Archive for From the Pastors

The Queen of the House

On May 9th in the United States we celebrated Mother’s Day. This celebration, as we know, is on the second Sunday of the month of May. In Mexico and Latin America it is on May 10th, and it is celebrated on that day even if it is on a weekday. In Mexico the celebration begins the night before with music and flowers. The young high school students agree to bring the music with whatever equipment they can find—a speaker or the stereo of a car or truck belonging to one of the parents of a student— and the party begins.

During the next day families begin to prepare meals to celebrate the Queen of the House. If there is enough money, her children and her husband take her to a restaurant for lunch and then take a walk to enjoy the day as a family. If the mother has already passed away, flowers are brought to the cemetery to decorate the grave. Also, it’s usual for the family to get together to prepare the mother’s favorite food and eat it in her honor.

Unfortunately, last year’s celebrations were not very good. The pandemic hit the world, and the family economy was affected by the lack of work. Restaurants weren’t open, families could not meet, and cemeteries remained closed. There were no family visits, there were no flowers, and the students did not come out to bring music.

This past Mother’s Day was a little better. Restaurants began to open with security measures, flowers were available to buy, and cemeteries opened their doors to those who wanted to visit the graves of deceased mothers. There were restrictions; however, families could bring flowers, and many who were already vaccinated were able to be together again, thank God!

Personally, I feel a great admiration for my mother. She was an exemplary woman with a strong character. She never allowed herself to be overcome, no matter how strong the storms in her life were. She fought until the last moment of her life for her children. I remember that even though she had lost her sight, before going to sleep she would tell me to turn off the light. One time I didn’t turn it off to see what she would do. I could see her raise a fragile hand, tired from the dialysis treatment in the hospital and from having half her body paralyzed by a variety of strokes. She still raised her hand to bless her children—who live in this country and in Mexico—without us seeing her. That’s why she asked me to turn off the light. It was a moment for her to be with God. Her request was for privacy, since I slept in her room in order to take care of her.

You have probably noticed that I often mention my mother’s sayings in my pastoral letters and at some point in my sermons. I do it because my mother has not died for me. She still lives in my heart. One day we will meet in heaven, and I will hug her again.

You may or may not know that, although I am a man, I am actually a feminist. I strongly defend the rights of women and have great respect for them. We are all children of women. Also, our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to be born of a woman. He cared for His own mother, the Virgin Mary. When He was ready to return to His father, He did not want to leave her helpless. He entrusted her to John, His apostle whom He loved so much, to take care of her.

In Cristo Vive (my church in Mexico) and in San José First Church, the Hispanic congregation is made up of 90 percent women. These are mothers of families, who come to these places with their children to pray and praise God, like I did with my mother.

My final reflection is that we should celebrate our mothers and all women in general. They are the most beautiful thing that God has created, and we must respect, empower and love them. May God bless the woman, the Queen of the House.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Open Pantry

In 2014, under the leadership of Rev. Shinya Goto, the Church started a new program to have more connections with the neighborhood and to make ourselves known. An opportunity arose when the Catholic Cathedral of San José found it necessary to close their food program. They proposed to Rev. Goto to take it over in order to continue to serve the downtown area in this way. Since I spoke Spanish, he contacted me and asked if we could do this. He said the beneficiaries would be Hispanics/Latinos who live around the church. My answer was yes, if donations would be available from various organizations. It turned out that donations came from the Roman Catholic Church, Santa Julia, Casa de Clara (a Catholic shelter), and from the Cristo Rey Roman Catholic School. In addition, Panera donated bread, and Wesley UMC Church made some monetary donations. Due to the large demand the program began to grow for our unsuspecting neighbors who were requesting help. With some difficulties we began to maintain our program called “Open Pantry”.

Reverend Shinya and I went to the Second Harvest Food Bank for help. They denied us more than once, because at that time they wanted us to send people to their nearest distribution centers. I told them that people would not attend because of their fears of sharing personal information. Also, they did not want to present themselves as a burden, because they believed it would negatively affect them further in the process of regulating their immigration status. They had felt more assurance when help was offered by the church.

Ray Castellon had been seeking help for sources to obtain groceries and decided to take the position of director of the program. He collected staples and produce, while other members of the church collected the bread from Panera. Casa de Clara volunteers shared food products. As the number of recipients grew, it became difficult to supply everyone with what was needed. Many times we had to split cabbages in half to serve more people.

open pantry volunteers

At the beginning of the pandemic our work became even more difficult, since we could not continue meeting to bag the products. We had to stop for awhile, so we disconnected from our mission companions; however, we continued by purchasing and distributing gift cards from supermarkets, so that people could go to buy what they needed most. Then, since the situation was not easy for Latinos, little by little we began to deliver basic products such as rice, beans, and eggs. Since concern for our Latino/Hispanic members was urgent, Reverend Jeffrey Hall and his wife Jennifer came up with the idea to go out and do personal shopping at the markets for those who could not do it.

