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Bishop's Column: Prayers for our Venezuelan Immigrants

Posted: September 16 2019 at 06:29 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


Venezuelans

On a beautiful July evening, I went to the Church of The Redeemer of Calvary or El Redentor del Calvario in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago. The Rev. Shirley Pulgar-Hughes is the pastor. A group of immigrants from Venezuela has become active in her congregation and she wanted me to hear their stories.

The political and economic situation in Venezuela has become very difficult: a decade-long trajectory toward worsening political corruption, poverty, hunger, lack of clean water, lack of health care and medicine, crime, violence, human rights violations, high mortality rates, and untenable situations. As a result, there has been a massive wave of emigration, and some Venezuelans have emigrated to Chicago.

As I waited in the basement of the church that evening, the room slowly filled until there were at least 30 men, women, young people, and children gathered. As they shared their stories with me, I noted that most of them identified themselves by their profession (before they came to the U.S.): professors, attorneys, pharmacists, engineers, and other educated persons with master’s degrees. Yet, most of them had come from jobs at packing plants or domestic work, and maybe Uber as a side job.  

With the exception of a couple of people who have been in the U.S. for a year or less, many of these immigrants already own a house, drive their own car (good enough for Uber), and have developed a life for themselves and their families.  

Like many immigrants, none of them had wanted to leave their home in Venezuela. Many told me that it was their political views that came under scrutiny by the government as they advocated for democracy and freedom. One woman had been a town mayor working for reform to provide basic needs for people in her community. When someone came and put a gun to her head, she knew it was time to leave.

Another young woman said that her life was going really well in Venezuela. She studied to become a radio broadcaster, but then she had a guest on her show who joked about the government and president. Before she knew it, the commissioner of communications came and shut her station down. She lost her job and her future in Venezuela. 

Goodshepherd

Those who came to tell me their stories are much like the people who built the church that hosted our meeting, German-Russian immigrants who came here more than a century ago. My guide, Gwen, told me that her ancestors came to this country, leaving behind their household goods in Russia at the turn of the century. They left everything behind in case it didn’t work out so well in America; they thought they could go back to their farms and their homes. We got a good laugh about that! And they founded and built a beautiful church with a painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd with a lone sheep, looking to follow their master’s every move.

These immigrants from Venezuela want the same things that the founders of the church wanted: freedom from persecution, intimidation, poverty, and violence, and a better life for themselves and their children. They worked when they got here acquiring the necessities of life and coming together as a church.  

Before I left that evening, I told them that they represent what America is at its best. I apologized (for what it was worth) that they probably don’t hear that message every day: you are what has made America great over the years, over and over again. They are hard-working people who seek to make a life for themselves with the basics of food, shelter, security, family—and freedom and democracy. 

What can you do to help? Some of these immigrants are looking for political asylum in the U.S. Some have received political asylum, especially if they came before the Trump administration. Most are waiting to at least hear whether they have asylum. Initially, they benefited from Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) and its legal expertise to get political asylum. But a 6-month wait mushroomed into a 3-year wait for many refugees and asylum seekers. All of us can help support JFON so that they can continue to help people find legal solutions to their immigration situations. Visit nijfon.org for resources.

Pray for our brothers and sisters from Venezuela who actively support their church, each other, and their families back home. Blessings upon them!

~Bishop Sally Dyck
 

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