18-19]

Well, it’s almost that time of year, again! Across the Annual Conferences, District Superintendents are preparing their cars for travel, as local church leaders and administrators are starting to compile information for annual church and charge conferences, which will start in just a couple of months. The perceived goal: To celebrate the successes OR explain the shortcomings of the past year.

Having served as the San Angelo District Lay Leader for more than ten years, I attended nearly 400 (OMG!) church/charge conferences. While I doubt that churches “way out west” differ from others around the San Antonio Episcopal Area, I did notice a common theme: “This is what we did last year that worked (or failed). And this is how we are going to do the SAME THING again in the year to come.” We Methodists, for the most part, stay true to our “methods,” regardless of their effectiveness!

However, there will always be churches that break the cycle and report, “We are going to step out in faith and do something bold and new in the year to come!” My opinion is that, regardless of the success of any new approach, a church that can come to a consensus, join in prayerful action and follow through on a plan will grow stronger through their efforts. To trust in God as individuals is wonderful; but to trust in God as the collective of His Body truly lives out the essence of the Church of Acts 2!

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M Corporation, was tasked to develop a super-strong adhesive for certain industrial applications. One of his many failed attempts resulted in a low-tack, pressure-sensitive, reusable adhesive product. For five years, Dr. Silver’s idea was rejected as a “solution without a problem.” However, in 1974, a colleague named Art Fry (doubtful relationship to the Rev. Jason Fry) asked to use the product to adhere bookmarks to the pages of his hymnal. (Read the full story at www.umcswtx.org.)
Seeing its potential, Fry used a 3M-sanctioned policy to develop what we now call “Post-It Notes” products. The original yellow color for the notes was chosen because the only yellow scrap paper available for the first applications of the adhesive!

Every now and then, while we are focused on developing that “super-strong” ministry idea, God places in our midst something so new and different that we fail to see its potential value. While the leadership at 3M saw no need for an adhesive that didn’t stick, their policies allowed for employees to work independently in exploring certain ideas.

Likewise, I foresee that our new structure as the Río Texas Annual Conference will soon encourage new ministry ideas that, to some, may not seem to have the “stick potential” that we want. I truly feel that congregations that encourage and empower its members to try new things will be the better for it, regardless of the success of any new ministries.

So, as we set out under new structures and with new opportunities and resources, let us be open to new ideas for ministry…breaking away from the failed “routines” of the past and looking with fresh eyes at our mission fields. Why? “…Because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” [Isaiah 43:20-21]

Bridge walking is a communal activity

As the storyteller began speaking, a sense of palpable peace descended like a dove on listeners. Both stunning to watch and surprising to witness, the experience unfolded. Like stepping stones appearing one by one where before there had been no place to step. Like a bridge from who we were before we heard the story to who we become after the hearing.

A faith community is about mobilizing our creative powers to be hospitable, healing servants of Christ. The curriculum is God and God’s people in this time and place. All else is resource. Christian education may be geared for a community of faith, yet Christian formation is individual.

Group Photo: Elaine M. Ward passes faith leadership to leaders in faith formation at Mount Wesley in June.
We gather in small groups, home rooms, life groups or SS classes, asking questions like: How many times have you moved in your life? Which places evoke the strongest memories? What is hardest about moving? Easiest? How long, and what, does it take to feel truly at home in a new situation—home, job, church? Why? Looking back 5-10 years, what spiritual changes do you see in yourself? What was/were the catalyst(s) for them? Were you aware of the changes while they were underway? What were some of your significant growth areas? What challenges, struggles went unmet? Where and how were you a teacher, as instructor, mentor, guide, or coach? Where are your growing edges now? What learning opportunities do you look forward to this year? Who is not present here?