Finally Ray Castellon came up with a solution for the dilemma. He returned to the Second Harvest Food Bank to ask for help again. I did not think their help was possible, since we had already tried, as I indicated at the beginning of this message. However, after meeting all their requirements, information and paperwork, the answer was yes, due to the crisis faced by the community in this pandemic.

The products would come already packed in a box and by category. Each family would receive a box of fresh produce, one of dairy products, another of basic products such as rice, beans and oil, plus a bag with chicken, fish, or meat. We helped the food bank to access those in the community— Latino/Hispanic members and non-members of the church—who requested help.

The Church had started a ministry of the Latino/Hispanic neighborhood. Now the ministry is directed by those who at first benefited from it. The result is incredible growth of the Church due to friendship with the community. Many volunteers have left, since we started. I will not mention their names, so that I do not miss one and cause offense by omitting someone. April 21st was Ray Castellon’s last day with us.

Ray is looking for another church to help in other neighborhoods in the city as a volunteer and do what he likes—helping others and the homeless. Ray’s passage is a good example of discipleship and leadership: teaching others to do good and then putting them in charge before going out to another neighborhood or city and doing the same.

Thank you, brother Ray, for your leadership and support to the community. May God always bless you and give you many more years of life so that you continue to do good. Also, members of Cristo Vive in the colony of El Maguey in Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico wish you the best for your mission visits to El Maguey, where they will be waiting for you to greet you again.

The Hispanic/Latino congregation of San Jose First UMC and Cristo Vive A.C. wish you the best in your new journey, brother Ray Castellon.

open pantry coordinator

Taking the leadership as coordinator of the Open Pantry program is the young Marcos Garza. Marcos is 24 years old, of Mexican-Guatemalan origin, fully bilingual in Spanish and English, and an electricity student at San Jose City College. With a good heart to continue this work, Marcos and an energetic group of Latino volunteers who are church members are taking the 7-year-old program very responsibly. It’s a lot of work to provide groceries for 100 families twice a month!

Welcome Marcos Garza to the team of The First United Methodist Church of San José, California!

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Pastor’s Note: Hymn of Promise

Dear Friends,

Grace and Peace to you during these remaining Great 50 Days of Easter as we approach Pentecost Sunday, May 23, when we celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit lavishly poured out upon all humanity without discrimination. During this Easter Season, I pray you have experienced the Risen One bringing light, love, healing, and justice into your lives and into our world.

The transition toward becoming the flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Annual Conference continues. Newly elected Hispanic/Latino leaders begin their work of leading the church May 1. Meetings are being scheduled in May for the Staff Parish Relations Committee; the Vision Leadership Team; and the Board of Trustees, at which time members of the Board will elect their officers. Pastor Gerardo is working very hard to ensure committee members are receiving the proper resources and orientation materials to begin their work.

Additionally, the Open Pantry Ministry, a ministry vital to the identity and values of SJ First, is also now fully in the care of our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers. We give great thanks for Ray Castellon and his faithful service and past leadership and pray God’s blessing upon the newly elected Open Pantry Coordinator, Marcos Garza, and the Open Pantry team.

Susan Cassens continues to work in the office, providing the critical on-the- job training and support while Nancy Villalobos learns about her many responsibilities as the church administrator. This training and support will be even more important as Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino leadership look toward re-opening the church, perhaps sometime this summer.

Let us continue to offer our love, support, and heartfelt prayers for Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation during this time of transition as they continue to take those important steps to live fully into God’s vision and future for SJ First and the San Jose community as a whole

As you are aware, Bishop Carcaño intends to appoint me to Los Gatos UMC July 1. District Superintendent, Rev. Samuel Hong, has issued a letter to our congregation informing members, constituents, and pastors of conference policy regarding a change of appointment. While circumstances surrounding the change of appointment here at SJ First differ from many other United Methodist churches in our Annual Conference due to the discontinuation of English-speaking services June 13, the expectation is we will all abide by the letter and the policy it outlines. I know there are some of you who were considering Los Gatos UMC as your future church and may be disappointed you will not be able to attend Los Gatos for a year. I know this is a tender and fragile time for the English-speaking congregation as a whole as you let go of SJ First. Please know I care and am praying for you.

