Centro Latino: “Doing Jesus’ Job” in the Immigrant Community
CAMP WESLEY WOODS, IOWA, Sept. 7, 2007—A church within a church is thriving in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The pastor says that one of his first tasks is to help the members of his Spanish-speaking flock overcome their sorrow at being separated from families back home in Latin America.
The Rev. Ruben Mendoza, speaking through an interpreter, talked with a group of seventy Justice for Our Neighbors attorneys and volunteers meeting at Camp Wesley Woods on September 7.
Centro Latino Church meets every Sunday in the facilities of the Broadway United Methodist Church and is the first congregation of its kind in the town of 50,000. On Sunday Sept. 9, 14 more people take their membership vows. “But there is more to be done, as people still feel anguish,” said Rev. Mendoza.
His three-year assignment is at the invitation of the pastor of the English-speaking Broadway church, Rev. Marvin Arnpriester, who saw the need for outreach to the growing Hispanic population in Council Bluffs. Broadway members volunteer at the nearby Omaha, Neb., Justice for Our Neighbors clinic, one of 21 around the US providing legal services to immigrants.
Justice for Our Neighbors, a program of United Methodist Committee on Relief, serves immigrants and asylum seekers with professional legal assistance at low or no cost. Attorneys and volunteers active in the program were in Iowa for a three-day annual gathering.
Rev. Mendoza said there are about 6,000 Spanish-speaking residents in Council Bluffs, and some are undocumented. The town’s proximity to the agriculture belt of Iowa makes it a prime location for meat packing and food processing plants, and attracts workers wanting a better life for themselves and their families. Through their ministries of outreach to such communities, Centro Latino and Justice for Our Neighbors, in the words of one familiar with both, are “doing Jesus’ job” in serving “the least of these.”
Establishing the trust of a family atmosphere is only the first step in Rev. Mendoza’s ministry. He assists parishioners who are contending with violence in the home. Depression and domestic violence are common issues faced by immigrants in the US, he said. Women whose immigration status is in jeopardy are especially vulnerable and may feel unsafe in asking for the help they need. Rev. Mendoza’s ministry also includes preaching in Spanish at local prison facilities.
Rev. Mendoza worked with the United Methodist Church of El Sembrador in his hometown of Rio Bravo, Tampulipas, Mexico, and graduated from Juan Wesley Methodist Seminary in Monterrey. Before coming to Iowa, he served two churches, provided pastoral counseling in the community, and operated a soup kitchen for impoverished children.
To his audience of attorneys and volunteers Rev. Mendoza said, “Look at your hands. These are the only hands God has.” And echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples, Rev. Mendoza said, “Whenever you provide justice to one person with your hands, you are delivering it to many.”
Support for Justice for our Neighbors can be provided through the Advance for Christ and His Church. Checks can be sent to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, indicating Justice for Our Neighbors Advance #901285 on the memo line. Gifts may also be made by credit card online at givetomission.org or at the toll-free number 1-800-554-8583.