The Hope LUCHA's support provides encouragement for young immigrants, as seen in this new video

As we complete ten years of work with immigrant families, LUCHA has the privilege of knowing many young adults who have literally grown up with us.  “The Hope” features two of these young people.

We initially focused on the needs of immigrant adults but soon realized that we needed to include the family as well. Immigrants often told us that they had come to the US to give their children a better life, and we wanted to help make this possible. We support families by providing school supplies, offering youth and enrichment activities during the summers, and providing homework assistance to children.

LUCHA helps create a strong, healthy family environment by giving parents the tools they need to be good parents. We guide them through the challenges of parenting bicultural children who are both Latino and American, who share values from both cultures. We help them understand the school system and the role of parents in the educational process.

And these efforts pay off. Watch our new video, The Hope, to see how two young immigrants are thriving in college today, thanks to the sacrifice of their parents, the encouragement of LUCHA, and the willingness of a school to accept them.

Leaving For A New Tomorrow Sue Smith talks with a father, husband and son separated from his family in Mexico

We think of machismo as being somewhat synonymous with the Latin American male. You know the stereotype – the big, strong guy who rules the family with authority and strength, who would never shed a tear, whose word is law in his household.

Recently I asked one of these big, strong macho guys (a roofer, by the way) about his family back in Mexico. He told me about his wife, kids, and his aging parents; how it feels to be separated from them, and what he’s missing by being in the US. He talked about the loneliness and struggles and yet why he stays.

“My son is a good kid, and he’s growing up so fast! My wife and kids live on a finca with family. My son is 14 and in a good school, lives in a safe, rural area. He helps care for the animals and rides horses, and is taking on more responsibility from my dad . . . sure, he’s missed me growing up, but it’s normal for me not to be around. He knows why I’m not there, but it still makes me sad. I sometimes worry he doesn’t even care anymore that I’m away from them.”

Why ARE you here and not with them, I asked. “It’s my responsibility to provide for my family. In Mexico, I might make $100 per week if I’m lucky. That barely pays for the basics – food and shelter, maybe transportation. There’s not enough for clothes and shoes and things the kids need for school, for my wife to have nice things. And certainly not enough to help my parents as they get older. My mom had a stroke and can’t speak anymore. When I call, she just cries. I can hear her, trying to talk, but she always ends up sobbing. I want to be there, to help them, but they also need the money I send back. I can’t do both.” The macho image is slipping away.

I ask about his daughter, and his smile lights up his face. “I left for the U.S. two months before she was born, so I didn’t see her until she was five. And wow, she’s so great! I’ve seen her only that one time. But she can’t stop asking me where I am, when I’m coming home, why I can’t be at her birthday party. She reminds me there are events at school that parents are expected to attend, and I’m not there. She’s pretty hard on me, and I feel terrible. Sometimes I feel like a bad parent, because life isn’t all about the money. I’m missing so much with my family. But I’d do anything, give them everything, even if it means I have to be away from them.” He clears his throat, swipes at his watering eyes, and the macho image disappears completely.

I’m often asked, how can a parent leave his or her child behind in their home country for years at a time? The assumption is that they (dads, moms) just walk away, thinking only of themselves. But it’s not so simple. The current economic realities, the responsibility of providing for both young children and aging parents, and our cultural norms place enormous pressures on us.

Book Review: Jesus Was A Migrant "Throughout the book, the author demonstrates the strong faith of migrants... as she weaves biblical stories of exile, migration and flight."

70Jesus Was a Migrant, by Deirdre Cornell, offers short but poignant glimpses of the suffering and triumphs of the migrant community in the U.S. through her ministry with Spanish-speaking migrants and their families both in and outside the country.

Cornell’s experience comes from her work in upstate New York with migrant workers and as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Mexico. The first chapter of her book, aptly titled “Migrants Matter,” introduces the reader to the global phenomenon of migration and displacement, and the value migrants bring to the nations to which they travel to live and work.

Cornell leads the reader to see that the migrant experience in the U.S. has not only caused much suffering and trials for migrants, but it also is a great source of blessing, especially in the realization that so much of the Bible is written from and about the migrant experience. She weaves biblical stories of exile, migration and flight with contemporary stories of Latino men, women and children struggling to find life and dignity in a strange land. She even includes stories of how her own Irish family generations past struggled to make a new home in America.

Throughout the book, the author demonstrates the strong faith of migrants she has come to know and work with, and the ways God reveals the divine self through the migrant experience. Cornell closes her short book with a chapter called “Pure Grace” that calls on our country to address the issue of immigration and on all of us to open our hearts to the stranger among us.

Jesus Was a Migrant is available online through Amazon. And if you sign up for the “Amazon Smile” program (http://smile.amazon.com) and choose LUCHA as your charitable organization, Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to LUCHA Ministries.

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.