Our God is Undocumented Book Review

Book Review

 Our God is Undocumented is a “bifocal approach” to the issue of immigrant justice and migrant ministry in North America.  Ched Myers’ odd-numbered chapters offer biblical reflections on immigration, while Matthew Colwell’s even-numbered chapters narrate profiles of women and men involved in the struggle for immigrant justice.  The authors contend that, in Christ’s body, all dividing walls of hostility have been broken down, denying all rationale for xenophobia and exclusion and promising the hope of a “church without borders” for God’s people.

Myers chooses passages from both the Old and New Testaments to speak to the meaning of justice, reconciliation and inclusion.  Issues include cultural diversity and social ecology (Chapter 1); the practices of sanctuary and hospitality (Chapter 3), inclusiveness (Chapter 5); Jesus’ embrace of “the other” (Chapter 7); and anti-immigrant nativism (Chapter 9).  These chapters challenge the reader to look beyond traditional interpretation s and focus on the social, economic and political contexts the biblical stories narrate, so that the needs of “the other” are taken into full consideration.

Colwell features the work of two white North American ministers (Chapters 2 and 8), two Salvadoran activists (Chapters 4 and 6), and a Chicano human rights organizer (Chapter 10) to illustrate the struggle for justice against intolerance, ignorance, nativism and discrimination.  Their witness demonstrates the fight for justice can be long and difficult, but it is the path God’s people are called to walk.

Readers may not always agree with every interpretation given nor every position taken by the activists portrayed, but this book will force them to think more carefully about the call to justice and peace upon their lives.

7 steps to move forward Community Give 2015

At LUCHA, we believe every person has value with something unique to offer the community. Project Adelante empowers families to share their gifts, realize their worth and improve their lives.

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7 ways your family can move forward

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Project Adelante is about trying skills you thought you couldn’t do. Our families have learned CPR, crocheting, painting, chemistry and soap-making.

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For many immigrants, learning English is difficult. Project Adelante helps by providing pronunciation and grammar classes. We also help with literacy for Spanish speakers who have not learned to read or write in Spanish.

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Project Adelante is comprised of families from all over the world including El Salvador, Mexico, India, Honduras and the United States. While learning together, a global family is born.

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After every class, families share a meal, often bringing food they prepared at home. It is a time of fellowship and love.

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Our families are made up of talented individuals. Many teach their own classes after learning new skills from others.

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Our families have big dreams. Some want to own a business. Others want to send their kids to college. At Adelante families work together to reach their goals.

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Whether babies just learning to walk, high schoolers about to graduate or grandparents relaxing in rocking chairs, Project Adelante is a place for everyone.

Join Fredericksburg for the Community Give and support Project Adelante here! 

 

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You can help us just by sharing these photos and videos, liking us on Facebook , following us on Twitter and on Pinterest.

Help us get enough online participation, so we can win a visual storytelling conetst!1428618308

Backpacks of Love Supplies keep immigrant kids in school

It’s amazing what one backpack can do.

Since LUCHA began 11 years ago we’ve supplied Latino children  with school supplies. With dropout rates for Hispanic youth still more than triple that of white children and 4% more than black children in Virginia, even a simple Spiderman binder or Princess notebook can build kids’ self-esteem and keep them in school.

As a child, Yerendi Roblero looked forward to receiving a new backpack.

“I would always open it up ready to see what was inside,” Roblero says. “That was really exciting for me.”

Today after graduating high school with honors, Roblero is enrolled in Bluefield College where she studies forensics and criminal justice. She was recently invited to the Eisenhower Executive Office of the White House where she advocated for immigrants and people living in poverty. She credits much of her success to being prepared in elementary and high school.

“In some way when you get your supplies, it gives you hope,” Roblero says. “It keeps you motivated to do better.”

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Roblero with friend Antonella Membreno at the White House

Thanks to generous donations we haven’t needed to ask for school supplies for the last several years. However, this year our stock is running low so we’ve made a school wish list showing the average cost per elementary and high school student.

We’re asking individuals, small groups and Sunday school classes to prayerfully consider sponsoring a backpack for the 125-150 children we serve.

LUCHA’s Wish List:

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Sick and Far From Home Helping immigrants navigate health care

In 2012, Maria, an immigrant from Honduras became sick.800px-US_Navy_060531-N-1577S-129_A_local_doctor_performs_a_cataract_surgery_on_a_patient_at_Zamboanga_Medical_Center

No one was sure what was wrong as the young mother began to lose weight, eventually getting down to just 80 pounds. Before hospitalization, Maria worked her day shift at McDonald’s, putting in eight hour days without a break then walking 30 minutes home. She continued to care for her 4-year-old son and sent money to Honduras to support her 7-year-old son and mother. Eventually, she lost so much weight she was admitted to Mary Washington Hospital and was identified as having type 1 juvenile diabetes. The diagnosis came as a shock since Maria had no family history of the disease.

