When it comes to immigration reform, The Wesleyan Church isn’t waiting for a political solution. We’ve taken action, empowering local churches to serve immigrants and refugees in our own communities. And, as Zach Szmara shares, you don’t want to miss the harvest.
- Immigration Reform is in Our Hands
In May 2013, David Drury, Jim Wood, Zach Szmara and a few others met to talk about serving immigrants in their communities. That day, Immigrant Connection was born.
“We realized there was a way, if you were a non-profit and got training, you could apply to the Department of Justice to practice immigration law—like an attorney but much less expensive,” Zach shares. “It filled a need in our community.”
Zach and the team went through an intensive training course offered by World Relief—one they’ve now modelled to serve Wesleyans seeking to become legal advocates. By moving para-church work inside the local church, Wesleyans were doing something new.
“When we first started doing this, it was still unique and very new. We moved the model within local churches, which was a paradigm shift,” explains Zach.
Immigrant Connection now has 15 sites for legal assistance, with 20 more Wesleyan churches in the pipeline to become sites. Zach has personally led 173 different people through the training program.
“This is one of the huge wins for our denomination,” shares Zach. “I hope in this season, people look back and see that we were the instigators who challenged churches to lean into immigrants and refugees—not to just give them worship spaces, but to help them navigate a complicated system.”
- Ripe Fields, Plentiful Harvest
“Immigrants were my Samaria,” Zach admits. “I had served in missions, I had gone to ‘the ends,’ but I had passed through Samaria at all costs. I had never met a Samaritan.”
For Zach, the journey into Samaria centered on one word: Philoxenos. It’s the word for Biblical hospitality.
“We have Westernized hospitality and lessened its impact by saying its having your friends over for the Super Bowl or your in-laws stay in your guest room. But that’s not what’s meant by radical hospitality,” says Zach.
As Zach began to practice Biblical hospitality by getting to know immigrants personally and deeply, he discovered a surprise.
“We found that immigrants are ready and willing to accept friendship and guidance. They’re looking for answers, for a welcome, for God,” Zach shares.
“I find the same thing true here that Jesus talked about when he went to Samaria. The fields are ripe for harvest.”
- Tangible Wins Every Day
Zach compares his ministry in Immigrant Connection to a pastor who gets to baptize all day, every day. It’s a ministry of tangible wins.
He will never forget his first client, a woman who attended his church and became a close friend and encourager to Zach and his wife.
“She was my first client because I knew her situation,” recalls Zach.
Zach and his team helped the woman, who had been a victim of sexual assault, obtain a legal visa. Overwhelmed with joy, the woman showed her life-changing document to all of her neighbors, a literal proclamation of good news.
“How amazing is it, that in a local church—in a pastor’s office—God takes someone’s pain and redeems it, giving them a path and a future,” shares Zach. “We get to be used by Jesus to bring hope and redemption and reconciliation.”
“These are once in lifetime stories that happen daily for us. If I could have done it once, it would have been enough, but now we’ve served over a thousand people.”
- Everyone Has a Place in the Doctor’s Office
Chances are, wherever you live, someone in your neighborhood is an immigrant. As a Wesleyan, you have a wealth of resources available to help those who may be in need.
If the word “legal” scares you off, never fear. There’s truly a place for anyone in Immigrant Connection. Not everyone needs to be the “doctor,” as Zach explains.
“In a smoothly running doctor’s office, there are a few doctors, but the rest of the personnel are just as essential. Some people tend to be more wired in the legal side of things, while others are involved in other important functions.”
The Wesleyan Church developed an extensive stock of materials to help individuals and churches start their own Immigrant Connection ministries. From sermons to small group materials to training courses, resources are readily available.
Even if a church is not a legal site, it can still serve as a bridge to connect immigrants and refugees to resources or to other Wesleyan churches that can provide legal assistance.
“This is our time,” exhorts Zach. “And, what’s unique is, instead of an opinion rooted in politics, we have an opinion rooted in our faith in Christ. We are creating signposts of hope for the coming Kingdom.”
Immigrant Connection is a grass-roots network of Wesleyans envisioning the Spirit of God bringing immigrants and churches together to cultivate relationships, share resources, and provide legal services. To find out more, visit: https://www.wesleyan.org/immigrant
Gaby Garver is a 2016 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University. Having studied International Relations in college, Gaby’s passion is refugee assistance. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where she volunteers with refugees and teaches English lessons. Her favorite pastimes are cooking for friends and camping.