It’s hard to say goodbye, to suffer real loss…to trust the Paschal Mystery. And, yet, as followers of Christ we know “in our end is our beginning.” So, I pray for each and every one of you that this time of ending will be a new beginning. I pray you will find a church home where you will be warmly welcomed, have a place at the table, and receive the care of a pastor who will love you wastefully and lead you with heart.

I will conclude this Pastor’s Note with the Hymn of Promise, perhaps hoping we might find some strength and hope for our respective journeys ahead – our respective futures – as “something God alone can see.”

Hymn of Promise
By Natalie Sleeth

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

Grace and Peace, Jeffrey

Conscience and Responsibility

On March 26th I received my second dose of Pfizer to protect me and others from the coronavirus. I, like many Latinos, was not sure about getting vaccinated, although I knew it was very necessary.

Usually I do not like to take medicine, because I believe that my body creates its own immunity. My grandmother’s advice was that it was not good to take many medicines, because, even though they helped some conditions, they could also affect the body in bad ways. She also said that natural medicine is better, since it comes from certain plants which have natural chemicals that can help us. There are an infinite number of home treatments, herbal remedies that help a lot. These remedies have been used successfully by ancient Latin American natives to present day populations.

Today’s conditions are not like those in my grandmother’s time. There is already a lot of air and water pollution. Diseases like the coronavirus are becoming more resistant to medicines, and natural medicines are not enough.

This story of my grandmother is very similar to those of many Latinos, where the grandmother is highly respected. In many Mexican households’ families believe that the matriarchy is very strong. Once women reach the age of adulthood, they are highly respected, and they are obeyed. There is no stronger authority than a grandmother who has already gone through many difficulties and has developed a strong and respected character. Grandmothers can be sweet or very nagging, but respect for them is strong. Married grown children, whether women or men, teach their children to obey their grandmother.

For those who interact with these matriarchal communities, it’s important to realize why they don’t intend to get vaccinated. Because of their culture, they believe that a natural medicine will help them. In addition, there is the sad reality that Hispanic families do not have money to go to doctors and to pay for medicine. So, they must rely on home remedies.

Since receiving my second dose of the vaccine, I have been posting my experiences on social networks and praying that people will take one more step and lose their fear. As I’ve mentioned before, religious leaders, along with grandmothers, are also respected by the community, and they follow their recommendations. I have taken the liberty of promoting the vaccine and reminding my parishioners that home remedies are not enough. In each Facebook broadcast I am reminding listeners that I have already been vaccinated, and nothing bad happened to me. As a result of the inoculation, I am prepared to resist the coronavirus. I also tell them that if we get vaccinated and then contract the disease, it will not kill us so easily. Also, getting vaccinated is just one more way that we can take care of our grandparents and older adults. This is a good example of showing our love for them.

Mi Vacuna del Covid-19

Apparently my message is working in San Jose, because every day that goes by someone in the Latino congregation tells me that s/he has already been vaccinated. I celebrate the decision and ask them to encourage their family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. Thank God my councils are working here! The Latino congregation members are getting vaccinated and so are my brothers and their families here in California. That makes me very happy.

In Atotonilco and its surroundings there are no tests to detect the coronavirus. Where they are available, people have to pay for them. Also, there are no vaccines available. It is a tremendous crisis as people die from lack of information, tests and vaccines. People have not only lost work but family members as well. Also, many Latinos do not make the decision to quarantine, since they need to work to survive. Grandma’s remedies are not enough to avoid contracting the disease. Unfortunately, I have already lost three family members to Covid—a nephew and two cousins in Mexico—and also many acquaintances.

I am also concerned about the congregation of Cristo Vive in El Maguey and for my older brothers and their families in other parts of Mexico. My concern also extends to all people who live in Latin America, since they do not have the same opportunity as those of us who live in the United States.

I remember that my mother used to tell me that God said, “help yourself and I will help you”. We are not supposed to leave everything to God. To Latinos and to the entire English-speaking congregation I recommend that they get vaccinated since they have the opportunity. Protecting ourselves from this disease allows us to be well and to take care of those we love the most—our children, grandparents, and relatives. In this country we are blessed to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to receive the vaccine. This is a good time to reflect and become aware of what is happening. Because of the vaccine, fewer people are dying. We have the opportunity; we have to take the responsibility to take the vaccine.

