How a church is welcoming migrants to Chicago with food

A former gender violence lawyer, a supervisor at a fast-food restaurant, a police officer and different migrant males joined churchgoers round tables in a basement Wednesday night time.

For most of those migrants, it’s their first time having a Thanksgiving meal.

After a bilingual service, New Life Community Church in Little Village hosted a vacation dinner for the congregation and a group of about 10 migrant males — principally asylum-seekers from Venezuela — from two completely different shelters within the metropolis.

“I forgot to say thanks to God for the turkey since I’ve never eaten turkey before. I’ve had sliced turkey, but a whole turkey, like this? No,” Jose Luis Cordero Arismendi, 49, mentioned in Spanish between chuckles.

He was carrying a brown velvet go well with for the particular dinner, throughout which full of life dialog abounded and kids ran round.

New Life Community Church and its nonprofit New Life Centers have discovered, in food, a software for community-building. This is no shock, actually, given the expertise New Life Centers has engaged on an in depth food distribution operation that feeds hundreds weekly in Chicagoland. The nonprofit additionally affords violence prevention companies to the Little Village group, together with avenue outreach, after-school care, tutoring and sports activities alternatives.

New Life Centers Executive Director Matt DeMateo mentioned the nonprofit picks up migrant households initially from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Colombia that at the moment are dwelling on the South and West Sides of the town and brings them collectively on Sundays for a church service in Spanish and for a meal afterward.

One time, a girl introduced a big bowl of pozole, a Mexican soup, DeMateo mentioned. It was sufficient to feed over 150 individuals.

“For us, it’s not about the food. The food is the hook. The food is the entryway, kind of the door,” he mentioned. “But for us, it’s about the relationships and connecting them to community.”

Sometimes after Sunday service, Pastor Chris Ophus will discover migrants depart to have lunch with native households, a few of whom are Hispanic or Latino. The migrants are in a position to join with each other and with these households, he mentioned, over comparable experiences of coming to the United States in hopes of a higher life.

“What’s cool is, because there’s so many people who are at different points during the immigrant story: people who came 20 years ago and whose kids are going to college right now; people who are pretty recent, but have got themselves settled; and other people who just got here,” Ophus mentioned. “I think we’re able to give hope to the people who are coming.”

Sitting at a desk with a handful of fellow migrants on Wednesday, Cordero Arismendi shared a bit about his life. He was a lawyer again in Venezuela earlier than he moved to Colombia in 2014. This year, he migrated to the United States, crossing seven nation borders and arriving in Chicago on a bus from Texas two months in the past.

He survived disease-carrying mosquitoes, contaminated consuming water, an armed theft, the warmth and scorching solar, and plenty of different challenges on his method north.

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“Chicago is the city that opened its doors to me — and it’s the city I don’t want to leave,” he mentioned.

Cordero Arismendi mentioned he had a lot to be glad about: He had simply realized Loyola University would validate his legislation diploma if he fulfills sure requisites, comparable to attaining a sure stage of English proficiency.

The Venezuelan males on the desk subsequent to Cordero Arismendi’s included a former cop, a mechanic and a machine operator. Some of them wished to cool down in Chicago, some wished to return dwelling finally. But all of them had one factor in widespread: They had come to the United States in hopes of doing sincere work.

“I like the city,” mentioned Jhean Carlos Paez, 25, a Venezuelan who initially moved to Colombia, the place he was a supervisor at a joint that offered hamburgers and scorching canines. He mentioned he needs to keep in Chicago and hopes to examine business administration. “I come with that goal of bettering myself,” he added in Spanish.

At the top of the dinner, Pastor Francisco “Paco” Amador led a prayer with the group of males, asking God to assist them make Chicago a higher place.

“These are people that are displaced, that are hurting … They’ve been put through a lot, but they’re driven for a better life,” Mark Jobe, founding pastor of New Life Community Church and president of the Moody Bible Institute, had advised the Tribune. “These are people that are really just trying to survive.”

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