Diabetes is a disease that requires constant upkeep. Maria had to learn how to take insulin shots four times a day, how to check to see if her blood sugar was too high or low and how to use money orders to receive medicine since she didn’t have a credit card.

Because she is an immigrant, it was harder to receive services for her treatments; LUCHA was able to help her find a specialist in Charlottesville about 1.5 hours away and facilitate interpretation and transportation.

Uncertainty about what to do when you get sick can be a big issue for immigrant families. Learning to navigate the intricate bureaucracy of the health care system is difficult enough for native English speakers, but for those who are still learning the basics, the task can seem insurmountable.800px-Needle_Syringe_Spike

Immigrants must find ways to pay for check-ups or treatments since they often are unable to receive health insurance. Just one of the 8 medicines Maria needs for  treatment costs $200 without insurance.

Second, they may need reliable transportation. Many of our clients are unable to drive long distances to Charlottlesville or Richmond but cannot find basic services in Fredericksburg.

Finally, without translation services, many of our clients who are still learning English feel uncomfortable speaking with nurses and doctors who use phrases  that are unfamiliar or filled with medical jargon.

LUCHA provides services to help immigrants navigate the intricate health care system. We believe everyone should be equipped with the tools they need to know what to do when they get sick. Today Maria is doing well. Although she still has much to deal with from work and motherhood, she is learning how to combat her illness and move forward.

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Dreamers at the White House Antonella's Story

unnamed-3Antonella Membreno is the classic college student. She Snapchats her friends funny photos, studies for classes at Bluefield College and works at her part-time job as a hostess. But, despite seeming like a typical American teenager, Antonella has overcome obstacles just to live a normal life.

When Antonella was 9-years-old she moved to the United States from Nicaragua to reunite with her father who arrived several years earlier.

“I was in 4th grade and didn’t speak English,” Membreno remembers. “It was hard, but you learn.”

Despite getting a late start, Antonella quickly rose to the top of her class, graduating from high school with honors. But when she started looking at colleges, problems arose.

Because Antonella came to the United States when she was 9, she is considered an undocumented immigrant, waiting in a hypothetical line for citizenship. After 10 years, it’s apparent the line isn’t moving.

“We hear all the time about how people should just get in line, “says LUCHA director Greg Smith. “The truth is there is no line.

Because of her undocumented status, Antonella was unable to participate in important rites of passage like learning to drive or getting a part-time job. Even seeing a movie with her friends could turn her into a criminal since she was unable to receive a license.

“I was raised here. I’ve lived over half my life here,” Membreno says. “It’s weird how you can love a place so much but not fully belong.”

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, which helps immigrant minors receive several legal benefits, Antonella’s life took a positive turn. She was able to get a social security number and driver’s license, work legally and apply to colleges. But paying for university posed new problems.

“I still can’t apply for state scholarships because it’s federal money,” Membreno says. “But I have a few private scholarships based on academic merit.”

It was especially difficult for Antonella’s younger brother, who started doing poorly in school after seeing his sister struggle.

“He decided to slack off because he thought, what’s the point? Even if I do well in school I’ll never make it anywhere,” Membreno explains. “This happens to a lot of immigrant kids. We feel like we have no future. After I got DACA, my brother is trying harder.  He’s enrolled in college.”

In early March, LUCHA Ministries was invited to the Eisenhower Executive office of the White House as part of an Advocacy in Action summit with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Antonella and her friend Yerendi Roblero, a former Student.Go intern who came to the U.S. from Guatemala when she was just six months old, were invited to attend. While in Washington, they met with their Senate and congressional representatives and attended a meeting with special assistant to the president, Melissa Rogers. For Membreno the experience was formative. She and Yerendi were able to share their stories with Senate and congressional aides.

“I was glad we could tell the senators thank you about DACA,” Membreno says. “It was more challenging talking to the congressmen, but it was nice to let people know that there are still people fighting for [immigration reform].”

The girls learned about advocacy issues affecting people in poverty including hunger and predatory lending. Antonella especially enjoyed visiting Bread for the World, a nonprofit dedicated to issues of hunger.

“My favorite part was hearing Melissa Rogers speak on how churches and the federal government can work together,” she says.

Membreno  acknowledges the need for comprehensive reform. She is studying criminal justice and journalism and wants to eventually go to law school.