Dr. Gail Roaten of Hardin Simmons University keynotes summer Preschool Ministries Conferences in McAllen, San Angelo and San Antonio.
From whom might we learn, and among whom might we teach if we were to shape a learning community which includes them? When has a stranger’s small act of kindness made a difference in your life and in how you felt about yourself? When did you last encounter an “outsider”? When was a time you felt left out? What could someone have done in that situation to make you feel included and accepted? Why should we push ourselves to perform acts of mercy and kindness that don’t come naturally to us? How might or does your community of faith reach out to children who do not have families? Or the resources to attend summer camp? What evidence does your community of faith give the community around your church that you are followers of Christ? When will you send workers with preschoolers to training that equips them for care in a Christian setting?

Bridge walking is a communal activity. We do it together. We are not alone. We build it together. We tell stories, sing the faith, and pray our unbelief into deeper discipleship and open trust in the Lord. Thanks be to God.

United Methodists tending to immigrant minors

By Kathy L. Gilbert
Nashville, Tenn.

In recent months, the numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the U.S. border has surged, drawing both concern and criticism. In this file photo, an abandoned sandal lies just across the border from Mexico near Friendship Park in San Diego.
United Methodists are joining with other religious leaders to provide hospitality and basic needs for hundreds of Central American women and children entering the United States illegally and dropped off at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz.

The Rev. Sherry Brady, her daughter, Candace, and Barbara Haralson, a deaconess, from First UMC, Safford, Ariz.; the Rev. Beth Rambikur, First UMC, Tucson; and Marjie Hrabe, a deaconess from St. Mark’s UMC, Tucson, participated in an interfaith training session June 22 sponsored by Casa Mariposa, a Tucson organization that works with detention centers. The session was held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

“These women have been incarcerated by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) but are dropped off with paperwork that gives them ‘human parole.’ This means that they are allowed to go to different places in the U.S. where they have relatives,” Brady said.

“But they are only given a certain amount of time to get in touch with the local immigration office. If they don’t check in, they are immediately deportable.”

In recent months, the numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the U.S. border has surged, drawing both concern and criticism.

A makeshift processing center set up by the U.S. Border Patrol in Nogales has been overwhelmed, the New York Times reported. As of June 18, 900 children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were being held there, officials said.

Attention from Nogales mayor Brady and United Methodists from other local churches quickly started putting together health kits after they saw Arturo Garino, mayor of Nogales, Ariz., talking about the children who were fleeing from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because of political persecution and drug cartels.

“No matter what side of the immigration debate you’re on, no one wants to see a child suffering or in need,” Brady said, adding that the news “hit me between the eyes.”

The 184 kits assembled by youth and adults from local United Methodist churches were delivered to Nogales City Hall. At that time, the mayor gave the group a briefing on what is happening.

“Mayor Garino shared that he was only given 48 hours (notice) by the (U.S.) Border Patrol before all the children were to be delivered,” she noted.

Garino and his wife, Cathy,” gathered supplies from local churches and other donors in Nogales. “We did ask him what we, as United Methodists, could do for these children, and Mayor Garino replied that we needed to tell our church people to hold off right now on donations. He would let us know when more things could be given.”

Kevin Courtney, a lead organizer with the Pima County Interfaith Council and Interfaith Community Services, is working with clergy and church leaders in this crisis and another one occurring at the border in Texas, where many unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
The June 22 training included a list of basic steps in assisting immigrants including bringing hygiene products, clean clothes and jackets or sweaters for cold bus stations; providing a hot meal and assistance buying bus tickets for final destinations and offering to let them use cell phones, Brady said.

“The Casa Mariposa’s facility was packed to capacity so they are looking for people that would possibly able to take them overnight until they could get on the next bus,” she said.

Further assistance

Before leaving Tucson, Haralson bought diapers with leftover donation money, and she and Brady made plans to return with more health kits, coordinating distribution with Catholic Family Services.

“We also bought fleece from a remnant outlet, and I’ll be organizing youth to make baby and children’s blankets,” Brady said.
United Methodist Women has expressed deep concern about the child refugee crisis at the border and the decision by President Obama to postpone a Homeland Security deportation enforcement review, as noted in a June 16 letter to President Obama by Harriett Jane Olson, UMW’s top executive.

