I wrote the following post for my church newsletter. I hope you enjoy it.
“…I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35b)
For the past three years, on the second Saturday in July, my wife, Marilyn, and I have participated in a very special memorial celebration. Marilyn is a member of the American Legion Post 11 Auxiliary, and she has invited me to join her as the post observes the anniversary of the death of one of the heroes of early aviation, the Mexican Air Force pilot Captain Emilio Carranza.
Carranza, who was known as the “Charles Lindberg of Mexico,” flew a small, single engine plane from Mexico City to Washington DC in 1928 as a gesture of friendship between our two nations. Tragically, the young pilot perished when his plane was caught in an electrical storm on his return flight. A group of young veterans of the Great War from the Mount Holly, NJ American Legion set off on an expedition through the New Jersey Pinelands to rescue the brave aviator or recover his body. They brought Carranza’s body back to Mount Holly, covered it in the American flag, and posted an honor guard around it until it could be repatriated to Mexico.
For 90 years, every second Saturday in July, the American Legion Post 11 pays tribute to the pioneer flyer and to the young men who attempted his rescue and showed so much respect for his courage. There is a remembrance ceremony held at a monument erected at the crash site, and a luncheon is held at a nearby high school. The memorial is attended by veterans, representatives of the Mexican Air Force, dignitaries from the Mexican consulates in New York and Philadelphia, members of the Carranza family, and many local mayors, politicians, Legionnaires, and VFW members. I have been invited to offer the table grace at the reception and assist Marilyn in manning the beverage station.
I guess when many of us think of the American Legion we might imagine a bunch of old guys with beer guts wearing garrison caps and sitting around the bar in their post headquarters swapping jokes and war stories. My imagination, however, goes to those first Legionnaires, guys in their late twenties or early thirties who had fought a war more terrible than any the world had yet seen, marching through the wilderness to rescue a fellow warrior. The nationality of the pilot didn’t matter to them. They respected his courage and treated him as a fallen comrade. When Post 11 holds its annual observance, the friendship between nations is always emphasized. It isn’t a political event, but a “people to people” event, an event which recognizes that we have more in common with our neighbors than we have differences (In fact, Marilyn has been given an open invitation from Carranza’s niece to stay with her if she’s ever in Mexico City!).
When God looks down on the world, God doesn’t see borders or frontiers. As Americans argue over immigration policy, I think it’s important for Christians to emphasize Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger as if we were welcoming Jesus himself. Here at Faith Lutheran this command of Christ’s is lived out in very real ways. It’s not just about saying “hello” to new people who join us in worship. We go beyond that. We provide a welcome through Interfaith Hospitality to those who have no place to lay their heads. We have also started a relationship with the Muslim Youth Center of Philadelphia, a religious home for many first and second generations Americans from southern Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the globe. I am hoping to extend a welcome, also, so we can meet our neighbors of the Beersheba SDA fellowship, many of whom are Haitian or Haitian American.
I think in these times it’s more important than ever to be Christ’s ambassadors. Our congregation always has an opportunity to make the statement that all of us, regardless of race or nationality or even religion, are people made in the image of God. And all are welcome here.
PS-If you'd like to learn more about Captain Carranza's trip to America, just click on this Wikipedia link here: Carranza