“Everyone, whether you know it or not, knows an immigrant,” she says. “I want to help them receive their rights.”

Antonella says she understands why not every citizen participates in advocacy. However she encourages citizens to stand up for those who are not being heard.

“You don’t have to advocate for immigration reform,” Membreno says. “But I think if someone is conscious, if you have the power, you should advocate for things that are meaningful.”

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LUCHA Ministries team at the White House

 

Meet New Intern: Morgan

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LUCHA Ministries is a group that continues to amaze me with each day that I spend with

them. I started an internship with the ministry at the end of January and to this day I am still

learning more about their community involvement and how they help Latino Immigrants of

every age. LUCHA Ministries is dedicated to helping aid Latino Immigrants in almost every

way. Everyone that I have worked with so far has been so appreciative of the help that they

receive from LUCHA and even the little amount that I have been helping.

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After getting to know some of the students it is obvious that they highly value English.

They are learning English in school, where the emphasis is on using only English and no

Spanish, and they mainly speak Spanish at home with their family. When they find out that I

speak Spanish (and love it!) they are always surprised. I’ve been working with students in

kindergarten through their senior year in high school and have gotten the same shocked response

from all ages when they learn that I speak Spanish. One kindergartener had such a hard time

believing that I spoke Spanish and she responded with, “wow, you look like you speak English”.

 

I have made it one of my goals for this internship to teach them to value their Spanish because it

does hold such value and I hope that I can show them that it really is something cool.

 

Being in the Spanish major at the University of Mary Washington, I have met many

Latino college students that are in my Spanish classes and several of them have expressed that

they never learned to speak Spanish growing up. This created boundaries between them and

their families—specifically older generations because they never learned English. Reflecting

back on this loss of communication, they regret not focusing more on either retaining their

Spanish fluency or on never learning Spanish. Thinking about the huge divide that this creates

between families, I have made it one of my goals to demonstrate the importance to the students

that I work with to stay bilingual. I know that many of the students recognize the importance,

but I do not want them to become disillusioned and believe that their Spanish is not important or

not cool.

Volunteers brave winter storms Despite freezing temperatures, food bank serves families

Icicles hang from car bumpers and forgotten snowmen line the streets of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It’s 20 degrees with a wind chill, and schools have closed for the week.  Most people are huddled in their homes and offices, sipping hot cocoa and snuggling under electric blankets.

But not the volunteers from LUCHA Ministries. These women and men led by LUCHA’s only paid employee, Aida Kent are bundled up in scarves and gloves, sorting through boxes of donated produce at the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

“Dress warmly, today girls,” Aida tells us before we leave. “We’re going into the freezer!”

One of LUCHA’s key ministries is working with the Food Bank to provide provisions for Latino families who have fallen on hard times.

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Take Cenon, for example.

Cenon worked the night shift at Wendy’s, walking or riding his bike home around two or three in the morning. One day, as he was crossing the bridge some miles from his house, he was hit by a car and left bleeding in the street. He yelled for help, but no one came near him. . “I screamed and screamed, “ he said. “Finally I heard the ambulance.”

At last an unknown bystander called 911, and Cenon was taken to the hospital.

His leg had to be amputated at the knee, leaving him unable to work. The hit-and-run driver was caught by security cameras but didn’t have insurance to cover Cenon’s medical expenses.  Despite the hardship, Cenon still has a bright smile as he learns how to live with one leg. Families like Cenon’s require supplementary assistance during their recovery process.

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Every Monday, LUCHA’s volunteers give their time at the Food Bank; often working through lunch to make sure the six to seven families LUCHA serves have enough to eat. Every volunteer is from the Latino community and what is leftover is divided among them to take to their families.

Supervisor Aida Kent knows what she’s doing. A native of Puerto Rico, she’s fluent in English and Spanish and also works as a translator at the hospital. She makes sure each volunteer and family is cared for and often makes personal visits to check on her clients. Kent has around 60 rotating volunteers from the surrounding Hispanic community who are willing to lend a helping hand to families in crisis.

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Despite the freezing temperatures and icy roads, the volunteers of LUCHA are adding a little warmth to the week.

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What are you doing after graduation? New intern: Ashleigh's story

What are you doing after graduation?

Before the end of my senior year in December, the question lurked behind every final exam and senior project. I’d checked off every box.

I was finished.

So how did I find myself 1200 miles and 20 hours away from everyone I love, sitting in the office of a dentist with a woman from El Salvador, trying to remember the Spanish word for gums? (It’s encias, if you’re wondering).

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This spring, I’ve packed up my tent and hiking boots and moved to Virginia for three months to be the Student.Go intern for LUCHA Ministries, Inc.