I invite you to post your experience when you get vaccinated, so that more people will follow your example of listening to your conscience and taking responsibility.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Times of Reflection and Meditation

We are going through very difficult times worldwide. It’s not only in the United States and in Mexico that we are suffering in this pandemic, living separated from our family, friends and loved ones. I think the whole world is enslaved by the pandemic.

Human and economic losses, bankrupties of small and large companies, and compulsory social isolation puts many people in a tremendous emotional crisis. Anxiety is leading many couples to divorce, since they are forced to be together for too much of their time. In the worst case scenarios both adults and children are affected if they share a home with other families. And problems multiply when people are thrown out of their houses for not being able to pay the rent.

Hope in Uncertain Times quote by Oprah Winfrey

Unfortunately, I have personally seen these situations when receiving calls from people in the middle of a crisis. Thankfully, I have been able to contact several social organizations to help me find support for these Hispanic/Latino families in San Jose. Organizations such as Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart), Friends of Guadalupe, Santa Clara County, and different family shelters have been able to supply the help needed to keep people from living on the street. Food for families has been supplied by the Segunda Cosecha (Second Harvest) food bank.

Those who are suffering in El Maguey are receiving help from SJ First Church and the Methodist women and also the leaders of Cristo Vive, all great warriors with noble hearts, who have been supporting the community. I have been able to see—in the middle of my time of prayer and meditation—the hand of God protecting His people. Of course, several people who I know from Atotonilco and El Maguey, as well as some relatives of our congregation members, have died. But prayer and faith keep us standing .

We have been going through Holy Week which, for me, is very special. One of my favorite days is Palm Sunday, when Jesus humbly made his triumphal entry mounted on a donkey. He was accompanied by the multitude of devoted people, who spread their cloaks on the road where Jesus Christ would be passing. More people joined this beautiful procession, waving branches of trees and full of hope that Jesus would save them. They shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Another special day is Maundy Thursday, where Jesus invited His beloved disciples to the last supper that he would have with them. This event instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He not only invited those who wanted to follow Him, but also the one who would eventually betray Him. He humbly washed everyone’s feet, teaching them service and the way they could serve the world. Jesus did it with humility, being faithful and obedient to God.

On Good Friday Jesus fulfilled his mission and the will of the Father. He died on the cross for the sins of the world, giving His life for us. He was charged with the sins of humanity, those of the past, present and future, so that we do not lose ourselves but instead have eternal life with Him. God gave us the spirit of life with his breath in creation. Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are not alone. He cares for us and protects us.

Through Jesus Christ we will return to the Father. He gave us the breath of life, and to Him we will return, thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ. This resurrection Sunday we celebrate His coronation in heaven. He sits at the right side of the Father as heir of all that we see and also of all that which is invisible to us. He will be waiting for us, since, by believing in Him, we are saved.

Sisters, brothers and friends, for more than a year of pandemic caused by the coronavirus we have been living our life on our own cross. I imagine it as a very dark night; just like during the crucifixion of Our Lord, the world got dark at three o’clock in the afternoon. But we believe that we will soon come out of this crisis. The vaccination process is advancing, and little by little the economy is opening up. We are coming out of this gray cloud that is over our world.

My mother used to say that when the night is darkest it will soon be dawn. Let’s not lose hope. Let us meditate and reflect on everything that Our Lord Jesus Christ had to go through and came out triumphant. We will also come out victorious; we just have to believe, have faith, and put our burdens in the hands of God.

Happy Easter!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez.

Pastor’s Note: Leadership Update

Dear Friends,

Blessings to you during these Great 50 Days of Easter. It is with gratitude and joy I wish to share an update regarding the transition of SJ First to becoming the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose.

On Wednesday, March 17, members of the Vision Leadership Team elected a new Hispanic/Latino Nominations Committee. This action was authorized by District Superintendent, Rev. Samuel Hong. The vote was 8 support, 0 oppose, 1 abstention. The new members of the Nominations Committee are Emma Carmen Diaz Rodriguez, Josefina Flores Acebedo, and Alma Delia Martines. These persons were affirmed in part because of their Christian character, commitment to the church, and are well-respected among Hispanic/Latino members and constituents.

Following the VLT meeting, members of the new Nominations Committee met with Pastor Gerardo for a significant amount of time to consider and pray about the nomination of new Hispanic/Latino leaders and officers to be elected at the Special Charge Conference, authorized by Rev. Hong.