“We implore you to take the actions the White House can implement now, including directives to stop detaining and deporting people simply because of their immigration status and mechanisms to provide provisional status until a legalization bill becomes law,” she wrote.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference episcopal leader, also sent a letter to President Obama June 23, asking him to “stop playing poker with our immigrant families.

“Mr. President, we will keep fighting for humane and genuine immigration reform legislation, but our immigrant families can’t wait a day longer -- particularly as the Republican Party looks inward at Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss and refuses to address our nation’s great moral crisis. Mothers, fathers, daughters and sons need to know that you stand for justice and family unity, not flawed political calculations,” she said.

Carcaño and Olson were both arrested in front of the White House on President’s Day in a peaceful demonstration against U.S. immigration deportations.

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

2014 Africa University graduates express thanks

By Sharai Muonwa
Mutare, Zimbabwe

Students Luzia Bandeira, Angel Tshindj Musaw, Rose Otshi and Betty Kayembe pose for a photo while waiting outside their hostel for the arrival of their friends for graduation rehearsal at Africa University. More than 450 students earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees in 2014.
Following the June 7 graduation ceremony at Africa University, the narrative of this year’s graduates was one of gratitude and resolve.

Gloria Alitubeera, a Ugandan who earned a degree in business, spoke for many. “I am so happy and grateful to God,” she said. “I give thanks to everyone who helped me to make it. To those who granted me the scholarship that enabled me to study and get this degree, I dedicate it to you.”

More than 450 students earned undergraduate and graduate degrees this year. They are the products of the colleges of agriculture and natural resources, education, health sciences, humanities and social sciences, management and administration, theology; and the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance. The institute presented its largest group to date — awarding master’s degrees in intellectual property, peace and governance and public policy and governance to 82 graduates.

“I am ready to go out into the world and make a change,” said Angel Tshindj Musaw, a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo who trained in the college of education. “I have been taught servant leadership, and with that, I feel I am ready to be a leader anywhere.”

Theology graduate, Eva Mario Ndambi, is heading home to Angola to serve the church. “Africa University has helped me to believe in myself and my goals,” she said. “I came here knowing nothing at all about pastoral ministry, and now I can stand confidently before people and talk about my ministry.”

Albert Lukudu Wani, the recipient of a degree in environmental studies and sociology, feels a specific and urgent call on his life to make a positive difference in Africa’s youngest and very troubled nation — the Republic of South Sudan.

“I certainly wasn’t thinking of anything other than myself when I came into Africa University in first year,” Wani said. “AU opened my eyes to the fact that there is a world out there that has problems. Africa has problems. The reality is that if we do not begin to try (to) fix these problems and create a better future, our children and our grandchildren will inherit our problems. I want to help to create a better tomorrow for the next generation.”

‘It taught me to appreciate diversity’

As is quickly becoming the tradition of Africa University, female students earned top honors and awards across the board. Zimbabweans Tafadzwa Beta, Alisandra Moyo and Everjoy Machawira achieved cumulative grade point averages above 3.6, out of a possible 4.0.

“Africa University was not all about academia; it was a broad-spectrum approach,” said Beta. “It taught me to appreciate diversity and embrace other cultures.”

Many graduates highlighted comfort with diversity and a sense of unity and shared purpose as a cherished and unique part of their Africa University experience.

“The most memorable aspect of my Africa University experience has been the diversity, the love, the Ubuntu spirit we share,” Kenneth Thomas, a Nigerian, remarked. “At AU, we are all our brother’s keeper, regardless of where we come from.”

The class of 2014 featured graduates who enrolled through the university’s satellite center in Mozambique as well as a blind student whose graduate work was a model of academic excellence. Their success highlighted the university’s commitment to accessibility and its pan-African ideals.

“Tsarai Mungoni has demonstrated that having no sight is not an impediment to anyone who desires to get an education,” said Fanuel Tagwira, vice chancellor and chief executive.

