Becoming the Answer to Our Immigration Prayers

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I just returned from an amazing week with a group from our church who went through a 40 hour immigration law training put on by World Relief. It’s the first step in becoming Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited, meaning we can provide legal immigration counsel.

Ay caramba! It was intense. Our textbooks were 2,000 pages long. From 8am-5pm each day, we sat under fluorescent lights listening to legal jargon (there’s a long document of JUST the acronyms folks were dropping all day long). But there was chocolate, good friends, and legit tacos around the corner for lunch – so we survived.

It was also exciting to think about becoming an advocate for our immigrant neighbors! I had the realization that I was becoming the advocate that Karlos and I so desperately searched for when we were going through the immigration process.

In the book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, Shane Claiborne put it so well:

“Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do.”

I walked into our immigration journey wide-eyed, lovestruck, and naive. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or where to turn with questions along the way. I prayed that the Lord would raise up someone to help guide us because we had no money to pay an attorney.

He sent a church family that surrounded us during that time, parents that prayed for us, and countless friends that sacrificially gave us their time and financial gifts.

But no immigration help.

Nevertheless, He absolutely softened my heart to the plea of the foreigner among us, especially for the families that desire to remain intact and in the country they call “home”.

So when I sat in last week’s training, it was life giving to see each person sitting there – representing an organization that is doing exactly what I prayed for (our church included!)

If you’re embarking on your own immigration journey, here’s some hindsight advice for you:

  1. Be your own advocate! We learned in our training that most attorney-client relationships place the power in the attorney’s hands. But that’s not true! Immigrants hold the power of their story and the keys that may unlock different options. Become super familiar with your own story and be prepared to clearly articulate it to someone that knows immigration law. Together you will be a dream team
  2. Find legitimate legal advice! Use the American Bar Association’s website to locate legal advice in your state. If you can’t afford an immigration attorney, locate a BIA accredited office near you. They are required to keep their fees low and may even be able to offer you more of a discount based on financial need.
  3. Know your rights! The Immigration Legal Resource Center has a great page dedicated to informing you of your rights as an immigrant in the US.

A big thank you to our church for making this journey possible!

Stay tuned as our organization, Open Door Immigration Services (ODIS), continues to develop and serve as Jesus’ commanded us: “I was a stranger and you invited me in…’When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” (Matthew 25:35, 40)

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Finding an Immigrant-Friendly Church

When we first visited our church community, many people asked us “How’d you find out about us?” I think most people were taken aback when I let them know that it was because of the denomination’s stance on immigration.

See, we’re an immigrant family. And though we’re done with the legal process, we cannot forget the eternal call we have as Christians to love and serve the foreigner among us. We were excited to find a church who’s heart to serve the foreigner aligned with ours.

Last year, I bumped into our Associate Pastor at Trader Joe’s. She was serendipitously perusing the goat cheese section as well. We started chatting about ways our church could think outside of the box and be intentionally serving the greater community. I mentioned to her that our immigration journey was TOUGH and that there’s a lack of resources for those on a similar journey in our area.

We went out and started researching the need and what other churches have done in similar situations. It turns out that the body of Christ is doing amazing things as they answer this ever-present call to love the foreigner among us!

Organizations like Immigrant Hope and The Immigration Alliance are empowering local churches to become legal advocates for their immigrant neighbors. After many discussions over chips and queso, ODIS (Open Door Immigration Services) has been birthed as an official non-profit – the first legal service site for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Holla!!

To share this news with our church family, our pastor recently challenged our congregation to do two things in light of this call:

  1. Pray for 40 days (check out the I Was a Stranger Challenge Toolkit).
  2. Learn 2 immigrants’ stories.

So simple, yet somehow in that still, quiet time with the Lord and in a personal relationship, our worlds expand.

We had the opportunity to help our church family with part of their homework by providing the first of the two immigrant stories they’d been tasked to learn. You can hear the awesome sermon and my shaky voice here 🙂

Not every church is called to provide legal assistance to their immigrant neighbors. Maybe there are already plenty of resources in your community – awesome! BUT every church is called to be the body of Christ to every person in their community. No matter what their status, race, or religion.

Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in his own image” – we are called to love our neighbors exactly as they are created to be. Image bearers of God. If a church body believes this, they will take seriously the call love and serve the foreigner among them.

How is your church an “immigrant friendly” congregation?

A Visit to Thistle Farms

This blog was originally a guest post on BonJoy‘s website on Sept. 25, 2015. BonJoy is “the little box of good” – a subscription box that features fashion + beauty + living goods from brands who support employment and restoration for women who are survivors of, or at-risk for, trafficking and exploitation. Be sure to follow them on Facebook or Twitter

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Way back in February, I had the opportunity to visit Thistle Stop Café, a coffee shop in the heart of Nashville, TN dedicated to empowering women. Having been involved in the anti-trafficking movement here in Boston and hearing about Thistle Farms for quite some time, it was a long-awaited visit.

Upon walking through the doors, I felt like I was being welcomed into someone’s home. From the beautiful old wood floors, the teacup chandeliers, the flowers on each table, and the lovingly mismatched china, hospitality and healing whispered in each detail. The women behind the counter weren’t just cheery because of that famous Southern charm, but they welcomed each customer with love.

In the corner, a large wall was filled with body products, teas, and merchandise. I grabbed up as much as I could fit in my bag – perfect products to have on hand as gifts throughout the year!

My favorite purchase was their Tuscan Earth Room Spray. I’m storing it in my toddler’s bedroom. I’ve always been leery of spraying chemicals in there, but knowing it’s all natural and made of essential oils puts my mind at ease. Plus, it neutralizes the all-too-familiar smells us moms deal with on a daily basis. Double bonus – it can be 20 degrees here in Boston, but it sure smells like the warm, sun-kissed Italian countryside.

Thistle Farms and Thistle Stop Cafe promote their slogan of “Love Heals” by employing residents and graduates of Magdalene, a residential program for survivors of trafficking. From every cup of coffee to every jar of lotion, lives are being transformed by love. Proceeds support their residential program, and products are made by both residents and graduates of the program.

Thistle Farms was recently featured on the documentary “A Path Appears” as an organization that gives hope to those seeking solutions for women’s issues. If you haven’t already watched it, I’d highly recommend it.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with numbers and the despair associated with human trafficking, but “A Path Appears” strives to show that there are things WE can do to make a difference. And by partnering with Thistle Farms is one way to make a difference in the life of a woman who has overcome the unthinkable.

In fact, you can shop their store right here. Be sure to add them to your Christmas shopping repertoire!

#loveheals