Guest Blog by Stephan Bauman
Wide swaths of wheat and apple-laden branches lined the road as I travelled with a delegation of Christian leaders to visit the Broetje Orchards in Prescott, Washington on August 30th. The sky was vast and cloudless in southeastern Washington, the country’s largest producer of apples.
Ralph and Cheryl Broetje invited us to see their business and ministry first-hand and to pray and strategize together towards immigration reform. The Broetje orchard began years ago when Ralph bought a cherry orchard to help the suffering children of India. As the Broetjes grew their orchard, they transitioned from cherries to apples as their main crop, and they also saw their workforce change from U.S. migrant families to primarily Latino men and women. The changing workforce sparked a curiosity among the Broetje family so they traveled to Mexico. The Broetjes learned how their workers often fled dire situations in their homelands to trek a dangerous journey to come to the United States. They understood why mothers and fathers took the risk, all seeking to escape poverty to find a better life for their children.
The Broetjes saw injustice up close; it became personal.
Back home, the Broetjes began to assist their workers in unprecedented ways: employment, child care, schooling, and opportunities to purchase a house and send their kids to college. Today, the Broetjes have 1,000 permanent employees and up to 2,800 during harvest season. The campus of First Fruits Orchard, one of the largest apple growers in the country, includes two affordable housing communities, an on-site daycare center, as well as an elementary school and a chapel for their employees.
The Broetje Orchards is more than a farm. It’s far greater than a business. It is a community where each member takes pride in the work that God has put before them. Martin Luther King called this “the beloved community.”
During our time together, Laura, who is on staff at First Fruits, told us about her cousin who recently tried to cross the border. Because he was diabetic, however, he was left behind to die while the others continued their journey northward to the United States. She wept, but her tears were not new. She had shed such pain for years as she struggled to come to terms with the death of her cousin. One man had worked for the Broetjes for over 12 years but worries daily that his family will be deported. Another woman shared how her husband had been recently deported. Her daughter still waits at the door for her daddy to return.
A common thread emerged as we listened. Each person referred to their faith in God for strength and help in their circumstances. They do not see themselves as victims. They are courageous—leaders who envision a better country to which they have contributed. They have given their lives to God, their country, and their family.
In sum, their faith inspired mine. Hearing their stories deepened my commitment towards immigration reform. As followers of Christ, at World Relief, we are calling for the restoration and reconciliation of not 11 million people, but of one individual, one family, real people with real stories, many followers of Christ, all broken and hurting.
In a country where many immigrants are scorned and considered an invasion, or threat, to our culture, immigrants feel unwelcomed. They are afraid. This small community in southeastern Washington State has restored in each person a sense of worth and dignity, people made in the image of God who are valuable to their community.
While the Broetjes have taken bold steps of faith to see immigration not as a threat, but as an opportunity, the story is not finished. Many of the migrant workers continue to leave in insecurity and pain. Families are torn apart. Hopes are dashed.
When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12). We cannot ignore the cry of the oppressed. Would you stand with me by joining the Broejtes in prayer? Would you join World Relief in speaking up for immigration reform? Justice begins with a commitment. Take a risk today.
Stephan Bauman is the President and CEO for World Relief, where he leads approximately 2,500 staff in 20 nations in the organization’s mission to “empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.” You can follow him on Twitter at @stephanjbauman and read his blog.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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