Sep 16, 2012

The baptism of Adam Jesús Mogollón

Adam Jesús Mogollón was born August 21, 2012. He returned to the hospital with some kind of infection during the second week of his life. In his third week, he did not eat properly and seemed to have trouble breathing. Luz María and I visited his parents, Wuendy and Jesús, in Ottawa, Canada, that third week.

IMG_0742.CR2Wuendy is Luz Maria's daughter, and Adam Jesús is her ninth grandchild. His parents did not know this, but his initials, “A.J.” are the same as those of my great-grandfather, Andrew John Hemmingson. Due to the delicate nature of the child's health and because his parents have yet to find a church home in Ottawa, I baptized Adam Jesús in their home on Saturday, September 8, 2012. His maternal grandmother was physically present to witness the event, while his father's mother, brother and sister in Caracas were with us via the magic of Internet videoconferencing. That was a new experience for me.

IMG_0730.CR2 We purchased a glass dish shaped like a scallop shell to hold the water for the baptism. The scallop shell is an ancient symbol for baptism, probably because the shells are easily found on any of the world's seashores, and because they are useful for pouring water. We have brought the shell-shaped dish back to Venezuela and will use it from now on for all baptisms at La Caramuca Lutheran Mission. Thanks to generous contributions from our sponsoring individuals and organizations, we were able, throughout our journey, to buy a large amount of supplies that are hard to find in Venezuela at this time.

 Of course, I explained to Wuendy and Jesus that the baptism of an infant represents a commitment by its parents and, ideally, a local congregation to continue its instruction in the faith. However, none of the Lutheran churches near their home offer worship services in Spanish. Wuendy and Jesus both have learned enough English and French for daily business and social interactions. But it is a universal part of the immigrant experience that the language of prayer and worship remains the last link to the immigrant's life in the old country.

I am reminded of the story of “Meyer vs. Nebraska.” This was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, the first in which the Court invoked the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the noneconomic rights of citizens against intrusion by the states.

 In the years leading up to, and following World War I, anti-German sentiment led to the imprisonment of German immigrants suspected of being spies, and bans of the speaking of German, the performance of German music and the reading of German books. However, in 1923 the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska statute that prohibited the teaching of modern foreign languages in private and parochial elementary schools. The Court held that the statute was unconstitutional because it deprived parents and teachers of liberty and property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why? Because Robert T. Meyer, a teacher at Zion Lutheran Church, Hampton, Nebraska, defied the statute by openly teaching German, as did two other Lutheran parochial schoolteachers in defiance of similar state laws in Ohio and Iowa. Meyer argued that it was his duty to teach children the religion of their parents in the language of their parents. Since the Lutheran parochial schools already taught basic curricular subjects in the English language, the Court found that the Nebraska, Ohio, and Iowa statutes did not promote the states' interest in encouraging patriotism and the use of a common language.

 I long have thought that we who are descendants of German-speaking immigrants who sought religious liberty in the United States should not be blind to the reflection of our ancestors' spiritual needs and struggles in the more recent waves of immigrants. Jesús told me that although the number of Venezuelans living in Ottawa is small, the total number of Spanish-speaking people is much larger, with representatives from nearly all Central and South American countries, including Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. I gather that the Lutheran Church – Canada (sister synod to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) once supported a Latin American mission in the Ottawa metropolitan area, but it was discontinued for reasons that I have yet to learn.

Anyway, while Wuendy and Jesus stayed home to care for their sick child, Luz María and I on Sunday attended St. Luke Lutheran Church. We are grateful for the warm reception by everyone, but especially Pastor Bryan King, and Skip and Anne Taylor.

 A tour of Issues Etc.

While visiting my mother before returning to Venezuela, we had the opportunity to tour the studio of Issues Etc., a Lutheran talk-radio program that broadcasts over the Internet, in nearby Collinsville, Illinois. I regularly listen to Issues Etc. In Venezuela and especially appreciate the interviews with seminary professors. Thanks again to Jeff Schwarz and Pastor Bruce Kesemann of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church of Freeburg, Illinois.
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