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Our city in West Michigan is full of immigrant churches, many of which started 100 years ago. Those churches have been a tremendous blessing to our city — and to those ethnic groups that migrated here back then. 100 years from now, our church wants to help the current wave of immigrants to find a healthy transition into our community and find the church, and more importantly, the Jesus of the church, appealing.
We’re the third Wesleyan church to become an Immigrant Connection site, but I can imagine sites being started across the nation. In our church people come alive when they connect with someone from another culture or nationality. I think that is because there is a moment when you realize your connection to another person isn’t because you have a ton in common but because you know God loves them, so you’re compelled to love them too.
One of our church members, Katie White, attended the World Relief training last summer. She did most of her shadowing in Indiana with Zach Szmara, director of the first Wesleyan Immigrant Connection site, in the fall. We sent out our application to the Department of Justice just before the new year and quickly received notice on February 20 that we were approved. The story of Katie is one that truly reflects the ownership of the title “brothers and sisters in Christ”. Read on to see what compelled Katie to get involved and take a stand:
I’m Katie Hanna-White, I grew up attending a Wesleyan church in Fremont, Michigan. My family adopted my three African-American siblings when I was twelve years old, opening my eyes to a world of injustice that I had not known existed. Seeing and experiencing racism has fueled my hunger for an explanation and a solution for injustice. I have a degree in Human Rights and also currently work as Community Living Support for Bethany Christian Services in the Home Based therapy program. I’m married to Joshua White, the son of a long time Wesleyan pastor. Josh is an incredibly talented composer and musician who also works with unaccompanied minor and refugee teens at Bethany. In our spare time we enjoy small scale urban farming, raising chickens and ducks and gardening in our inner city backyard. We also love to spend time mentoring a group of hilarious, intelligent and creative kids in our neighborhood, the majority being from immigrant families.
What’s exciting about opening an Immigrant Connection at City Life is that the pairing of a legal clinic and a church enables us to provide much more than legal aid. There is a huge need for immigration legal services and with that comes a population of people living with anxiety and fear of the unknown. Being an extension of the Church means that we are able to care for individuals beyond their legal needs. We can look at each case with a motivation greater than a legal solution. What better place to find answers and clarity than a church?
Going through the process of BIA accreditation can be a tedious one (or so I hear), but City Life’s partnership with an already established site at The Bridge in Logansport, Indiana streamlined that process and eliminated the stress of navigating something complicated alone and for the first time. As more and more churches are establishing BIA sites, that network of support is expanding. With the groundwork already laid and a network of support built, now is the time for churches to join the movement.
*Previous Immigrant Connection sites have been launched in Indiana and Kansas. For more information on the work of Immigrant Connection in the Wesleyan Church and beyond go to Wesleyan.org/Immigrant or email email@example.com to join the mailing list.