During my senior year of college at the University of South Carolina, I was involved with an emerging Latino ministry in Columbia, South Carolina. The ministry was run by a local church and we focused on ESL classes and childcare for those with children. These classes took place twice a week. There were hopes of starting a monthly worship service for the local Spanish-speaking community. The pastor was also very involved in the local and state issues surrounding immigration—especially regarding South Carolina’s Senate Bill 20, which is a copycat of Arizona’s anti-immigration bill that breeds racial profiling and negatively impacts the local and state economy.
South Carolina is not a welcoming place for immigrants. I remember seeing the aftermath of South Carolina SB20. For example, word got out one night that there would be a local roadblock where police would check for the license and registration of everyone passing through. This obviously scared many immigrants who regularly attended the Latino ministry, and we consequently had low attendance at ESL classes that night. It was astonishing to see how SB20 affected the ministry I was involved in. Such fear was instilled in the people we were trying to help that they often forwent their daily activities in case anyone was to expect that they were ‘undocumented.’
To my understanding, the Latino ministry in Columbia that I loved so much now ceases to exist. Many immigrants who were once a part of the ministry have left the state or are too fearful to attend regularly. I am unaware of all of the many logistics, but I do know that by the time I left, it was certainly an uphill battle fighting against South Carolina’s immigration laws while trying to sustain a ministry where the people you are trying to serve are unwanted in the state. When I heard this news, I was not necessarily shocked, but rather deeply saddened. I found myself very disappointed in the state that I had come to love over my four years in college.
I plan to return to work for the United Methodist Church in South Carolina upon graduation from Duke Divinity School. As such, I am still hopeful for the church in South Carolina. I know the Kingdom of God will prevail over any law filled with hatred and fear. Last year at the South Carolina’s Annual Conference of the UMC, a resolution passed for immigration reform in the state, which took a stance against the passing of SB20. Prayer vigils for the bill were held, with high attendance, on the steps of the state house. Sadly, the bill still became law.
Many anti-immigrant laws are constantly being challenged in court. Right now, I feel the best thing we as Christians can do is pray for a faithful outcome. I pray for peace, for humane treatment of immigrants, and for an end to discrimination. My favorite motto in the midst of these immigration issues is “no human being is illegal,” which is certainly profoundly true because we are first and foremost citizens of heaven. We are children of The Most High before we are ‘American.’
I encourage you who are reading to pray for the faithful outcome of these laws in court and also for Latino ministries everywhere and of all denominations. Welcoming the stranger is something God commands us to do and I pray that anti-immigrant laws will not get in the way of ministering to these people.
Elizabeth Murray, a native of Johns Creek, GA, is a first year Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School. She graduated in May of 2011 from the University of South Carolina with a business degree. Elizabeth is a certified candidate for ordained elders orders in the United Methodist Church. She plans to go into social justice ministry.
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