On Sunday, March 28, members of the Special Charge Conference, upon recommendation of the Nominations Committee, elected Hispanic/Latino leaders and officers to serve as members of the Vision Leadership Team, Trustees/Finance, Staff Parish Relations Committee, and Worship Team effective May 1, 2021. The vote was 8 support, 0 oppose, 0 abstention. Other committees, such as UMW Leadership Team, Inclusion Team, and Altar Guild are to be supplied at a later date and will likely be elected at the Fall 2021 Church Conference.

I am so very thankful for those leaders and officers who have labored for Christ and served on various committees and ministries over the years: Ron Hunt, VLT Chair; Kristin Huget, Treasurer; Susan Cassens, Membership Secretary; Ellen Shaner, UMW President & Alt. Lay Member to AC; Curtis Jones, SPRC Chair and members (Nancy Hellyer, Dianne Smith, Kari Wallick, Jeff Huget); Don Langworthy, Trustee/Finance Chair and members (David Cassens, Kristin Huget, Jerry Burge, Melissa Diaz); Dianne Smith, Inclusion Team Chair and members (Ellen Shaner, Kari Wallick, Kevin Crawford, Darlene Woodburn, Joan Clements); Members of the Nominations Committee (Jeff Huget, Yolanda Bernal, Ellen Shaner, Darlene Woodburn); Ray Castellon, Outreach Program Coordinator; UMW Leadership Team (Ellen Shaner, Susan Cassens, Dianne Smith, Carol Prewett, Kari Wallick, Arlene Zarou-Cooperman); Worship team (Kirk Tamura, Susan Cassens, Don Langworthy, Steven Hoffman, Abby Axtell, Nancy Langworthy, Darlene Woodburn and members of the Bell Choir, Abby Axtell, Kristeen Pemberton, Joan Clements, Don Langworthy, Perry Absher, Arlene Zarou-Cooperman, Patty Meeko, and Christian Delooper); Members of the Altar Guild (Joan Clements, Kristeen Pemberton, and Patty Meeko).

Now we pray God’s blessing upon these newly elected servant leaders: Miguel Rodriguez, VLT Chair; Iris Álvarez, Lay Leader; Yaritza Hernández, Treasurer; Maria Cordova, Membership Secretary; Jessica Cornejo, SPRC Chair and Members (Bertha Hernández López, Patricia Alvarez, Horacio Lopez, Romana Ramirez); Members of the Trustee/Finance (Erwin Polar, Felipa Hernández Carrada, Oscar Vazquez, Yaritza Hernández, Socorro Del Real); Members of the Nominations Committee (Emma Carmen Diaz Rodriguez, Josefina Flores Acebedo, Alma Delia Martines); Horacio Lopez, Lay Member to AC; Osman Mendoza, Young Adult Rep; Marcos Garza, Open Pantry Coordinator and Team (Horacio Lopez, Osman Mendoza, Oscar Vazquez, Veronica Zuares, Manny Ponce); Members of the Worship Team (Osman Mendoza, Marcos Garza, Miguel Rodriguez, Vivian Gabriela De León, Mauricio Mendoza, Oscar Vazquez, Betzabe Díaz Garciduenas).

Pastor Gerardo and I will continue to work with our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers in Christ, orienting them to leadership and committee responsibilities.

I am grateful for the support offered to members and constituents by our Congregational Co-Ministers, Ellen Shaner & Susan Cassens, during this time of transition. As I mentioned in my last Pastor’s Note, Sunday, June 13 will be the last day for English-speaking services. I will, however, continue to be available for pastoral emergencies through June 30 before beginning a new appointment at a different church July 1.

Lastly, we welcome Nancy Villalobos as our new Church Administrator in training. After meeting with the interview team, and our current Church Administrator, Susan Cassens, for a significant amount of time on at least two or three separate occasions for introduction and orientation to the job, Nancy accepted the position and begins training this week. Susan will continue to work at SJ First in order to offer the necessary support and on the job training while Nancy learns about her numerous responsibilities. Nancy is bilingual and brings many gifts to SJ First. The church and community will, no doubt, be blessed by her presence.

Indeed, we give thanks to God for all that the Risen One is doing in the life of the church and community.

Grace and Peace, Jeffrey

Times of Change

I remember a saying that my mother used to repeat: nothing is forever, everything has its time

My memory makes me look to the past, reviewing my call and the part of my life on August 17, 2007 when Cristo Vive began. I felt the call to unite my community in El Maguey, to eat together, to read the Bible, and to be one in Christ. My house was a very humble dwelling, made of dirt. The garage of my house was not covered, so we were out in the open. I was equal to, maybe even poorer than, my debt-ridden and hopeless neighbors. But I wanted with all my heart to do something for others, since I had been left alone, as you may know, and did not want to live without a purpose. My motive was and is to help my neighbors, wherever I am. Most importantly, I wanted God to walk with me to make things right.

