Mission work and ministry are taking on a dizzying array of new looks in the 21st century.
Just ask Greg and Sue Smith, Baptist missionaries who spent years performing traditional mission work in Latin America before opening a ministry serving the Latino immigrant community in Fredericksburg, Va.
The language and compassion skills the Cooperative Baptist field personnel gained abroad served them well at LUCHA Ministries, which they formed in 2004 to meet the material, social and spiritual needs of their clients.
But the husband-and-wife team admits they ventured into new territory last week when they launched a legal services ministry for immigrants in the region.
Greg Smith underwent a 40-hour legal training program and is now an accredited representative through the federal Board of Immigration Appeals.
Sue Smith and LUCHA’s Student.Go intern are currently seeking the same status. With it, they can represent clients in limited ways before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, help defer the deportation process for qualified applicants, help others obtain green cards or even seek legal permanent residency. They can also file applications for immigrants who want to travel outside the United States.
The Board of Immigration Appeals is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and is the top administrative body for applying and interpreting immigrant law, according to the DOJ website.
The board also accredits nonprofits and ministries to offer legal services for immigrants.
The ministry has access to local attorneys when necessary and has received backing from World Relief for technical legal support, Sue Smith said.
Getting all those pieces in place hasn’t been easy. The Smiths have been in the application process for more than two years and no doubt the training and workload that lies ahead will be demanding, she said, but also worth it.
“The one area where we can clearly make a lasting difference in people’s lives is in giving them the possibility of achieving legal status,” she said. “It helps them come out of the shadows.”
Legal rights also keep families together, she added.
“It changes everything for them — for their families, for their children and for their extended families.”
‘It feels organic’
Antonella Membreno knows all about that.
The 22-year-old Student.Go intern at LUCHA came to the United States from Nicaragua amid great uncertainty when she was about 9.
The family became a client of LUCHA, which provided interpretive services, food, clothing and rides, Membreno said. She was able to attend Passport camps through the ministry.
Now she’s helping out in the legal ministry by scheduling appointments, making follow-up calls and other administrative tasks. She hopes to join Greg Smith in becoming an accredited representative through the Board of Immigration Appeals.
“It feels organic, natural” to be involved with the legal ministry, Membreno said. “I have seen it so long working with LUCHA and knowing that this was needed, it wasn’t a question.”
Sharing Christ through legal services
Much of the inspiration for the Smiths was the Isaac Project in Texas, Greg Smith said.
The project is an initiative by the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It provides assistance in obtaining immigration law training and offers immigrants, literacy, education, citizenship and other services, according to its website.
Its director, Jesus Romero, helped the Smiths see how they could launch their own program, Greg Smith said.
The couple also has come to see how working in the administration-heavy legal field is still mission work in the full sense.
Providing immigration legal services is a vehicle for mission because it is just another way of reaching people with the presence of Christ, he said. It shows people that God cares for them in their daily lives and even through their legal challenges — not just on Sunday mornings.
“Mission isn’t something you do apart from the other things you do. It should also inform all the other things you do,” he said.