Why LUCHA? Why now?

After seeing the struggles of my undocumented friends in Texas, I knew I wanted to work with immigrants. My minor is Spanish; I’ve studied abroad in Central America and have great appreciation for Latino heritage and culture.

Who is LUCHA? What do they do?

LUCHA wears many hats in the community, but their primary purpose it to provide holistic care for Latino immigrants in Fredericksburg.

My jobs so far:

-helping a committed group of Latina volunteers unload and distribute food for families in crisis.

-teaching the only bilingual Girl Scout Troop in Virginia to dance the twist to the Beatles as they prepare for a presentation about England

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-teaching an ESL class at the local church for adults

-serving as a translator at the dentist

-increasing outreach and fundraising through social media and blogging

-brainstorming for the Community Give, a city-wide day of fundraising for Fredericksburg

-getting ready for the Advocacy Summit in D.C. where I’ll meet my representatives and learn about opportunities for reform

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-meeting the women of Project Adelante, a women’s empowerment group

 

We painted watercolors this week, are making soap next week, then on to computer certification, basic Spanish and English pronunciation.

 

Reasons I’m here

  • I needed something productive to do between finding a job and applying to grad school

 

  • I’ve seen the struggles of my undocumented friends in Texas. Many of them were kids who came to the U.S. when they were in elementary school and have been unable to receive citizenship ever since.They’re honor students who volunteer, help me when my car isn’t working, take care of their younger siblings. But they still can’t get a driver’s license, register to vote and live in fear of deportation.

 

  • I’m tired of hearing human beings (especially some of the nicest, most hospitable people you could ever meet) described as illegal and alien. No person is illegal.

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Actions are illegal. People are not. Calling someone this is just another way to dehumanize them. And when we use language to dehumanize others, we open ourselves up to all sorts of terrible historical realities like the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide.

Although I once again find myself out of my cultural comfort zone, this is what I love to do, so I’m going to try new things until something works.

I’m excited for new opportunities and friendships, hiking along the Appalachian Trail, exploring D.C. and getting a little bit closer to figuring out my place in this thing called reality.

“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.” – Dalai Lama

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Ashleigh Bugg graduated from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor with a degree in journalism and Spanish. She has worked with Student.Go in Fort Worth, Texas, Kosice, Slovakia and Fredericksburg, Virginia. She blogs about international issues and affordable travel at Travel Bugg.

Irene’s Story LUCHA reunites Peruvian woman with family

“I can’t imagine being in another country without any family, with no one caring where I am. I can’t imagine being that alone in the world.”

-Sue Smith, Director of LUCHA Ministries, Inc.

Irene Calderón is 78-years-old with a face full of sun-warmed wrinkles and a voice that lilts like music.

“Ma-mitaa, cómo esta niñaa,” the words moved up and down when she laughs.

The small Peruvian grandmother is wearing frayed camo pants that don’t reach all the way to her ankles and has dark hair covered by a bright blue cap. Upon meeting her, the community falls in love with her open smile and dark eyes tinged with indigo, lines crinkling the corners.

Many community members have never met anyone more animated—or more lost.

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Irene, an immigrant from Peru, was living with her son when he was deported several years ago. Her job was to care for children as a nanny, but from there, her story trails off in diverging, jumbled directions.

Her employers discarded her after their children grew up, forcing her to live on the streets. Although multiple Latino families took her in, Irene had the beginnings of dementia and became confused. She’d wake up, not remember where she was, think she wasn’t being paid and run away to find a better job.

“And she can really run. Have you seen her run? Like a child,” says Sergio, a member of the community who cared for her while she was homeless.

The police picked Irene up on one of Fredericksburg’s coldest nights and took her to Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a nonprofit partnership of over 10 churches helping the chronically homeless.

“She showed up to our shelter on a snow day. She spoke no English and was clearly confused, which put our staff in a panic about how to help her,” says Meghann Cotter, executive servant-leader at Micah Ministries.

This is where LUCHA came in. The homeless shelter called Sue and Greg Smith, directors of LUCHA Ministries, an organization providing holistic care for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

“While Sue was reaching out to the Hispanic community to figure out where she belonged, a number of our clients took her under their wing to make sure she was ok,” Cotter says.

Despite only speaking a few phrases of Spanish, members of the homeless community cared for Irene in the cold weather shelter. Substance abuse counselor, Darrell Chavez, who had just finished an overnight shift, volunteered to drive Irene to back to the Latino grocery store where the owner and waitresses had been caring for her during the day.