Planning is under way for expanding the university’s satellite center network to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Established by the worldwide United Methodist Church in 1988, Africa University is the first private, pan-African university to open in Zimbabwe. It has an annual full-time enrollment of 1,500 students and more than 5,000 graduates at work across sub-Saharan Africa.
Muonwa is acting director of information and public affairs at Africa University.

What’s in a name? We need to continue planting seed

By Josue Mora
Rio Grande Conference

A few months ago I came across an article from Our Daily Bread magazine that called my attention: “What’s In a Name?” The author, Poh Fang Chia, tells the story of a friend who sent a letter to his newborn child with the intention that he should read it when he was older. The letter said: “My dear boy, Daddy and Mummy wish that you will find and stay focused on the Light. Your Chinese name is xin xuan. Xin means faithfulness, contentment, and integrity; and xuan stands for warmth and light.” This friend of Chia and his wife carefully chose a name based on their hopes for their baby boy (Our Daily Bread, April 2014).

I have also read that the name of the southeastern Asian nation of Indonesia is formed by combining two Greek words that together mean “island.” That name is appropriate because Indonesia is made up of more than 17,500 islands spanning nearly 750,000 square miles. Indonesia is a very appropriate name because it is a nation with many islands.

In the Bible, we find that people often were given names sometimes at birth or later on in life that made a statement about them or their character or personality. Barnabas, for example, means “son of encouragement.” Jacob means “schemer.” He constantly manipulated people and situations for his own selfish reasons. My wife tells me a true story that happened in Piedras Negras, México, right across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1954 there was a flood in that city, a woman gave birth to a child on top of  the roof of her house roof; she named the child, “Inundación,” Spanish for flood.

When Jesus renamed Simon as Peter/Cephas (John 1:42), He knew what He was doing, for Peter means “the rock.” It took a while for Peter to really become the rock that Jesus meant. Peter was a rough fisherman; he was unstable. I sometimes refer to him in my preaching as a person who would dance to the music he would hear. If somebody was playing “La Bamba” he would dance along that tune. Elvis Presley’s “You’re Nothing but a Hound Dog” sent Peter “rocking-and-rolling.”

So, coming back to our rhetorical question, “What’s in a name?” A long time ago some parents named one of their children “Josué” (Josh). Joshua means “Savior.” Does that mean he has to be true to his name and save people? In this case, yes. God called him to the ministry and he has been teaching and preaching God’s Word since receiving the call.

The disciples of Jesus were called Christians for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26).  That was a very good name because the name Christian means “Christ-ones.” You and I are one of the Christ-ones. We belong to Christ because of Calvary. I like that name and expect to continue living up to it. Probably no one would name his child Judas, being he is the one who betrayed Jesus. At the same time, there are many persons with the name Mary and Joseph.  

Río Texas Annual Conference, I like that name as well as Río Grande or Southwest Texas Annual Conference or any other name for that matter. It is not the name that is going to make a difference in our conference and in our churches and with our pastors and leaders. It is the desire to “... go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).

We have to have the same feeling that Paul had when he said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (NASB). Do we have the same feeling that was in Christ and in the Apostle Paul also? Do we care for lost souls like they did? Do we see our ministry as a calling from God to “go and rescue the perishing?” or do we see it as a career, as a profession?

There are various changes in the new Conference and we need to adjust to them. I like to think that we are embarking on a new adventure. I see a big challenge ahead of us in which we have to do the best we can. We need to continue planting the seed and leaving the results to God; He will see that our Conference grows. I hope to see progress in the new Conference; complaining will not help us. Yearning for what’s behind us will not let us grow. As a retired clergy and with only 13 years in the Río Grande, I mean, Río Texas Conference, I’ve learned to love and appreciate this body of Christ.

Let us keep moving forward.  When my Mother knew I was going to be a pastor she told me:  “... No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62, NIV).

God bless the Río Texas Conference.

Contraception mandate violates employers’ religious freedom

By Heather Hahn

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the response of the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth of Lifewatch and a sidebar on the debate regarding when life begins.

