The very first Immigrant Connection* site in The Wesleyan Church has been approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals (the governmental entity that certifies such work). Here is the announcement and the story behind the Church that has been transformed by reaching into its community with the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ:
Three years ago Riverview Wesleyan Church in Logansport, Indiana was headed for closing; but our God is in the business of resurrection! A little over two years ago Riverview became The Bridge Community Church, reborn with a desire to be a church that reflected the ethnic makeup of their surrounding community.
Ten years ago there was no need for Logansport schools to teach English to students who were from immigrant families. Now there are over 850 students learning English as second language. Nearly 1 in 3 individuals in Logansport are now immigrants or come from an immigrant family.
Eighteen months ago, The Bridge had around 30 people; but the core believed that God was renewing and resurrecting them, not for themselves, but for others. These few families saw that many in the community (and within the church) were needing help in the confusing labyrinth that is the immigration process, but it was difficult to find that help. Some immigrants had already spent thousands of dollars and were actually worse off. When members of The Bridge realized that the closest help for immigrants was over 100 miles away, they decided they would follow God and stand in the gap for their region.
Through several taco dinner fundraisers and grants from The Wesleyan Church, Pastor Zach Szmara and Faustino Hernandez were able to receive basic immigration law training. Zach went on to shadow an immigration legal services office in order to fulfill all the requirements to apply to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals. The Bridge Community Church applied the last day of January 2014, expecting to wait a long time. (Waiting is a normal, expected process related to all things immigration.) Most sites seem to have to re-apply several times and each time they waited a full 90 days for a response. However, The Bridge was approved in only 27 days from the day they mailed their application in (fewer than 15 business days when you factor in holidays and weekends).
As of February 27th, 2014 The Bridge was able to offer low-cost immigrant legal services to the thousands in the region who need it. The Wesleyan Church and the Immigrant Connection ministry are now celebrating this first site recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals in our denomination!
Welcoming the stranger in this way literally changes lives – students are able to attend college for the first time, families are able to stay together, individuals are able to provide for their families. The Bridge Church has had people drive over 30 miles because they heard whispers of a church that welcomed and served the stranger. They did what they could, but without proper recognition and accreditation they weren’t able to do all that God called them to. Now they are able to serve their region and tangibly show God’s heart to so many who have been marginalized and have more questions than answers.
What excites The Bridge most is that their legal office is their church… that people will come to God’s house for this help. The prayer of The Bridge is that many will find Him for the first time even as they are finding answers to their immigration questions, because immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people.
For more information on how your church can explore ways to welcome the immigrant in your community, equip your leaders with the training to serve, or engage in the same kind of legal work that The Bridge is now doing you can email Immigration@Wesleyan.org.*Immigrant Connection is a grassroots network of Wesleyans that envision the Spirit of God equipping every church to intentionally embrace and holistically empower every immigrant. The Wesleyan Church is a founding member of the Immigration Coalition.