Happy Thanksgiving Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever. Psalm 118:1 (CEB)

Den gracias al Señor, porque él es bueno;
su gran amor perdura para siempre. Salmo 118:1 (NVI)

The most meaningful part of our ministry is hearing the stories of the people we work with and seeing how God is at work in their lives. They deal with many struggles and challenges, and at times things seem quite hopeless in their lives. But often, their faith is what keeps them going. As you read these personal accounts, please say a prayer for each one of them.

Eduardo* has spent most of 2014 behind bars, separated from family and friends. Recently he shared how he’s grown closer to God during this time. “[God] has given me a spirit of forgiveness, not bitterness. I know that’s got to be God — I couldn’t have done that alone.” Eduardo believes his incarceration has been a gift, a chance to grow in his faith and to become a better person. He has also been able to study and recently passed the GED exam. “I’m going to be a better person when this is behind me,” he says. “I have so much to be thankful for.”

For Ahida, this is a very special Thanksgiving, because she has her whole family with her in the US. Her two daughters recently arrived from El Salvador and one has made her a grandmother; baby Ashley was born in September. Read their story HERE, Two Young Immigrants Fleeing Violence Find Refuge — and Ministry — in U.S.

Marisol*, one of our DREAMers, will return to her studies at Bluefield College come January. Thanks to efforts by the school and to a generous donor, her outstanding balance has been paid and she can continue her education. “I am so blessed, so very blessed,” she says. “This is an answer to prayer, like a miracle.” She is one of three DREAMers from LUCHA who are studying at Bluefield College, a Baptist college in Southwest Virginia.

“Every time Francisco* gets in the car to go to work, I’m afraid he won’t come back home,” says Rocio, a young wife and mother who has recently applied for US citizenship. “What if he gets stopped, detained, has an accident? What will happen to us, to our family, if he’s deported?” Such is the life many of our families face every day. We are thankful for the executive action taken by President Obama that will protect parents of US-born children from deportation.

LUCHA is blessed to have a committed staff of ministers — people who probably don’t consider themselves either staff or ministers. For the most part they are average folks, volunteers who care for children, teach English, fill out paperwork, give people rides, and pack up food at the food bank. They give hugs and offer encouragement, pray with and for our families, and help provide access to medical and dental care. And most importantly, they take the time to get to know our immigrant families and to listen to their stories. They serve in programs like Bridges of Hope, Study Buddies and Bible Buddies, Project ¡Adelante!, Cinco Panes, and other initiatives.

And then there are folks like you, who may not be able to volunteer with us but who support LUCHA through your gifts, prayers, knowledge and expertise, and your words of encouragement. We are so very blessed. Thank you!! God is truly good, and his faithful love is evident in the lives of everyone who is serving and being served. Happy Thanksgiving!

*names have been changed

Health Fair Becomes Opportunity for Young Volunteer to Shine Ten-year-old Jessica Camacho is a take-charge type of volunteer.

72Ten-year-old Jessica Camacho is a take-charge type of volunteer. Give her a task, and she does it. She’s organized, efficient, and not afraid to take initiative. And if that’s not enough, she’s bilingual.

During September’s Latino Health Fair, sponsored by SINOVA (the Spanish Information Network of Virginia), Jessica arrived with her dad and older brother to spend the day as volunteers, and she agreed to work at LUCHA’s booth. With an emphasis on all types of health, LUCHA provided children’s books to encourage parents to read to or with their children as a way of promoting healthy lifestyles at home. Most of the books were new, and there was a good selection in both English and Spanish.

Jessica was simply asked to be in charge of the book distribution, and to give away as many books as possible to the children who were at the health fair. “You’re in charge, Jessica,” she was told. Since she loves to read, her assignment was ideal and her excitement showed. Surveying the five boxes of books she immediately went to work sorting and categorizing them. “It will be better if we know what we have,” Jessica said. “Then we’ll know what kind of book to offer each kid – chapter books, preschool books, or easy reading books.” The sorting process was also filled with exclamations of “Oh, I LOVE this one!” or “This is one of my favorites.”

After the books were sorted, she was ready for “customers,” but the children were slow to find the book corner. Jessica made signs and posted them around the building (in both English and Spanish). She then began inviting kids and parents to come by and pick out a book. Soon, she was surrounded by children who were carefully flipping pages, looking at pictures, and reading. “What do you like?” she would ask. “We can find a book about something that you’ll enjoy. And you can take it home.”

By the end of the day, Jessica had three other volunteers working with her, and they had found new homes for almost all the books. Jessica was able to share her love for books with others by taking the time to help each child choose a book that felt special to them. She turned what could have been a routine task into a truly special day for many children all while enjoying the opportunity to help. Thank you, Jessica, for being my volunteer.