In January 2010, my neighbors from the El Maguey and Atotonilco neighborhoods got together and officially registered the Iglesia de Cristo Vive with the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico. Sometime later agents of the Social Services of the State of Jalisco came to approve the facilities of Cristo Vive and to ascertain that this church and its leaders were ready for this great project. Our aim was to help the poorest; however, the irony was that we didn’t see that we were very poor, too.

When the social workers arrived, they could not find the location of Cristo Vive, and they were going around in circles. The small group of people waiting for them—mostly women and children—were nervous, because we needed the registration. Without it the local church could interfere so that Cristo Vive could not be independent and Protestant.

I heard about a truck that was driving around the village, so I went out to see who it was. Here they were . . . these frustrated social workers who could not find us and were now in front of us. I told them, “Here it is! I am the president of Cristo Vive.” Astonished and with great respect they greeted us. I imagine it was a surprise for them. They visit other organizations, which are usually located in huge buildings and are run by entrepreneurs. What they had in front of them was a group of poor people in a humble house wanting to help the poor.

They entered the house and we shared with them water and fruit, which was all that we had to offer. They received it with much respect and gratitude. I apologized and told them to forgive me, because the house was very poor and had a dirt floor. But we wanted to help people, and we wanted the name of Cristo Vive for our organization. They told us not be ashamed. They said this type of project bears better fruit than others, because you have the intention and the courage to undertake something new. They also pointed out that later they would return, and by that time Cristo Vive would have its own building. They couldn’t say when, but only that it would happen, because they believed in us. They made their report and left.

A month later a small group of people from Cristo Vive joined me on a trip to the office of Social Services in Guadalajara, the state capital. The purpose of our visit was to get documentation which would provide recognition of Cristo Vive as a non-profit organization serving the community.

Since that visit, Cristo Vive has changed a lot with God’s blessing. It is located at the intersection of two streets. One is Columba Domínguez Street which extends to the main entrance of El Maguey. The local government has paved it, since it was in very bad condition. The school is across Ester Fernández Street, opposite the library side of our building. We’ve been holding our festivities and anniversaries on Ester Fernández Street for several years. But over the last 8 months we’ve had the generous support of San Jose First Church and the Methodist Women’s Group. We use that street, since it is spacious, but in the live broadcasts on Facebook it looked very neglected. With the help of God, I think that the local government felt sorry for how the street appeared as we carried out our activities. In the last three weeks they have been cleaning it and installing new hydraulic concrete there. Our neighbors and members of Cristo Vive are the most benefited, since when it is finished, it will be in better condition for our services and celebrations. The elderly will be safer, since chairs will be set on a firmer place. In truth, that street is our patio or esplanade for Cristo Vive.

There is no doubt that God chooses where He wants members of the community and neighbors to meet: at the corner of Calle Columba Domínguez and Ester Fernández in La Colonia El Maguey (and including neighbors from Atotonilco El Alto), as well as on North 5th and Santa Clara Streets in San José, California.

God’s timing is perfect. It only takes time, faith, and love for the neighbors to have a place to meet to worship Him. The social workers did not doubt that Cristo Vive is the right place for the neighborhood to meet and live in harmony. It works because of the hand of God and every one of those who participate with their financial support and volunteer work.

Changes are often sad and hard, but many times they are necessary. Nothing is forever, and everything changes. You just have to trust God’s timing and believe and live to achieve a dream of helping those who need it most.

God bless you.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: Church transition update

Dear Friends,

I want to update you on some significant developments regarding the transition of SJ First to becoming a Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church. On Saturday, March 6, Pastor Gerardo and I participated in an important virtual meeting with many Spanish-speaking members and constituents where there was a shared vision and passion for SJ First to become the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose:

  • Where Hispanic/Latino people are leaders of the church they love.
  • Where cultures and traditions are woven into the theological and ecclesial fabric of the church.
  • Where the building is used for ministry to its potential.
  • Where the church is connecting with the surrounding community.
  • Where the church has space made sacred by generations past to baptize and make disciples for generations to come.

The response was inspiring. I have no doubt the bold witness of God’s light and love, and the legacy of SJ First’s commitment to acts of compassion and service, will be carried faithfully into the future by our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ.

The next step written in chalk

The next step in the transition takes place at our VLT meeting, Wednesday, March 17. The District Superintendent, Rev. Hong, has authorized the VLT to elect a new Nominations Committee that will be constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons. Pastor Gerardo, and me as Chair of the Committee, will present the names of those to be elected as the new Nominations Committee.

