by Anton Flores-Maisonet
Everyone is welcome.
That’s the message posted at the entrance of the meetinghouse of Atlanta’s Quaker community where we live and operate Casa Alterna.
In a time of disillusionment with religious and political institutions, there is a need for a Spirit-led and values-driven community. There is a communal longing for a prophetic alternative that rises above the platitudes of piety and politics without principles.
August marks two years of offering hospitality to asylum seekers…
At Casa Alterna at Atlanta Friends Meeting, we are seeking to be an alternative that embodies hope and resistance. August marks two years of offering hospitality to asylum seekers, and we’ve already been a place of refuge for almost 450 guests from over 50 countries.
An essential testimony of Quakers is the belief that there is that of God in everyone. It’s a belief that requires us to act. It compels us to meet human needs, such as liberating those encaged by systems of mass incarceration, advocating for a health care industry that values people over profits and eradicating the root causes of migration. If it’s true that there is that of God in everyone, then we must follow Jesus’ lofty teachings and meet the real needs of those crushed by what Dorothy Day called this “filthy, rotten system.”
By opening the meetinghouse to be a place for the works of mercy, we welcome one another the way Christ has welcomed us (Romans 15:7), and Christ welcomes us as friends. (John 15:14-15).
“Israel” is seven years old, and he and his parents recently arrived in the United States in search of asylum. This brave little boy and his equally determined (and young) parents traversed the jungle between Colombia and Panama and all of Central America and Mexico to arrive at the doorstep of the purported land of the free.
Upon arrival in the US, this family quickly realized that sojourning without a support system can be overwhelming. They found themselves stuck at a borderland shelter until a fellow asylum-seeking companion told them to get to Atlanta because, based on the companion’s experience, he was sure churches here would welcome and assist these God-fearing strangers. So on one-way tickets, they arrived at the Atlanta bus station. They say an angel disguised as a random man on the street guided them to Atlanta City Hall. It was there that City staff would call us, and we would welcome some of our newest friends.
I hope little Israel knows that I see that of God in him.
When we met, Israel insisted on calling me “Pastor.” I tried to explain to him that “Anton” was sufficient; nevertheless, he persisted. I decided to turn the tables and began calling Israel “Pastorcito” (little pastor). Now he calls me Anton and wants me to call him Israel, but with the American pronunciation rather than the Spanish one. If he sees me as a pastoral presence, I hope little Israel knows that I see that of God in him.