Over the course of 9 years many have come through the classes of citizenship offered at City Life in Grand Rapids, MI . John is one of many Mexican migrants who came to the United States in order to have a better life, and is also a former student who took classes at City Life. After a semester of tutoring and civic testing, John has decided to come back to the citizenship classes, but this time he is returning as one of the tutors. He has enjoyed building relationships with other students and now he feels it is time to help those who have helped him; John will soon be applying to take his citizenship test.
In the heart of Grand Rapids, Adam Lipscomb, co-pastor of City Life, knows how much of a need there is for these classes. “We have lots of immigrants in our target neighborhoods. One of our startup team members started a citizenship class before we started worship services. We have offered it off and on over the course of the last 9 years, ” he says, “After studying it further, we realized that many of the immigrants from our neighborhoods were undocumented and didn’t have a pathway to citizenship. The class couldn’t help them! So we started to get heavily involved in advocating for immigration reform. Since that time, we started hosting a Hispanic church plant in our building. Some of their congregants are undocumented and have heartbreaking stories of injustice.”
Advocating has become a key element to their ministry and has been the most fulfilling component for him. “I love the work of advocacy. I’ve been to D.C twice to talk to Congress members about reform and have attended town hall meetings with our representative, Justin Amash.” As a pastor, Adam also takes into consideration how this can be seen in his church, “Practically, it helps us as a church keep our value of diversity from becoming a polarization between white and black concerns. For me personally, it gives a healthy outlet for the frustration that I feel about colleagues in ministry who have needed to leave their vibrant ministries because of their undocumented status.”
Partnering with other organizations and churches has also served as an aid in guiding them in the right direction. Adam shares, “We have working relationships with Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services–both of them resettle refugees. Both Hispanic newspapers in town, La Voz and La Vocera, have published articles about our work.” Adam also recognizes that having a relationship with these organizations is also important. “I have a relationship with one of the staff at West Michigan Hispanic Center. We have offered the class at Grandville Academy of the Arts (a Hispanic cultural center) and Health Intervention Services (a medical clinic in a Hispanic neighborhood). Liz Balck from Justice for Our Neighbors, Kate Kooyman from Evangelical Immigration Table, undocumented immigrants from our sister church (Nueva Vision) and Scott Stabler from Grand Valley State University have each been guest speakers at our advocacy class.” In Adam’s opinion, without these strategic partnerships achieving these classes would not be very successful.
Receiving legal residency does not guarantee permanent stay, there is a still a possibility to lose legal residency and get kicked out of the country. Once an immigrant receives their residency, there is a 3 to 5 year waiting gap until they are allowed to take the next step. To guarantee a permanent residency, they have to go through the process of becoming a citizen. This process consists of testing the individual’s basic knowledge of U.S. history and government, and being able to speak, read, and write simple English. This can be challenging for someone who barely knows how to read or write in their native language, furthermore, they are learning what a U.S citizen learns in the span of 12 years of school, in a couple of months. Without the proper aid, a person can fail the test and lose more than 600 dollars. City Life Church has begun the ministry of offering citizenship classes, where they instruct the students not only in knowing the correct answers, but understanding the history and government of the country. Through this, they have had an impact in their city and moreover they have had the opportunity to minister and build relationships with people.
Throughout the Bible, immigration is a topic that comes up frequently. We can see this from Abraham’s travels to the great migration of the Israelites. The word of God says, “This is what 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). As Christians we are called to show love not oppression to the marginalized people. Reading scripture and having relationships with undocumented immigrants entices Christians to act on the subject of immigration. Adam shares, “Once you love someone as a friend, you can’t help but hope for the well-being and stability of their families.”