A view of the Supreme Court of the United States taken from The United Methodist Building in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 that requiring some for-profit corporations to pay for insurance coverage of contraception violates a federal law protecting religious freedom.

The 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Inc., and the linked Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. case, limits the coverage of birth control without patients’ cost sharing, as mandated under regulations for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

San Angelo District news

By Liz Calhoun
Director of Children’s Ministries
First UMC, San Angelo

On April 19 at 11 a.m., First UMC and Lakeview UMC hosted a public egg hunt for the Lake View community at Goliad Elementary School.
More than 100 children from the neighborhood and a number from First Church came to hunt more than 3,000 eggs donated and stuffed by members of our congregations. First UMC and Lakeview UMC volunteers along with several neighborhood parents and grandparents scattered eggs as excited but very well behaved children waited and watched.

It was amazing to experience the joy, smiles and giggles of kids of all ages when they filled their own baskets to overflowing and helped the younger ones fill theirs. After the hunt, all were invited to Lakeview UMC grounds and were served hotdogs, chips and lemonade by even more volunteers from both churches. It’s safe to say that lives were impacted by radical hospitality. The families not only heard multiple times that Jesus loves them and therefore, we love them; but they experienced a bit of that love on that windy morning!

Kerrville District news

The Johnson City Library now has a “branch” — sort of — at the Kids’ Lunch Club, where children get free meals Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through the summer at the First United Methodist Church.

Library volunteer Marjie Heard, left, brought in a box of books the kids could check out, and it went over so well it has expanded to all three days a week the lunches are served. Checking out the check-outs here is Indy Keesee, one of the young volunteers helping with the meal service.

San Antonio District news

Retired pastor saw ‘destiny’ in self-immolation

By Sam Hodges
United Methodist News Service

The Rev. Charles R. Moore, 79, doused himself with gasoline and started a blaze as a final act of protest against social injustice.
A retired United Methodist pastor fatally set himself on fire in a shopping center parking lot in his hometown of Grand Saline, Texas, on June 23.

His death was a final act of protest against social injustice, according to family members and the notes the pastor left behind.

The Rev. Charles R. Moore, 79, lived in Allen, Texas, near Dallas, but apparently drove himself to Grand Saline, in east Texas, on June 23.

At about 5:30 p.m., he parked his car and walked to the parking lot, where he doused himself with gasoline and started the blaze, said Chief Larry Compton of the Grand Saline police.

Initially, Moore survived, thanks to bystanders who retrieved a store fire extinguisher and put out the blaze.

He was taken by helicopter to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and died there late that night, Compton said.

Moore was a longtime elder in the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, where in addition to serving churches he advocated for the abolition of the death penalty and for gay rights within The United Methodist Church.

No indication toward suicide

Family members said he clearly remained deeply concerned about those issues and others, including race relations, but gave no indication that he was contemplating suicide in any form.

“It was a complete shock,” said the Rev. Bill Renfro, also a retired United Methodist pastor and a relative of Moore’s by marriage.
The Tyler (Tex.) Morning Telegraph obtained from the Grand Saline police a copy of a note Moore left on his car. In it, Moore laments past racism in Grand Saline and beyond. He calls on the community to repent and says he’s “giving my body to be burned, with love in my heart” for lynching victims, for those who lynched and for Grand Saline citizens, in hopes they will address current racial issues.
Renfro provided United Methodist News Service with copies of other explanatory statements Moore left, apparently written in the weeks before his suicide. Family members found the notes in the study of the Allen home Moore shared with his wife, Barbara, Renfro said.

The typed notes relay Moore’s frustration over The United Methodist Church’s positions on homosexuality, over the death penalty, and over Southern Methodist University’s successful bid to be home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

In one note, hand dated June 16, 2014, Moore wrote: “This decision to sacrifice myself was not impulsive: I have struggled all my life (especially the last several years) with what it means to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insistence that Christ calls a person to come and die seriously. He was not advocating self-immolation, but others have found this to be the necessary deed, as I have myself for some time now: it has been a long Gethsemane, and excruciating to keep my plans from my wife and other members of our family.”

