“Hope is a Success Story”
by Eileen Kinch
Eglise Solidarité et Harmonie (Solidarity and Harmony Church), a Mosaic congregation in Philadelphia, PA, has a special missional outreach: the congregation holds clinics to help Haitian immigrants complete immigration-related paperwork. These sessions provide assistance in how to apply for a permit to work in the US.
Providing legal aid clinics was initially an outgrowth of Pastor Benjamin Toussaint’s work with Parents as Teachers (PAT), an organization that provides in-home visits to help parents understand early childhood development. In this setting, Pastor Benjamin noticed some families experienced a lot of stress when it came to filling out their immigration paperwork. He decided to do something to help.
Pastor Benjamin spoke with ChiChi Oguekwe of Mennonite Central Committee, who recommended some attorneys who were willing to work pro bono or for low fees. These attorneys help families to apply for work permits and green cards, as well as to begin the process of filing for political asylum.
Eventually this legal aid ministry became an outreach of the Eglise Solidarité et Harmonie. Now families request appointments, and legal clinics take place on Monday evenings at the church building. Attorneys and people from the church assist with paperwork throughout the evening. Pastor Benjamin coordinates the program, and the church disperses the funds to attorneys and interpreters.
Eventually Pastor Benjamin saw that, in addition to legal aid, recent immigrants needed assistance with furniture and clothing, so he brought families to the Care and Share Thrift Shoppes in Souderton, PA, a Conference Related Ministry. The Care and Share Thrift Shoppes have extensive experience with refugee resettlement, and staff give several hours of individualized attention to each family.
“Care and Share embraces us and receives us,” said Pastor Benjamin. “They show the love of Christ, and people can see it.” After staff spent three or four hours helping one family furnish an apartment, Pastor Benjamin asked if he could pray a prayer of blessing with the staff, including Sarah Bergin, Executive Director of Care and Share, in gratitude for their ministry.
The immigrant family and Care & Share staff held hands, prayed, and sang a song. “It was a nice way for us to connect at the end,” remarked Bergin. “We’re in this together.”
Pastor Benjamin estimates that about 40 people have received help through the church’s legal aid program in the past year. Many of these people now worship at Eglise Solidarité et Harmonie, and the building is full and overflowing with 100 attenders. The congregation needs a larger space, and Pastor Benjamin is actively seeking one that will meet the congregation’s needs.
Along with finding a larger meeting space, Pastor Benjamin has many other hopes and dreams. He would like to start a program in which immigrant families would volunteer at Care and Share, and he also plans to organize an entry-level English class in the fall.
Working with the immigrant population has its challenges and stresses. Thirty people are currently waiting for legal help, and more people will be emigrating. But Pastor Benjamin points out successes, too. More people are now working and supporting themselves.
Most important, though, is that Haitian immigrants have hope. “Hope is a success story,” Pastor Benjamin said. Christ is present and helping in so many ways.
Eileen Kinch is a writer and editor for the Mosaic communication team. She holds a Master of Divinity degree, with an emphasis in the Ministry of Writing, from Earlham School of Religion. She and her husband, Joel Nofziger, who serves as director of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, live near Tylersport, PA. They attend Methacton Mennonite Church. Eileen is also a member of Keystone Fellowship Friends Meeting in Lancaster County.