Living Latino in the USA: Cultural Values "Why do they come?" - A series by Sue Smith, D.Min., MSW, Executive Director

When asked why she had emigrated to the United States from Nicaragua, a friend once told me, “Someone in my family — an aunt, an uncle, a cousin — has always gone north [to the U.S.] to work, to earn a decent salary and to send money back home to help support the rest of us. Especially the children, so they can stay in school and get a good education, and the ancianos who are getting older and can no longer earn a living. It was my turn, and I came.”

It is sometimes difficult for us in the U.S. to understand what compels Latino immigrants to come here, to leave behind their families and everything familiar, to come to a new place and start over. But these decisions are deeply rooted in cultural values and meaning, and a worldview that is often quite different from our own. The decision to emigrate is rarely just about what an individual wants from life. It more likely is made out of a sense of responsibility to do what is best for others, for one’s spouse, children, and parents. For North Americans, what may seem like a selfish decision to abandon one’s family is, to the immigrant, an act of self sacrifice to care for those he or she loves.

A starting point for understanding differences in worldview and culture is to look at the way we raise and socialize our children. As Americans, we value independence and self-sufficiency. White anglo parents emphasize self-esteem, autonomy, and self-confidence, while traditional Latino parents tend to place more emphasis on respect, obedience, conformity, and one’s place within the family. The most important message my parents instilled in me was this:You can go anywhere you want, be anything you want to be. And for my Latina friend, that message was:Never forget where you come from, or who you are.

And so when my friend says it was her turn to come to the US, her decision was not based on a selfish desire to come here and get a good job, buy a car, or live in a nice house. It was made because of her sense of responsibility to la familia, a way of giving back to those who enabled her to finish school and attend the university. Many immigrants cannot find work in their home countries to adequately provide for their families, and emigration is seen as their only hope.

As you hear the stories of Latino immigrants, take a moment to stop and ask yourself how that person fits into the bigger picture, into their familia. Did they embark on the journey to the U.S. as an adventure, an escape, or to get away from home? And what are they giving up? They may never see their parents alive again, and their children grow up without them. What sacrifices have they made, what losses have they experienced along the way?

A Senator’s Aide Comes Knocking By Greg Smith, Administrative Coordinator

On Sunday, September 28, Sue and I hosted Mr. Marvin Figueroa in our home to talk with Latino and non-Latino colleagues and friends about immigration and immigration reform. Marvin serves in the office of Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) of Virginia in the areas of immigration, education and workforce development. Being a senate staffer as well as an immigrant from Honduras, Marvin offered an insider perspective into the challenges that face immigration reform and the immigrant community.

Marvin stated that immigration reform would probably not be taken up again before the new session of Congress in January 2015. But at that point, the Senate immigration bill adopted in the spring of 2013 becomes null and void, and the process requires starting over again. While there is still energy in the Senate for immigration reform, the process during the new session would probably start in the U.S. House of Representatives and not in the Senate. And with the presidential election taking place in 2016, there is realistically little hope that immigration reform will be passed during the next session of Congress.

Marvin addressed President Obama’s upcoming executive order regarding immigration, scheduled to be announced after the 2014 mid-term elections. While the president hasn’t specified what will be included, Marvin indicated that it could provide some relief for current undocumented immigrants. At the same time he cautioned us, explaining that an executive order is very limited in what it can do, and that it can be reversed by the next president. Every president understands that a “going-it-alone” approach can make it difficult to work with Congress, and in this case it could affect real immigration reform. Even Obama’s June 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) order doesn’t guarantee long-term relief. Only Congress can provide real immigration reform.

The recent surge of unaccompanied minors and family members, almost exclusively from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, hits close to home for Marvin, who emigrated from Honduras with his mother when he was 5. He expressed disappointment that the Lawrenceville, Virginia community did not allow the abandoned facilities of St. Paul College to house some of the children. These recent arrivals are admittedly “resource-heavy,” placing a burden on the services of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and others. He invited us to help Senator Warner find ways to integrate these children into U.S. society smoothly, for the children’s sake.

Several of the Latinos at the meeting said that many immigrants feel attacked by the anger and animosity generated by the immigration debate. One person stated that undocumented immigrants feel as if they are “disposable,” used by the system for what they can provide and then thrown away as unwanted. While immigration has many political, economic and sociological factors that must be considered, above all it is a moral concern, with the dignity of the immigrant as a person being of utmost importance.

Marvin thanked us for advocacy on behalf of immigration reform. While LUCHA’s group represented individuals of all political stripes, we are ready to work with anyone striving toward immigration reform. Overwhelmingly those in attendance felt very positive about their time with Marvin and that it was a constructive dialogue. Many expressed they would welcome future opportunities for such gatherings as we all work toward change.