Justice For Our Neighbors: Dallas/Fort Worth
The Old Testament is full of scriptures admonishing God's people to treat immigrants with compassion and fairness. Exodus 23:9 states, "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." And again in Deuteronomy 24:14: "Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns."
Later, the prophet Zechariah declares on God's behalf, "Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other." (Zechariah 7:10)
Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), a ministry of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief), reaches out to the "alien" among us--immigrants who have nowhere to go for help. Amy Spaur, a United Methodist missionary serving as a Church and Community Worker with JFON in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, said:
The Biblical call to welcome the sojourner and defend the cause of the disenfranchised has always been a central piece of the church's mission in and to the world…. Given the current climate surrounding the issue of immigration, it is crucial for the church, through mission, to be a sign of God's presence to those who feel discriminated against, unwelcomed, unappreciated, and even unloved.
The mission of Justice for Our Neighbors is to be a faith-driven ministry welcoming immigrants into our churches and communities by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education, and advocacy. The work of Justice for Our Neighbors is guided by eight core values:
- an expression of faith (open hearts, open minds, open door)
- quality free legal services
- cross-cultural community
"There are several reasons that ministry among immigrants is an important issue, but the most important reason is because our faith does not afford us the opportunity to be indifferent to immigrants," Amy remarked. "The Bible is full of stories about immigrants, from Abraham to Joseph to the whole Israelite nation to Jesus Christ himself, and the Biblical mandate to reach out with love to the sojourner among us is clear and strong."
For Amy, the imperative to reach out to the stranger among us began at an early age. She grew up in a family and church where ministry with the poor and marginalized was encouraged. She recalled:
My mother reached out to immigrant families in our community, and as young children my brothers and I were included in these activities. Of particular significance was the experience I had when my home church helped sponsor a refugee family from Vietnam. We found housing, took them grocery shopping, donated furniture and clothing, taught them English, helped them enroll in school, etc. Not only that, but we shared life with them. Ate their food. Saw their pictures. Learned to count in their language. Struggled through conversations. Listened to their music. Studied together. Played together. Laughed together. It was an incredible experience to have at the age of 11. Later in life, God gave me the opportunity to live and travel to many different countries.
Before becoming a Church and Community Worker, Amy was part of Global Ministries' Mission Intern program, where she served for 18 months with Centro Popular para America Latino de Communicacion (CEPALC) in Bogota, Colombia. CEPALC works with the poor and marginalized, facilitates conflict resolution, and networks with women's groups.
After that experience, she served another 18 months with JFON, where she continues to work today. "I experienced first-hand what it felt like to be an immigrant," Amy says. "When I returned to the United States, I felt the Lord saying, 'Amy, remember you were a stranger in other lands, and they reached out to you. Now it's your turn to extend a hand to those strangers among you.'"
Amy is a volunteer and outreach coordinator for Justice For Our Neighbors. Some of her specific ministry duties include recruiting and training volunteers; speaking in local churches and community organizations on immigration and faith; creating advocacy action networks; and assisting with translation and case management, as needed.
"Many immigrants have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous persons who have filled out immigration forms that they are not qualified to fill out, not only cheating hard-working immigrants out of hundreds and even thousands of dollars, but also causing in some cases irreparable harm and permanent family separation," Amy states. "JFON provides high-quality legal services free of charge to low-income immigrants, services not offered by other organizations in the area."
One such immigrant is a Mexican woman named Oralia. Oralia fell in love with a man named Jose, an immigrant living with a green card in the US. Jose convinced Oralia to move to the US with him, and they had three daughters. In 2004, a doctor found that one of their daughters had been sexually abused. When Oralia spoke to her daughter about this, the young girl said it was her father who abused her. Oralia called the police, and her husband was imprisoned.
Now the sole provider for her family, Oralia came to JFON to see if she could obtain legal status in the US. JFON was able to file a petition for her, and Oralia received her green card.
"To low-income immigrants in the community, our work has given them an opportunity to access free, high-quality legal services not available elsewhere, which keeps their families together, provides better job opportunities, and fosters greater integration in society," Amy said.
"It also makes a difference to them on a personal level to feel loved, welcomed, and valued. This value comes not because they may or may not be an economic benefit to society, but rather intrinsic worth as people created in the image of God."
In addition to working with immigrants, Amy spends time with local congregations, providing an opportunity for education and dialogue about the issue of immigration. "Our work has made a difference in the lives of congregations and others because it has allowed them to discuss and examine the issue of immigration from a faith perspective in an atmosphere of love," Amy said.
"There are relatively few opportunities for people of faith to calmly dialogue about this heated issue, and I believe this truly has made a difference to people's understanding of the issue and its effects on society and on their personal lives.… My heart has rejoiced as people view the issue with new eyes. It has been a challenge and a joy to read, learn, and pray about this issue and then communicate through the lens of faith."
UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors ministry partners with annual conferences and local churches to help sojourners navigate complex US immigration laws. Support this ministry by sending a gift to UMCOR Advance #901285.