FRANKFORT, Ind. – The St. Matthew United Methodist Church Mission Committee recently became aware that Cosecha Latina Pastor Miguel Garza was an undocumented immigrant, even though he has been in the United States for more than 20 years and has been applying for a green card for 10 years.

Garza’s immigration lawyer encouraged the Mission Committee to use Garza as a poster child for immigration reform. He is an excellent model who is highly regarded in the community as a servant of God, with a son who is in the U.S. military and a daughter who is a Spanish interpreter for the local courts.

St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Frankfort has a long history of being involved with Hispanic Ministries. Frankfort, with a population of approximately 15,000 residents, has a large percentage of Hispanics. The public school system has reached a population of nearly 50 percent Hispanic children and youth.

Hispanic people originally came as migrant workers to work in the tomato fields around Frankfort. Many of them stayed and became part of the community, raising their families so that second and third generations are U.S. citizens.

Cosecha Latina United Methodist Church was founded by St. Matthew United Methodist Church and has continued as a mission church under its auspices.

Service of prayer, compassion

The Mission Committee held a service of prayer and compassion Sunday, May 4, to show Christian support and to raise awareness of the need for social action. The Rev. Michelle Cobb, Superintendent of the North Central District, presented the official position of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church on immigration rights.

Pastor Josh Burkholder of St. Paul Lutheran Church joined with the support of his congregation.

Eileen Ridgeway, representing the Social Justice Committee of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, reported, “St. Mary has Mass for more than 400 Hispanics each Sunday afternoon. Attendees are not questioned whether they are documented or not. They are all children of God.”

During the service, Michelle Grismer, director of the Purdue Extension Office, the Rev. Barbara Kinsler, chaplain of Wesley Manor, Charles Good and the Rev. Michael Lawson, associate pastor of St. Matthew UMC, joined the Garza family leading worshipers in rousing, up-lifting Hispanic music.

Louis Sandos of the Rossville Presbyterian Church sang a solo in Spanish. Songs were presented in sign language by Debbie Russell.

Social advocacy

The Rev. Matt Landry, Indiana United Methodist Conference Social Advocacy Team chairperson and pastor of Winamac UMC, spoke of being involved in demonstrations against deportation in Chicago and gave a moving story about how he had become involved in the lives of the Hispanic individuals.

St. Luke and North UMCs of Indianapolis, Brown Street UMC in Lafayette and Bloomington UMC also were represented during the service.

In reflection and prayer, Keren Garza interpreted both from English-to-Spanish and from Spanish-to-English and gave a very moving plea as to why we need immigration reform. As the daughter of an undocumented immigrant minister and as an interpreter in the courts, she is painfully aware of the difficulties of Hispanic people to get drivers licenses, to secure proper documents to become legalized citizens and to learn the English language.

Eleanor Pershing, chair of the St. Matthew Mission Committee was asked after the service about next steps. She replied, “We have petitioned our Congressmen and we hope to engage community leaders in our efforts. Our committee, including the Garza family, is willing to speak at different churches in the (Indiana) Conference to raise awareness of the need for immigration reform. With Reverend Garza, we have a ‘face’ that makes immigration reform a very personal passion for our committee.”

St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Frankfort has a long history of being involved with Hispanic Ministries.