After months of preparation for a gathering of women of colour entitled “Encountering the face of God” which was hosted at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, visas for entry to the USA were denied for two of the event’s featured speakers, Ofelia Garcia of Mexico City and Sidonie Swana Falanga of Kinshasa, Congo.
Falanga works with women theologians in Democratic Republic of Congo and Garcia has worked alongside Alix Lozano of Colombia to explore Anabaptist theology with Latinas.
The Encountering the Face of God/Encontrándonos con el Rostro de Dios event took place earlier this month (October 2007) — organized by Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Central Committee US, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Women USA — was planned for Mennonite racial/ethnic women to support one another and explore Anabaptist theology through their unique lenses.
Latina theologians throughout the Americas are also due to come together at Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay in 2009.
In response to the denied visas, Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership, MCC US and others have been writing letters of protest to the State Department expressing concern over the situation.
The US State Department cited a "lack of assets" as a key reason for denying the visas, says Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of Intercultural Relations for Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership.
“Apparently,” she said “the government does not see their work, churches, communities and families as assets” that would bring them back to their home countries.
Entry denial is an example of migration and immigration issues that separate Anabaptist and other women across borders.
“We’re not going to let this barrier dictate how or whether we connect with our sisters. We’re going to find a way to do that. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure that with God’s leading and Spirit, something will come up,” de León-Hartshorn says.
Visas were denied to a group of Congolese Mennonite leaders trying to visit the United States for a Mennonite World Conference gathering in 2005. Falanga’s visa was denied then as well.
With acknowledgments to Mennonite World Conference