Following the VLT meeting, the new Nominations Committee will nominate new leaders and committees constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons who will be formally elected at a Special Charge Conference, authorized by the District Superintendent. The date of the Special Charge Conference has not yet been determined, but it will likely occur in a timely manner while also meeting Disciplinary requirements.

At the Special Charge Conference, the District Superintendent will identify an effective start date when the newly elected leaders and committees will officially begin, which will also likely happen in a timely manner.

Along the way, Pastor Gerardo and I will be working with our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers in Christ, orienting them to leadership and committee transition. Importantly, we are working with the District and Conference to identify resources that would be helpful in the orientation and training of committees.

Sunday, June 13 will be the last day for English-speaking services. I will, however, continue to be available for pastoral emergencies through June 30 before beginning a new appointment at a different church July 1.

As I mentioned in the previous Pastor’s Note, when the building can be re- opened and safely hold in-person worship services again, there will be a special worship service when all English-speaking members and constituents will be invited to mark the occasion by passing the torch, so to speak, and bless Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation as they carry the legacy of SJ First faithfully into the future.

Grace and Peace,

Nota del pastor

Queridos amigos,

Como probablemente ya sabrá, San José First UMC se encuentra en medio de una significativa transición en lo que se refiere al ministerio futuro y la misión de la iglesia; es decir, para hacer la transición de SJ First a una Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana / Latina y descontinuar los servicios de habla en inglés.

Soy consciente de que las transiciones como esta son difíciles y traen consigo una mezcla de emociones, particularmente sentimientos de dolor y pérdida.

 Por favor, sepa que el pastor Gerardo y yo estamos aquí para apoyarlo en lo mejor de nuestra capacidad. Nuestras copresidentas de atención congregacional, Ellen Shaner y Susan Cassens, también estamos aquí para apoyarlo y cuidarlo a medida que avanzamos con la transición y la visión de futuro de SJ First.

Una visión para que SJ First se convierta en La Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida hispana / latino insignia en la Conferencia Anual, un Centro de Ministerio en el Centro de San José:

  • Donde las personas hispanas / latinas son líderes de la iglesia que aman.
  • Donde las culturas y tradiciones se entrelazan con lo teológico y tejido eclesial de la iglesia.
  • Donde el edificio se utiliza para el ministerio en todo su potencial.
  • Dónde la iglesia se conecta con la comunidad circundante.
  • Donde la iglesia tiene un espacio sagrado por generaciones pasadas a bautizar y hacer discípulos para las generaciones venideras.

Durante los próximos meses, el pastor Gerardo y yo estaremos trabajando con nuestros hermanos y hermanas hispanos / latinos en Cristo, preparándolos para el liderazgo.

La transición del comité. Anticipo el primer comité al que haremos la transición será el Comité de Nominaciones / Liderazgo Laico en nuestro VLT de marzo reunión. Esta acción permitirá la nominación y elección de otros comités en abril y, si es necesario, mayo.

En este momento, lamentablemente no tenemos una fecha para cuando los hablantes de inglés los servicios se suspenderán, aunque probablemente será antes del 1 de julio.

Estamos trabajando duro en esto y nos aseguraremos de compartir esa información con todos ustedes tan pronto como podamos.

En una fecha posterior, cuando podamos reabrir el edificio y mantener en persona de manera segura servicios de adoración de nuevo, habrá un servicio de adoración especial para todos.

Se invitará a miembros y electores de habla en ingles a marcar la ocasión pasando la antorcha, por así decirlo, y bendecir al pastor Gerardo y a la congregación hispana / latina a medida que llevan el legado de SJ First al futuro.

Paz y gracia,
Rev. Jeffrey Hall

A History of Immigrants in the United States

The North! When I was a child in my bed at night in the dark, I listened to my parents talk about The North (the United States). They talked about life here in the United States where many people emigrate to have a better life. They travel north to work, and they save money to return to their villages, buy a house, start a business, get married, and everyone is happy. In the morning when my mother awoke, I told her that when I grew up I would go to The North and buy a big house for everyone. She would get excited, but then fearfully she would tell me that in The North people get eaten, and that they no longer return to their villages. They get lost, as she lost her father when she was seven years old.

