Monday, February 16, 2009

Candlelight Vigil Draws Diverse Gathering to Pray for Immigration Reform

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (February 16, 2009) -- A prayer vigil sponsored by the CRC Office of Social Justice, Michigan Organizing Project (M.O.P.), the Micah Center, and Justice for Our Neighbors, attracted Latinos and non-Latinos alike to La Igelsia Metodista Unida La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope United Methodist Church), located at 100 Burton SE in Grand Rapids. The multi-ethnic gathering of more than 100 people settled into a cozy, candlelit sanctuary on Monday evening to sing and pray around the issue of immigration reform.

"It is necessary to recognize immigration as God's concern," commented Jordan Bruxvoort, a community worker with M.O.P. out of Kalamazoo, MI, who helped execute the event. "God is attentive to the vulnerable in society. He upholds them; the people of God must also uphold them." Bruxvoort has worked with the Micah Center in past months and looks forward to strengthening ties between M.O.P. and other social justice movements like the Micah Center in West Michigan.

Kate Kooyman, leader of the Micah Center's Immigration Action Group and representative of the Christian Reformed Church's Social Justice office, also contributed to the vigil's planning and implementation. She was encouraged by the energy and diversity present in La Nueva Esperanza's sanctuary. "A next step is possibly to create a better dialogue between races," she said, observing the lines already being crossed Monday evening at the church that sits on the back doorstep of a racial divide.

La Nueva Esperanza's pastor, Oscar Ventura, was present for the vigil and offered a benediction in Spanish to conclude the event. Ventura, a Dominican-born pastor with decades of experience in the pulpit in Latino communities, was pleased with the turnout. "It was good to see so many people come. We have an opportunity for change right now," he said. Ventura noted that current U.S. Immigration policy can often tear families apart and diminish the quality of life immigrants seek so desperately; he is hopeful that a strong, united voice--such as the one heard on Monday--might influence those in power to show compassion and justice to the nation's immigrant population.

The vigil was purposefully bilingual, with participants singing hymns and reading a litany in both English and Spanish. It drew people from the local congregation and community as well as justice-seekers from as far away as Kalamazoo. Litany readings focused on the multiplicity of aspects that accompany immigration issues in the United States, including family stability, worker's rights, social services, and dignity. Honduran-American Ruth Gutierrez Van Beek smiled at the event's conclusion. "It went really well," she said in Spanish, glancing around the room. "I was very happy (to see so many people present)."

The next challenge, of course, is to translate Monday's energy into tomorrow's social action. The Micah Center's Immigration Action Group will continue to look for creative ways to speak out for justice on behalf of the sojourner, Kooyman declared. By all accounts, it seems that uniting voices from different backgrounds and experiences as it did Monday night is an excellent place to start.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

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