For Joy Warren, associate pastor at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Murfreesboro, her job — and her faith — is all about “building the beloved community.”
“For me, my faith compels me to do works of love. Not just speak about them, but actually address systems of injustice.”
So, when Warren isn’t praying or preaching, visiting sick church members, connecting resources to meet neighbors’ needs or networking with other community groups, she champions for the rights of farm workers with National Farm Worker Ministry.
“That’s what I see as the way of Christ,” said Warren. “Standing up for the marginalized.”
It’s a topic she’ll discuss with a wider audience this July as a presenter at Wild Goose Festival.
Wild Goose Festival
Every year more than 4,000 people flock to Hot Springs, N.C., for four days of music, art, storytelling and thoughtful discussions about faith and justice. The event draws big names in progressive Christian circles like Jacqui Lewis, John Pavlovitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber.
“Then there’ll be just Joy from Murfreesboro,” said Warren with a chuckle. She’ll present a case study about guest workers with H-2A visas displacing migrant workers who settled in Wimauma, Fla., and also facilitate an interactive sculpting and brainstorming session, using theatre and art as tools.
“Both workshops will have Exodus chapter 1 as the basis, which is a piece of Scripture that talks about Pharaoh wanting to make sure the people are tied to the land.”
Farm workers, she says, are similarly tied to the land — especially those who come through the U.S. guest worker program. People with H-2A visas can work only for the grower who hired them for the season, or else return home.
National Farm Worker Ministry
Warren described the guest workers’ living conditions in Wimauma as “barracks-style places with big fences and padlocks on the outside.”
Two hours away, in Immokalee, Fla., things are improving thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program. Companies who participate in the program agree to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, resulting in better wages, and purchase only from farms who adhere to certain human rights standards. National Farm Worker Ministry coordinates with the coalition and similar groups across the country.
“We try to partner and amplify all of their messages so far as they are trying to advocate for the fair treatment of the workers.”
Recently NFWM participated in a march along the U.S.-Canadian border where a worker died because he was unable to access medical care. Human rights abuses like this, as well as sexual harassment and assault, are not uncommon in the fields. Female farm workers are especially vulnerable.
“They can’t complain or they’ll get fired. And if they get fired, they can’t go work anywhere else because they don’t have any documents to do that … That becomes their primary objective: keep my job, send money home, keep my family safe.”
Most people who work without documents are too fearful of deportation to report exploitative practices, further enabling the system. But Warren is hopeful that the more people know about this problem, the more people can participate in a solution.
“I think it’s important, because we all eat, that those issues be out on the table as well and we don’t overlook them,” she said. “We have a lot of focus on what we call food justice, but often the worker isn’t visible in that process. We care what has been sprayed on the tomato, but we don’t care what’s been sprayed on the worker.”
Warren said community-building comes with a price. Maybe it’s paying an extra penny a pound for tomatoes, or boycotting a restaurant that doesn’t support fair labor practices.
“We lift up Christ, who sacrificed his life. What are we willing to sacrifice for each other in community?” she asked.