by the Revd Dr Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
“It’s a real expression of love that you can share in the work we are doing to welcome others,” said Mariela Correa Montecinos, at the beginning of our meeting on the first day of my visit to the Methodist Church in Chile.
I was quickly to discover that all Methodists can learn lessons from the Chilean Methodist Church. The Church appointed Mariela in October 2016 as National Coordinator for its work with migrants. Methodists in Britain and Ireland pay for her salary via the Nationals in Mission Appointment (NMA) programme. The motivation for this work is that in recent years, more than 80,000 Haitian people have arrived in Chile.
Mariela spent the first period after her appointment visiting every district of the Church, meeting with men’s, women’s and youth groups as well as whole congregations. Her goal was to share correct information and debunk myths. She noted that people’s prejudices are often based on a lack of knowledge. Part of Mariela’s work is to coordinate the work of many local congregations up and down Chile who are doing what they can to give initial assistance to Haitian migrants and empower them to make their way in life in their new country. I saw Methodist churches in various locations with doors flung wide open to receive Haitians into their midst. In many church halls, there are mattresses stacked up so that Haitians can sleep there until they find permanent accommodation. The Chilean Methodist Church is seeking to register as an NGO so that it can access more funding for this work.
As I stood in the town square of Curico (3 hours south of Santiago), chatting in Haitian Creole with a group of about 30 young Haitian men and women, I realised how important this reception work is. The big challenge coming out of this to us Methodists in Britain and Ireland is how we can be more proactive in reaching out to immigrant peoples and attacking prejudice.
We need to do more than just sit and wait for people to come to us. Let us follow the Methodist Church in Chile’s example and proactively reach out to vulnerable migrant peoples in our midst.
This article originally published in the March 2018 World Church News.