Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Providing a Spiritual Home Away from Home: A Swiss Woman's Way of Witnessing to a Latin American Community in Geneva *

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Providing a Spiritual Home Away from Home: A Swiss Woman's Way of Witnessing to a Latin American Community in Geneva *

Article excerpt

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy is our God, God of all the earth and heaven, who accompanies our people, who lives within our struggles, of all the earth and heaven, the one and only God. God the lord of all our history, holy, holy is our God.

Blessed are those who in the Lord's name announce the Holy Gospel, proclaiming forth the good news of liberating power. Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy is our God. (1)

Twice each Saturday on a local Christian radio station, this happy melody with its theologically programmatic text starts the programme of the Latin American Christian Community in Geneva.

At the church where I have been part of the pastoral team for six years, we also sing the song during our services and identify ourselves with its central message: God accompanies our people; God lives within our struggles! I feel very blessed to have been involved in the ministry of the Latin American Christian Community at the Methodist church in Geneva from the community's beginning fifteen years ago. As the song says, we consider it our primary task to proclaim the good news of liberating power to the Latin American immigrants in our midst.

The setting of our community

The Latin American Christian Community is well integrated into the life of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Switzerland. Although Christians have been a migrant people all along, as were our Jewish ancestors, some of us are more conscious of being pilgrims in our context. Methodism was brought to Geneva mostly from Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland. With new generations of native French speakers in the community, a linguistic change from German to French took place. At about the same time, an additional ministry was added in Spanish under the leadership of a Methodist lay preacher from Chile. Moreover, a group of Brazilians began holding regular worship services in Portuguese.

During the last two decades, increasing numbers of immigrants from Latin America have come to Europe. Word has gone out that work is available in Switzerland, and that wages here are high. This is only a tiny part of the truth about the economic situation here. However, it provides a powerful incentive to many desperate people wanting to escape poverty and unemployment in their home countries. Moreover, these immigrants provide a lucrative business for travel agents who sell them tickets, for others who smuggle travellers without visas across the borders, and also for those who lend immigrants the necessary money at high interest rates. Since most of the travellers are notable to pay cash for their tickets, they often increase already existing debts in order to come to Switzerland. Upon arrival, some are lucky enough to find employment, either as domestic help, in the restaurant business, or in agriculture. Others are condemned to wait for long months without income. A few are caught by the police right away and deported before they are able to land a job.

Moreover, even for those who find employment, life in Switzerland does not offer what they expected. Of course, wages paid here are high when converted into Latin American currencies. However, since undocumented workers are at the bottom of the salary scale, what they earn often does not permit them a decent standard of living. So, they are housed in cramped quarters with several persons to a room. To avoid paying rent and for transportation, many of the women employed in private homes prefer to live at their place of work. If they are fortunate, they have a room to themselves. However, some sleep in the children's bedrooms; at times they are even obliged to share a bed with the children. Such "live-in" domestic employment set-ups also may involve extremely long working hours and no regular free time, as well as wages way below any decent standard. Labour unions are active in this sector and defend the interests of undocumented workers. The Latin American Christian Community regularly invites union representatives to come and inform our parishioners about their rights. …

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