In Mexico when a person leaves his town for the border by bus, he begins to feel discrimination in his own country, since there are many Mexican emigration checkpoints with federal and customs agents. Adding to this discomfort is the danger caused by organized crime people who roam throughout the country extorting and assaulting men and women who travel. They go around looking for Central American centers or other places where immigrants cross the border looking for the American dream but end up being assaulted and abused. Victims are from many countries, including Mexico. I know this, since I was one of the many who experienced the expertise of those robbers and extortionists.

When immigrants finally arrive in this great country, they are dazzled by the wealth that is evident. Even bathrooms are beautiful, and one cannot escape the joy of knowing that there is immediate hot water for bathing just by opening the shower faucet. There are wide streets and so many parks and recreation areas. The first illusion is that one can find a job and earn money to pay for food and to send back to the family to pay debts caused by borrowing money to travel. Existing in poverty is the norm for many who live that way in their countries due to lack of opportunities.

Many times people arrive and cannot find a job. They do not speak English and only know how to work hard so that no one can say that they are lazy. Many immigrants are ashamed and proud and want to earn a living and pay their own way. Also there is a common belief that if someone is ever cared for by the government, he will not be able to become legalized. Or, if he entered the country without documents, employers may exploit him by paying very little for his labor and treating him like a slave who lives day by day and is poorly fed.

Many people do not know that immigrants pay federal and state taxes; yet, ironically, they will never benefit from a retirement pension, since they do not exist for the government. The IRS gives them a personal identification number (ITN) so that they pay taxes, and immigrants pay them to avoid getting into trouble. Many do not ask for any help from the government, since they live in anonymity.

So, the American dream is starting to get very difficult to achieve, since immigrants have to live in hiding from the police, gangs, and immigration agents (la migra). In addition, some of them suffer from racism, because some people think that they abuse the system. They are considered as criminals, because that is what is heard from some politicians in the media.

The search for the American dream stops. Many immigrants cannot return to their villages, because the years of looking for the dream have already passed. That reality does not arrive due to the low wages they earn. Individuals marry or get together with someone like them so as not to feel alone and to support each other. Children are born and raised here, and some yearn to return to their countries of origin.

Among groups of Latinos there is a lot of resentment due to profiling. Many Central Americans who crossed Mexico by road suffered from the abuses I mentioned earlier, and they think that all Mexicans are the same. They do not befriend Mexicans unless they know them well. There are some couples where the man is Mexican and the woman is Guatemalan or vice versa or from other countries where their children have 3 nationalities: Mexican, Salvadoran and American. If the father or mother of the family is detained by immigration authorities, one wonders where these children will be going. They also live in fear; they do not know how to explain that they don’t speak English, and they cannot say that their parents have no documents.

Many live in houses or apartments where there are more than two families living together in order to be able to pay the large rents. The parents live without health insurance for a variety of reasons: they cannot pay for it; they do not qualify due to their immigration status; or because, fearing discovery, they do not get registered.

In the countries of origin parents of these immigrants grow old and often die and do not have the opportunity to see their children who traveled North for a better life, one they could not achieve. Likewise, immigrants grow old, and their American citizen children grow up and do not want to return with their parents to their countries. They no longer know Mexican culture, they do not speak Spanish well, and there is no work for them. On top of this, they are stuck in a country where opportunities are limited by their lack of documentation, and they can no longer leave. I remember my mother saying the North eats people.

So, where can immigrants feel protected, not judged, condemned, or attacked?

Answer: in the churches since they are the houses of God. Well yes, but there are some churches where they cannot live their faith or participate in the traditions of the church. Many women are single mothers or live in a free union because they have not been able to marry. This is because they may live with someone who cannot marry because one of them is divorced. Or they are from the LGBTQ community. None of these groups can receive communion or the sacrament, because their theology says they live in sin.

Communion chalices and wafers and bible in rainbow colors

Being able to receive communion gives the recipient the confidence of being close to those who do not reject him or her, including Our Lord Jesus Christ. I like to visit churches to see the participation of the people. After looking into some Protestant and Catholic churches, I’ve found that some priests and pastors deny the sacraments to these people. What broke my heart one day was that during communion in a Catholic church in this area I saw women with the desire to receive communion lined up towards the priest. Before they reached him, knowing they could not take communion, they crossed their arms to at least signal to the priest that they wanted to receive his blessing. For me, looking at that is humiliation where the whole church can see that they do not take communion, because they are not worthy to do so.

The life of immigrants in the United States is not easy, and many times the American dream becomes unattainable.

My reflection on this story is that we are all immigrants in some way, since we, our grandparents, and/or our ancestors traveled to this great country looking for a better life. Jesus Christ invites us to open the door to our churches since He and many of the great characters of the Bible also were immigrants.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla