“When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant. The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself … I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
My high school-aged son and I sat across a card table from a woman named Olga and her grown daughter in the Family Life Center at First UMC Grapevine. Many years before, Olga had emigrated from Mexico to the United States and began working, mainly in the manufacturing sector. Along the way, she married a U.S. citizen and made her home in this country.
My son and I were volunteering as a part of a Citizenship Day, held in late September and sponsored by Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON). At the card table that day, we were helping Olga complete her final citizenship application — an incredibly detailed (and invasive), 20-page questionnaire. Olga had been attending classes to learn English in preparation for her interview to become a U.S. citizen. Still, communication between us was challenging and involved a lot of gesturing and laughter. After two hours of hard work, her application was finished. She was one step closer to realizing her goal of becoming a U.S. citizen, and the smile on her face reflected her excitement and hope.
This Citizenship Day is just one aspect of the work done by JFON, which is a ministry initiated by the General Board of Global Ministries back in 1999. Since then, JFON has served thousands of immigrants, extending hospitality in the name of Jesus Christ and offering high-quality, low-cost immigration legal services. For example, during the Citizenship Day, as some people were completing citizenship applications, others were receiving help with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal paperwork. In addition, JFON advocates for female immigrants caught in abusive situations and assists in filing Violence Against Women petitions. JFON even works with victims of trafficking who find themselves in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Recently, JFON has discerned that there is a growing need in immigrant communities for “Know Your Rights” seminars. In 2016 and 2017, Graham Bateman, the executive director of JFON and an immigration lawyer herself, has been on the road leading dozens of these classes. If the mission field around your church includes first- and second-generation immigrants to the U.S., you might consider inviting Ms. Bateman to come and lead one of these seminars. It could be a great way to connect with your surrounding community, begin building relationships and follow the biblical mandate to serve the sojourner among us.
Ms. Bateman, along with her new staff attorney — Ana Arellano-Baeza — are also available to speak at your church about the realities of immigration in North Texas and offer insights and stories from their unique vantage point.
The North Texas Conference is a significant financial partner with JFON. Your apportionment dollars make this life-changing ministry possible. If you or your church would like to make your own gift to JFON, simply go to www.jfondfw.org/donate.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Andy Lewis
Director, Center for Missional Outreach