The Border Convocation - a Reflection by Tom Stanton

Tom Stanton

September 24, 2019

In the midst of a humanitarian crisis at the Southern Border, many church and outreach ministries engaged in border ministries have found it difficult to move “to the balcony” to align purpose and hoped-for outcomes with their programs and activities. These groups have been deeply involved in the work of welcoming, clothing, feeding, and resourcing these sojourners to our country with the scant remaining time for reflection and naming long-term—God-inspired—outcomes.

Abel Vega, the Director of Mission, Service, and Justice Ministries of the Rio Texas Annual Conference, and Matt Lohmeir, Executive Director of the San Antonio Justice for Our Neighbors legal representation program, invited me to work with them to design a conversation with border ministry leaders throughout the denomination and beyond.

Integral to TMF’s work is to invite discussion partners up "to the balcony” to identify purposes that are God-inspired, to name our current reality and to guard against settling for “activities” instead of “outcomes” that are aligned with our purpose. The outcome of our work together was the Border Convocation held September 20-21, 2019 in San Antonio, drawing ministry leaders from the U.S. and Northern Mexico. TMF and the Rio Texas Annual Conference provided financial support, and University United Methodist Church in San Antonio provided space for the gathering.


There were well over 130 in attendance. It was a mix of Church Agency leaders from UMCOR and the World Council of Churches, Rio Texas Annual Conference leaders, and clergy and laity working in border ministries from Houston to El Paso, Texas and South of the U.S. Mexico border.

I was invited to facilitate two sessions at the conference and model to those in attendance how to engage in the work of naming the difference our ministries are seeking to make; understanding the difference between activities and outcomes; and moving from personal preference to missional purpose. We defined “missional purpose” as the intersection of God’s greatest need and our passion for ministry. So, together with the planners, church leaders and missional partners, we went up “to the balcony.”

Every person who attended the Convocation made new connections and partnerships to expand and deepen their engagement and effectiveness. Throughout the two days the words “I am encouraged” were oft-repeated by these leaders.

This reflection was written by TMF's General Counsel and Area Representative to the Rio Texas Conference, Tom Stanton. The photos were taken by UM News photographer Sam Hodges. To read more about the Border Convocation, please click here.