How the game of a young boy turned into a life-long calling to share the word of God.
By The Rev. Daniel Mejia-Munoz
As a young boy in the second grade in Mexico, I used to play a silly game. I would try to pretend that I didn’t know how to read. So, I would sit in the back of the car and stare at the street names, publicity signs, billboards, and try not to read them. But I couldn’t. My brain would automatically start reading. All it took was a quick glimpse at a single letter, then the letter would connect with a vowel, then my brain would form a word, and then a sentence, and then I would lose the game because I simply could not stop reading. Because once you learn how to read, at least in my case, you can’t unlearn it. In many ways this silly little game explains very well the journey to find my calling as a pastor because once I saw Jesus, I could not unsee him any more.
As a young lay missionary, I got to see the difficult lives of the many migrant workers who worked from sun up to sun down gathering the crops of vegetables and fruits in South Georgia under scorching heat. I got to see how 11 of them lived in a small trailer made for four people, with one bathroom to share and no air conditioning. I got to see how deeply and terribly they missed their families back in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua but still saw no choice but to leave them behind. I got to see the constant fear in their eyes every time rumors of raids by Immigration Customs Enforcement were spread among them. I got to see their lives, and I couldn’t unsee them.
But then, I also got to see how our little church became a resting place for these immigrants, where their spirits and their bellies got fed every week with lots of love and food by caring and compassionate Methodist people. I got to see how, for a couple of hours on Sunday evening, their humanity and playfulness came back while playing an intense soccer game in our church backyard. I got to see firsthand how God had placed us together–immigrants and natives, Latinos and whites–on this journey to find Jesus in each other. And because I saw all of this, I couldn’t unsee the need for racial justice and reconciliation, the need for justice filled immigration reform, the need to care and serve those in our communities who are on the margins–the hungry, the homeless, and the lonely.
As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. –Dorothy Day
You see, my story is the story of a little boy from Mexico who saw Jesus and then I couldn’t unsee him any more. That vision of Jesus for me was so captivating, was so overwhelming, real and true, that it captured my heart and mind, even my life. I saw God’s Kingdom reflected in the lives of those immigrants and the Methodist people who opened their hearts, their homes, and even their church to one another. And from that moment on, even when I didn’t want to, I pictured what Jesus would do, how Jesus would act, what Jesus would want. Even when I try to pretend that I don’t know or can’t see, Jesus shows up in the picture of my life. And just like what happened with my silly reading game, somehow, my eyes and heart followed the Word made flesh. This vision has led me to experience the true meaning of love, truth, forgiveness, grace, justice, and compassion. I hope you will join me, too. It is never too late to see Jesus.
The Rev. Daniel Mejia-Munoz is a pastor at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Bowie, Md.