Companions on the journey


Companions on the journey
Companeros de Camino Sunday focuses on young adults who have lived in the United States since they were very young and now wish to attend college.

By Wendy Healy

On May 4, as ELCA congregations recall the Luke 24:13-35 text, the well-known road to Emmaus story, congregations in the ELCA South Dakota Synod will take the less traveled route called Companeros de Camino.

The Spanish translation means companions “along the way,” or “on the journey,” and the South Dakota Synod hopes to engage as many congregations and communities as possible on this special Sunday to learn about the lives of immigrants who are our companions on the way. The activities and worship resources pay particular attention to young adults who have lived here undocumented since they were very young and now desire to attend college.

“Companeros de Camino Sunday is a time to connect the road to Emmaus story with the new U.S. Deferred Action legislation that provides a path to education,” said Jeanette Clark, mission developer and pastor serving Pueblos de Dios in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jeanette hopes that all Lutheran congregations embrace the biblical connection between Jesus welcoming orphans, widows and strangers, and walking with immigrants today. “We need to support youth and adults as they try to make their way in the United States.”

South Dakota, as is the case with a number of states, receives new immigrants — documented and undocumented — every day, particularly in areas with improving employment rates and growing economies.

A new ministry, a new idea

The idea for Companeros de Camino came from conversations among South Dakota synodical leaders and Pueblo de Dios, a new ministry under development that reaches out to the Latino community and works in close partnership with Augustana Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls.

Jeanette has been pastor at Pueblo de Dios for the past 18 months. Set in a diverse neighborhood, their Spanish-language and bilingual ministry draws mostly first-generation immigrants and their children.

“The Spanish-speaking population in the area has grown substantially in the past eight years,” said Jeanette, “now estimated at 8,000 to 12,000 residents, so it’s a really growing area.”

She says the goal of Companeros de Camino is to raise awareness for Deferred Action federal legislation. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that children of immigrants who came to this country under the age of 16 are not at risk of being removed and can attend college.

Bill Tesch, director for evangelical mission in the South Dakota Synod, carries a keen sense of relationship between the present and future when it comes to the implications of Deferred Action for young immigrants. “I believe that following Jesus means seeing past issues and complications to the person that God has put right in front of us. That’s what Jesus did every time,” said Bill.

“Each Wednesday evening my wife and daughter and I are blessed to be placed in the midst of six middle and high school-aged boys, several of whom could one day benefit from Deferred Action. They love hearing the story of God, and they dream about their future. Together we can help countless kids like them realize their dreams.”

The invitation goes beyond South Dakota

The South Dakota Synod has invited congregations and synods throughout the country to join with it and has posted downloadable resources on the synod’s website, including a liturgy, a biblical and theological reflection, preaching helps, bulletin inserts and giving envelopes.

The resources also include a video by Erika, an 18-year-old who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was 8 and whose last name was withheld for the video. A beneficiary of Deferred Action, Erika discusses how she graduated from high school and is going to college to study business management. She shares her feelings of fear, coming to a new country with no friends, and having to weather cold South Dakota winters. In her emotional story, Erika says she’s glad she’s here now, because she “wants to be something.”

Special offerings from Companeros de Camino Sunday will be used, said Jeanette, to help defray college application costs for Deferred Action students, which can often exceed $450.

“People of faith can disagree,” said Bill, “but quite apart from the politics of this issue, we hope that we can all see the real human need and the opportunity to make a life-changing difference in the lives of these amazing young companions on our way.”

Jeanette hopes that this Sunday will be a conversation-starter and will help allay people’s fears and prejudices.

“Jesus welcomes those rejected by others — the orphans, the widows and strangers. We’re called to welcome our immigrant brothers and sisters and walk in solidarity with them. It’s a biblical call connected to our lives,” said Jeanette.

Wendy Healy is an ELCA member, owner of Griffin Communications in Danbury, Conn., and author of “Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11.”

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