NASHVILLE, TENN. — The first job Cesar Jimenez found in Nashville was shoveling out stables. He made $250 a week, he said, and did his work “with pleasure.” After all, work is why he came. Already a Christian when he arrived from Mexico about 10 years ago, his spiritual home is Grandview Iglesia de Cristo, which is Spanish for “Church of Christ.” He is one of a multitude of immigrants who work every day in the United States — some of whom also worship on Sunday as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As the debate over immigration rages, ministers and members of Churches of Christ differ on what the issue means for the life and mission of the church.
Roberto Santiago, minister of the congregation where Jimenez worships, said the issue has created anxiety in his congregation. Members, not all in this country legally, have requested prayers.
“They feel a little bit frightened by the prospect of a change,” Santiago said.
Immigrants who make their way to the United States often obey Christ here, then start putting down roots in American society, Santiago said. “They know that their children and the future are tied with this country already, because they have made a big investment in the future of the children,” he said. “They don’t want to be forever … under the radar of most of society.”
In Texas, Larry James’ Central Dallas Ministries helps thousands of immigrants in its outreach to the Dallas poor. “People in the church, they’re always talking about law and order,” he said. “But … to categorize the hard-working Mexican folk who are in this country as criminals is ridiculous. … The Old Testament is filled with allusions about how to treat strangers and aliens, remembering that the Israelites were such themselves.”
But Noe Perez, vice president of Baxter Institute in Tegucigalpa, Honduras emphasized the importance of following immigration guidelines. Baxter is a preacher-training school with students from across the Hispanic world.
“Immigration laws can seem unjust to us, but the leaders of every nation have the duty to protect their citizens by making immigrants obey the laws,” Perez said.
Back in Nashville, Jimenez said immigrants come because they want to earn a living and create opportunities for the people they love. He works with an air-conditioning contractor, an improvement over cleaning stables and feeding horses.
“To come here to get ahead and help our families, that’s our entire purpose,” said Jimenez, a father of four whose two older sons married Americans.
He added, “We ask blessings for this nation that has opened its doors not only to Hispanic immigrants but . . . immigrants from the whole world.”
July 1, 2006
Photo caption: Cesar Jimenez is a member of the Grandview Iglesia de Cristo, a mostly Hispanic church in Nashville, Tenn. The Mexican immigrant came to the United States seeking a better life. (photo by Ted Parks)