It is very encouraging to see how Lutherans across the country stand up for justice for migrants, drawing from our rich history of walking alongside the stranger. At Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Virginia, church member Marion McInturff organized a Christian Education Series titled “Immigration and the Lutheran Church.”
The interview was conducted by LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern, Juliet Sohns.
Juliet Sohns (JS): How did you envision this three-part Sunday School series and did it meet your expectations? What did you learn from this event and are there plans to organize similar ones in area churches?
Marion McInturff (MM): When the Metro D.C. Synod [ELCA] delegation returned from our trip to El Salvador in August 2014, we committed ourselves to specific actions, one being the development of a Sunday School series on the “Lutheran Church & Immigration.” Under the capable leadership of Kelly Baugh, a member of King of Kings Lutheran Church in Fairfax, VA, we agreed that the series would include the following:
Session 1: Presentation by members of the D.C. Metro Synod delegation on the ‘push factors’ that have led to the recent influx of migrant children.
Session 2: Presentation by an immigrant on life as a new-arrival to the United States and the personal impact of current immigration laws.
Session 3: Presentation by an LIRS speaker on the current status of migrant children & families in the United States, including regulations, housing, & support networks.
To date, we have piloted the series at King of Kings and Emmanuel Lutheran Churches with the goal of presenting the series at many churches in the synod. I was pleased with the interest level of congregants at the pilot churches. For perhaps the first time, the topic of immigration from a faith perspective is being discussed. I appreciated the open and honest questions and comments at the end of each session. This very important topic is now ‘on the table’ and I hope it fosters active commitment for change.
JS: What helps you stay motivated to raise awareness for some of the most vulnerable people in the US?
MM: For me, it is essential to travel to places like El Salvador where the needs of the people are great but where the faith, courage, resilience, humility, and gratefulness of the people teach me about myself. During these visits I often have an opportunity to look into the eyes of a Salvadoran mother or grandmother and there I see a glimpse of the trials she has endured. I return home renewed person and wanting to tell her story.
JS: You have visited El Salvador on multiple occasions and are about to return for another week-long mission. How have these experiences informed your knowledge of what migrants face and endure, and how do they impact your advocacy for immigration reform?
MM: Life in El Salvador is so difficult that it is almost beyond the comprehension of a citizen of the United States. Fear, helplessness, and lack of opportunities have a profound impact on daily living. The fact that so many Salvadorans keep going in the face of these obstacles is a miracle in itself. Hearing their stories compels me to retell them (anonymously) even though many are disturbing. We in the United States need to understand that for many Salvadorans hope for the future may lie outside of their country. In an atmosphere of despair, fleeing north may be the only option.
JS: What advice would you give those who are interested in helping migrants in the United States? What actions can they start taking to make a positive difference for this population?
MM: Most people are very busy with work and family responsibilities. It is not easy to take time to advocate for major changes in society but everyone who cares about the immigration issue can take these three simple steps:
- Talk about it to everyone, at book clubs, neighborhood socials, happy hours. Raise awareness through informal conversations.
- Reach out to immigrants in your community: the worker at the grocery or department store, the cleaning person, the neighborhood construction worker. Take time to listen to their story if they will share it, offer them a small kindness: a soda, a smile!
- Write to your member of Congress (an e-message is easy through LIRS’s Action Center!) telling them that changes in immigration laws are essential. Remind them that immigration reform is a moral issue – not a partisan one.
Beyond these steps, advocates can write op-ed articles for publication, volunteer at organizations that support migrants, send greeting cards to detainees, foster a migrant child. Start small. You might catch the fever!