LUCHA and the owners of the Panaderia-Aury bakery discovered Irene had family members in Virginia who were unable to care for her. With the help of the Latino immigrant network and Facebook, they were able to track down her family in Peru. Some of Irene’s documents had been stole n and her passport had expired. LUCHA suspects it was a labor trafficking situation: a family had hired Irene to be a nanny then took away her documents forcing her to work for them. After a visit to D.C. and several phone calls, LUCHA worked with the consulate of Peru to secure the necessary materials to reunite Irene with her family.

An entire community comes together

Members of the community loved Irene, from the homeless volunteers who rallied around her when she was lost to the various Latino families who housed her at no cost to themselves. This is where cultural norms became apparent. In immigrant culture, it’s uncommon to see people who are homeless.

“We don’t have anyone on staff that speaks Spanish because we typically don’t see clients from the Hispanic community,” Cotter says. “Generally, they are a culture that takes care of one another and will have someone sleeping on the couch [or] the extra bedroom …before letting someone sleep on the street.”

That’s why Irene’s case is so unusual. Family is paramount and to see someone, especially an older woman, living alone was an anomaly for the Smiths.

“I can’t imagine being in another country without any family, with no one caring where I am, “ says Sue Smith. “I can’t imagine being that alone in the world.”

The situation caused LUCHA to question their preconceived notions about mental illness, immigrants and homelessness and to remember to never assume when it comes to their diverse and varied clients.

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On March 4, Greg, Sue and  Rodrigo Boluarte, Peruvian Consul, accompanied Irene to the airport and saw her off as she flew for Lima and ultimately Arequipa, Peru. Micah Ecumencial Ministries organized their Fredericksburg partner churches to raise funds to buy her ticket. It was hard for many to see Irene leave, especially since she was still confused about where she was and what she was doing.

“It’s a hard situation, but I believe being with her family is what’s best for her,” says Smith.

As she was wheeled down the runway, Irene turned and waved to the Smiths and the Peruvian ambassador with both hands, smiling the entire way to the plane.

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In Unity Lies Strength “En la Unión está la Fuerza”

“En la Unión está la Fuerza” (In Unity lies Strength)

Latinos or Hispanics are far from being a homogeneous group.  Immigrants come from different countries and ethnicities, speak a multitude of languages and celebrate diverse holidays and customs. A farmer from the mountains of Honduras will be very different from a businesswoman raised in inner- city El Salvador.  However, there are some unifying factors that contribute to common values for persons of Latino or Hispanic heritage.

One principle is a tendency to embrace a communitarian worldview, to understand the individual as part of a larger system – a family or group. Latinos are taught people are at their best when they live in community and understand their responsibilities to others.

“We [the immigrant community] come together when someone has a problem,” says Hermilindo Roblero, a Guatemalan immigrant.  “We may have our differences, but when we need to raise money for a funeral or help a family when the head of the household has been deported, we do it.”

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Latin America is strongly influenced by this sense of community and still has physical reminders of unity with each other and with God.  Today pueblos, a word that means both village and people, are laid out around a town square that includes a church facing a plaza, park, or common area.  For over 500 years of Hispanic history, this has been the norm.

This is the place where the pueblo, or people, come together to worship, relax and catch up on the latest news and gossip.  The plazas are popular on Sundays, when people gather for mass and spend time with family, sharing ice cream and snow cones or just people-watching.  The plaza is a busy place and the heart of the town.

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In the US, many Latin American immigrants struggle with the emphasis on the individual.  As North Americans, we value independence and celebrate when our children can do things on their own and don’t need us anymore.  We teach our kids to express their opinions and to take responsibility for themselves and the direction of their lives.  And while this is all good, we see fewer physical reminders of our connectedness. There is no plaza where we gather together, and we have the tendency to become isolated and stop seeing the needs in our communities.

Despite the differences among Latin American immigrants, there are times when various groups come together and unite as one pueblo, one community.  Unity comes easily around a common issue, such as immigration reform, or advocacy for DREAMers. This sense of community is particularly strong when someone is in crisis and needs strength to get through hard times.

“They are a culture that takes care of one another and will have someone sleeping on the couch or the extra bedroom before letting someone sleep on the street,” says Meghann Cotter from Micah Ecumenical Ministries, an organization serving the homeless in Fredericksburg.

It’s uncommon to see many homeless and hungry people in the Latino community.  There’s always room for another person somewhere in the house and an extra bit of rice in the pot.  This communitarian worldview is the salvation of many immigrants who feel very alone in the U.S.

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This is also the spirit LUCHA promotes: the idea that we are family in Christ. It takes the pueblo, the many individuals and diverse groups working together, to become a pueblo, the village and community united in solidarity and support.