Leaders across our country are taking bold steps to propel the immigration reform fight forward. Today, I’m glad to share the work and stories of Pastor Joshua Burkholder of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lafayette, Indiana. The interview was carried out over email by LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you become a spokesperson for immigration reform?
Pastor Joshua Burkholder (JB): For the past four years, I have served in Frankfort, Indiana, a small Hoosier city with a large Latino population. Throughout this time I have developed a number of relationships with Latino and Latinas in our community, especially among DREAMers.
In 2011, our state legislature passed a law that denies undocumented high school graduates in-state tuition and access to financial aid. This law affected the futures of many of the amazing and brilliant youth in our community, including a member of our church who – up to that point – had planned on attending Indiana University. I began working with other local leaders to advocate on his behalf and others’.
Through advocacy, I began to hear more stories of how the broken immigration system was disrupting the lives of families in our communities. In their witness, I recognized the call of the gospel to welcome the stranger and care for the outcast and realized that advocacy alone is not enough. Our very baptisms call us to “strive for peace and justice in the world.” Answering that call, I sought to connect with other faith leaders in our community and region who were concerned and interested in seeking justice for our immigrant neighbors.
CP: What do you like most about working with your community on immigration reform?
JB: Working for immigration reform has not been easy. The amount of misinformation and misconceptions that exist makes the work even more difficult. But what remains encouraging about the work is the sense of community that develops around the gospel’s call to welcome the stranger. Personally, the opportunity to work alongside allies from a diverse field of religious, class, and ethnic backgrounds that I continually find encouraging.
Within that community of passionate advocates, one gets a glimpse of the gospel being lived out in a very real, very meaningful, and very powerful way. My own interactions with faith leaders and other allies who are passionate about seeking justice for our immigrant neighbors has been, for me, nothing less than an encounter with Christ, who said, “whenever you welcome the least of these, you welcome me.”
CP: You recently participated in a roundtable on immigration reform with other faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and business leaders. What were some major points that all three groups agreed upon?
JB: The current immigration system is broken and now is the time to fix it. There was also a strong consensus that immigration reform will only become a reality if those who support immigration reform are willing to stand up, engage their elected leaders, and let their voices be heard.
CP: Did you learn anything from the participants that you hadn’t known before?
JB: I walked away from the forum with a greater appreciation for how broad support for immigration reform truly is; whether in agriculture or business, a law enforcement officer or a religious leader, Democrat or Republican, leaders from a variety of sectors have a clear sense of the necessity and urgency for fair and compassionate immigration reform.
CP: How are Hoosiers across Indiana taking a stand for immigration reform?
JB: Across the state, faith leaders from a variety of backgrounds are gathering together for prayer, studying Scripture’s call to welcome the stranger, and meeting with their respective representatives.
Business leaders from Eli Lilly, Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have all issued public statements in support of immigration reform and continue to be active in raising awareness of the issues.
This past spring, Bishop William Gafkjen joined the General Minister and President of the Disciples of Christ, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, and Archbishop Joseph Tobin at a prayer rally in support of a pathway to citizenship hosted by IndyCAN, a local affiliate of PICO National Network [a national network of faith-based community organizations]. Inspired by this public witness, other Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastors have actively joined the public conversation by meeting with members of Congress and their staff, leading prayer vigils, and preaching on the importance of loving and welcoming our neighbors.
In nearly every part of the state, faithful citizens from across industry, party, and denominational lines are working together to make our neighborhoods a little more welcoming and our communities a little more reflective of God’s justice.