Beloved Neighbors: Episcopal Farmworker Ministry

Merciful God, we pray to you for all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life.
Though many of their graves bear no name, to you each one is known, loved and cherished.
May we never forget them but honor their sacrifice with deeds more than words. We entrust to you all those who have made this journey, enduring fear, uncertainty and humiliation, in order to reach a place of safety and hope.
Just as you never abandoned your Son as he was brought to a safe place by Mary and Joseph, so now be close to these, your sons and daughters, through our tenderness and protection.
In caring for them may we seek a world where none are forced to leave their home and where all can live in freedom, dignity and peace.
Merciful God and Father of all, wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering, and free us from the insensitivity born of worldly comfort and self-centeredness.
Inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, to see that those who come to our shores are our brothers and sisters.
May we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to you, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.
-A Prayer for Immigrants

“Beloved Neighbors” is the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry’s (EFwM) six-week program about history, race, and immigration. The first session opens with a prayer reminding us that Jesus’s story begins as a story of immigrants fleeing oppression and finding safety in a new land.

Just as the prayer contextualizes the life of Christ, “Beloved Neighbors” frames American history and our current relationship to the food we eat from the perspective of contemporary immigrants – the migrant farmworkers of North Carolina. I’ve learned about topics such as the exploitative history of farm work in the United States, from the time when slaves were forced to work in the fields in inhumane conditions to the present day when migrant workers with few rights tend our fields for poverty wages. But most importantly, I got to hear the stories of people who have left their homes to escape violence, poverty, and other hardships. I have cried while listening to them share first-hand accounts of leaving their families…knowing they may never see each other again. The migrant farmworkers in these Zoom sessions have traveled a perilous road to get here. Upon arrival, they encounter broken promises, racism, economic and legal oppression, and constant fear of being sent back. They are survivors. They share their stories and memories of those who did not survive the journey with them.

I learned that this is not what they ever wanted to do. They want to remain in their homelands, which is not possible. Their stories resonated with me in a profoundly personal way. This old picture is of my grandfather, Daniel Rodriguez. He came to America from Mexico by himself as a 13-year-old boy. He traveled across the US, helping to build our nation’s railroads and finding work on farms, too. I am so inspired by this man, on a journey to make a better life for his family. He finally settled in Chicago, where I was born. My mother is a daughter of immigrants. She never finished high school, and yet she raised a son who would go on to study Spanish at Harvard University and earn a Master’s degree in filmmaking at the University of Southern California. So here I am: a Spanish-speaking filmmaker from Los Angeles, suddenly finding himself in North Carolina taking a weekly class on the history of migrant farmworkers through the Episcopal Church – and all because of a global pandemic!

This is one of those rare times when I can, in real-time, feel the Lord’s hand at work. It seems He has put me here in this place at this moment in time with these specific people to do the work he calls us all to do. I decided to take action. I learned along with Jamie Holt, my partner in life and in filmmaking, that EFwM needed our skills. We are making a video encouraging farmworkers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. I am using my Spanish fluency and skills as a filmmaker to help this community of immigrants fight back against the disease that has upended both their lives and my own.

You may think you don’t have a personal connection to migrant farmworkers like I do. But consider that the journey of the food you eat – from the earth of North Carolina to the cozy warmth of your dinner table – actually began somewhere in Latin America with a person, like my grandfather, who left their home, braved a dangerous journey to America, and found work on a farm. We all have a personal connection to migrant farmworkers. Fortunately, there are some ways to help. See the call to action in the Social Justice section of the eNews.

Without St. Peter’s and an invitation from Lyn Holt (Director of Youth Formation) to participate in “Beloved Neighbors,” I would not be so keenly aware of these issues. I am grateful to the Episcopal church for helping me see, in the words of the Prayer for Immigrants: “we are all migrants, journeying in hope to [God], our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.”

Please consider connecting with EFwM (episcopalfarmworkerministry.org) and participating in the Beloved Neighbors program. It has been a life-changing experience for me, and I know it will be for you as well!

– David Aguilar