Grassroots advocates across the country are working hard to remove unjust and unwelcoming legislation. GeoRene Jones, a Glocal Ministry Team Facilitator at St John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salisbury, North Carolina is part of a team of these tireless advocates. Recently, a resolution was adopted in her county calling on the federal government to stop allowing undocumented immigrants, including children, to stay in the United States. GeoRene and the Glocal Team quickly mobilized Lutheran leaders to advocate against the resolution, and for compassion and mercy.
GeoRene spoke with LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern Erin Phelps about her team’s actions in the interview, below.
Erin Phelps (EP): What was the public discourse around the issue of unaccompanied children leading up to the introduction and passage of the resolution?
GeoRene Jones (GJ): For the past year the Rowan County Board of County Commissioners has faced intense public scrutiny due to numerous controversial decisions, policies, and expenditures. Many decisions were made in direct opposition to well-publicized public opinion and citizen attention is now focused on Board deliberations like never before. Interestingly, the issue enjoyed no prior political attention. The member of our team who alerted us about the resolution said she thought it strange, particularly since there was no prior discussion, and certainly no request for action from any citizens.
EP: When you heard about the resolution, what was your response?
GJ: The member immediately pulled a copy of the resolution document and sent it to members of our GLocal Ministry Team. The team quickly mobilized, raising awareness of the document and requests for Lutherans to show up and speak against the resolution during the legally mandated period for public comment offered at regular Commissioner Meetings.
EP: How did you mobilize others in your community?
GJ: The team sent email pleas to members, friends, local political action groups, and to various staff of Lutheran Services of the Carolinas (LSC). Reverend Rhodes Woolley, our Senior Pastor, and Ted Goins, CEO of LSC helped get the word out and both testified at the hearing. In all, about 40 citizens attended, 25 of whom were there in response to our invitation. Seven Lutherans spoke against the measure.
EP: What was the message you brought in your public comments?
GJ: Honestly? The Holy Spirit “brought the message” in that each speaker’s comments flowed beautifully from one to the next. Others spoke to the political issues, the need for compassion in our public responses to the needs of others. One speaker asked, “What would Jesus do?” yet another, “…what would YOU do if you were one of those desperate to find safety for their children?”
EP: As people of faith, what do you feel is your role in addressing the issue of unaccompanied children in your community?
GJ: We recognize the public political arena is simply one venue where people of faith can and should lift the prophetic voice of the Church, bringing Gospel message through thought, word, and deed. Our team’s actions are guided by our Strategic Plan, which includes initiatives aimed at breaking the stranglehold of poverty (25%) in Rowan County as we integrate ourselves in creative ways into the life of our Community. We see ourselves as the “little lump of leaven”: we are agents of change through which the Kingdom of God breaks into this age, and in Rowan County in particular.
EP: What do you plan to do next?
GJ: Last night, we hosted a special viewing of the documentary, Which Way Home, which documents the crisis from the perspective of the children. Our hope is this is a way to open the dialogue about the crisis, why it is a humanitarian issue, and how we can pursue compassionate responses at every turn. The first weekend of October will be all about Glocal Missions, with another movie. On Worldwide Communion Sunday, we’ll have learning stations set up with details about other global ministries we support as well as opportunities right here in Rowan County.
EP: What challenges do you anticipate you will face?
GJ: No doubt misinformation on the situation has engendered bigotry and irrational fears about the children and why they are here. There is a lot of energy for “doing something” proactive for the children themselves but faith-based agencies cannot get access to the children who are living in unconscionable conditions. Just as none of us want to sleep on a mat on the floor of an airplane hangar, next to a portable public toilet, it’s frustrating to us knowing that is exactly what these children are enduring.
EP: Do you have any advice for other Lutherans facing similar sentiments in their communities?
GJ: People of faith who seek what God is doing among us will, when armed with the truth in the form of fact-based information, be instantly drawn by the Spirit’s tether to find ways to help. The trick is matching the desire to serve with the opportunity, and that’s where LIRS has been a huge help for us. The resources on the website are enough to set energy in motion. In short: PRAY, GET THE FACTS, and LET THE SPIRIT ROLL!