We were building a whiteboard list of favorite Bible verses in a Sunday school class. One of my friends, a stoic and stern fellow, raised his hand and recited his favorite verse ponderously: “God helps those who help themselves.”
After a bit of a pause, I asked him to share the verse reference. He didn’t know but was certain it was “in there somewhere.” I asked him to come back next Sunday with the reference so we could all read it in our own versions. He returned the following week and said, “I have an announcement.” He stood so all could see and hear him. “I apologize, I was certain the quote I said last week was in the Bible, but it’s not. Maybe Ben Franklin said it, but not Jesus. In fact, the more I thought about it this week that doesn’t sound like something God would say in the first place.” The class all laughed knowingly at that line.
You know what does sound like God? This: “the Lord Almighty said, ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’” (Zechariah 7:9-10). The people of God are to take special attention in their mercy and compassion with the widow, orphans, immigrants, and the poor.
One theologian called these groups, often mentioned in the Bible, as “the quartet of the vulnerable” who sing in grief of their abandonment by the people of God. Instead of saying “God helps those who help themselves,” we should learn from the Bible that God helps those who help immigrants. You can find more on these people who are vulnerable in Isaiah 1, 10, 29 and 58, and Deuteronomy 10, 24 and 27, as well as Mark 12, Luke 11 and James 2.
Mercy and compassion among this quartet is critically important, but “helping immigrants” in the last decade has proved more of a hot topic in the United States and other countries. But as Christians we know that while immigration is an issue, immigrants are people.
Thankfully, many have found a way to serve in spite of tensions. The General Conference of The Wesleyan Church overwhelmingly approved the Wesleyan View of Immigration statement to give support to more intentional efforts in serving among immigrants. Local churches for many years worked among immigrants and refugees in their congregations and communities, bringing more abundant life and diverse vitality to their ministry. What’s more, in 2013, a diverse and determined group of Wesleyans gave birth to Immigrant Connection (IC) which began helping churches become more aware of the needs of immigrants and refugees in their community and to take action to connect with them with welcoming hospitality while intentionally meeting needs.
One of the key needs identified by immigrants is legal services. Navigating the complex and ever-changing immigration system is seen as more difficult (and consequential for lives involved) than even the work of a tax attorney. Immigrant Connection (IC) began to come alongside churches to launch low-cost immigrant legal services recognized by the US Department of Justice. This work is connected by a grassroots network of support but completely owned and operated by the churches themselves.
The growth has been astonishing. The first Immigrant Connection site launched in February 2014, and since then IC has launched 21 sites, in all kinds of diverse communities and local church sizes and styles. Ten Wesleyan districts have launched at least one of these sites.
The impact has been deep and wide. Just our Wesleyan sites served over 8,000 immigrants from 121 unique nations of origin since 2014. All of this was achieved with a super-tiny budget, and organizations that started much before Immigrant Connection with the same aims have not achieved anywhere near the same results. A much larger denomination than ours has been able to have a similar impact as ours in the same time period, in terms of clients served. However, that organization requires dozens of full-time paid attorneys to operate and has a multi-million-dollar budget. We’re achieving similar results with a local church-centric approach as they serve their communities.
With a desire to unleash this ministry toward even greater impact, The Wesleyan Church General Board recently spun off Immigrant Connection as a subsidiary with its own board in order to scale up operations among Wesleyan churches and also directly resource other non-Wesleyan churches. A total of 231 people, most of whom are not Wesleyans, have gained in-person shadowing for this work at our sites; this shows the potential to help others dive into this work more intentionally.
The new Immigrant Connection Board met for the first time via video conference on May 14, 2020. Co-chair Jo Anne Lyon opened the meeting by sharing her own experiences and relationships with immigrants as well as some biblical inspiration for the work. The meeting focused on establishing this organization officially with bylaws and articles of incorporation, as well as a review of the organization’s mission and role of Director Zach Szmara, who has led the network of Immigrant Connection sites from their early days and has greatly encouraged its growth in quantity and quality at the same time.
Information about Immigrant Connection, its broad ministries and its desire to reach the next 8,000 who are in need is available at the ICWelcome website, as well as from the free Welcome 2020 web conference coming up on August 18. At Welcome 2020, you will hear from local, experienced and innovative church leaders with whom you and your church can connect and build relationships with immigrants in your community. These practitioners will provide new inspiration to overcome obstacles and practical steps for what to do next.
As noted above, there are perhaps no other ministries in the work of immigration and refugees that could be considered more cost-effective than Immigrant Connection. Your partnership and your prayers are needed.
2020 Members of the Board of Immigrant Connection, Inc.:
- Luigi Peñaranda
- Courtney Tudi McClymonds
- Adam Estle
- Omar Haedo
- Adam Lipscomb
- Andrea Summers
- Zach Szmara (director)
- Janelle Vernon (secretary/treasurer)
- Jo Anne Lyon (co-chair)
- David Drury (co-chair)
David Drury is a multi-vocational organization founder, church planter and chief of staff of The Wesleyan Church. Find him at DavidDrury.com.