In another note, Moore said his mental and physical health was good, that he was enjoying life and adored his wife, but that he also felt he was a “paralyzed soul,” unable to bring to fruition the social change he felt was urgent. He declared it his “destiny” to give his life for a cause.

One note makes clear that Moore, who had degrees from SMU and SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, planned to do the self-immolation on the SMU campus, on Juneteenth — the annual June 19 commemoration of the 1865 announcement to slaves within Texas that they had been freed.

In another, much shorter note, dated June 20, Moore says “my courage failed” in regard to the Juneteenth plan. In yet another, dated June 22, Moore clearly still planned to take his life at SMU. “I know that some will judge me insane,” he wrote, adding that he loved the school and felt his self-immolation there would move people to care more about gay rights, the death penalty and better treatment for African-Americans.

“He changed his mind at the last,” Renfro said. “He couldn’t bring himself to do it at SMU. It meant so much to him.”
‘He had done plenty’

Renfro said the family struggled with whether to release the notes and seek news coverage of Moore’s act. He said the family is grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing a range of emotions over the way Moore chose to end his life, and feeling sorrow for those who witnessed the self-immolation.

But the family ultimately concluded that Moore’s long commitment to social justice should be recognized, and that his act should be seen as an extension of that.

“Basically, we’ve decided that the word needs to get out as to why he did it because it’s more than deciding to take your life to get out of a bad situation or out of depression,” Renfro said.

In the notes, Moore sometimes criticizes himself harshly for not acting earlier and more decisively on civil rights issues and other social justice matters.

“It would have been nice to have had some sort of counseling, somebody to point out that his life had mattered, that he hadn’t failed,” Renfro said. “He had done plenty.”

Moore helped organize the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He also went on a hunger strike in 1995, hoping to persuade the Council of Bishops, which was meeting in Austin, to push for changing the Book of Discipline’s language on homosexuality. He did mission work in Chicago and India.

Andy Smith of Dallas was active at Grace United Methodist Church in Austin, which Moore served from 1990 to 2000. Smith recalled Moore as a consistently strong advocate for LGBT causes, as well as a stirring preacher.

“His sermon about Lazarus coming out of the tomb has stayed with me for more than 20 years and remains the single best sermon I’ve ever heard,” Smith said. “Charles was a good man who played a prominent role in my life.  I’m sorry that he didn’t feel that he made a difference, because he did.”

Moore is survived by his wife; his sons, Guy Moore and Steve Moore, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is to be held July 12 at Faith Presbyterian Church in Austin.


Delegates for national events
Rio Grande Conference delegates include:
Ruben Saenz Jr.,  clergy, (General Conference)
Edgar Avitia, clergy, (Jurisdictional Conference)
Raquel C. Feagins, clergy, first reserve
Roberto Lopez, clergy, second reserve
Abel Vega Jr., lay, (General Conference)
Cindy Johnson, lay (Jurisdictional Conference)
Leticia Ortegon, lay, first reserve
Minerva Briones, lay, second reserve

Southwest Texas Conference delegates to General Conference include:
Teresa Welborn (clergy)
Laura Merrill (clergy)
Eradio Valverde (clergy)
Carl Rohlfs (clergy)
Teresa Keese (lay)
Ralph Thompson (lay)
Carol Loeb (lay)
Jay Brim (lay)

Southwest Texas Conference delegates to Jurisdictional Conference include:
Russell Miller (clergy)
Austin Frederick (clergy)
Tom Deviney (clergy)
Paul Escamilla (clergy)
Aislinn Deviney (lay)
Rachel Wright (lay)
Byrd Bonner (lay)
Lawrence Harrison (lay)
Abigail Parker Herrera (clergy alternate)
Terrence Hayes (clergy alternate)
Leslie Tomlinson (clergy alternate)
Sean Raybuck (lay alternate)
Rick Mantooth (lay alternate)
Michael Sweatner (lay alternate)