A ministry of open arms
As Christians, we are called by God to accept the Hispanic strangers in our land.by Celia Lehman
Raul and Vanita Tadeo never know what to expect when their phone rings. Why?
In the past they felt God’s call to go to Mexico to evangelize people. They moved back to Dalton, Ohio, in 1992. That is when the phone started ringing.
Haroldo Nunes (left) welcomes a young man to worship. Photo provided.
Many calls came from migrants from Spanish-speaking countries who could not speak English. Word got out that the Tadeos were fluent in both languages, and their telephone number became busy. Not only could the Tadeos communicate, they were willing to help. They realized it was a way to meet people’s spiritual and physical needs not only in Wayne and Holmes counties but in Mexico as well.
Life can be difficult for people who understand little or no English and have no one to interpret for them. Their needs encompass many areas:
• legal papers
• mechanical problems
• working with local authorities
• interpreting and translating.
These are common requests being addressed by a loving pastor and devoted wife. What do they do about it?
Juanita, a registered nurse, takes pregnant women to a physician, talks to them as they sit in the waiting room and interprets what the doctor says. She cooks for and invites people for a meal, shares produce from her garden, gives those who have no place to go a place to sleep, and takes time to explain whatever people want to know.
Raul, a minister, has literature available in Spanish, talks to them about activities they’re interested in, makes connections for places to work, visits those incarcerated, talks with understanding about the difficulties the men especially face and tries to help them. He helps with the activities for various age levels such as volleyball, wiener roasts, videos or visiting.
Hispanics began attending Salem Mennonite Church, Wooster, Ohio, which the Tadeos attend. After church, the Hispanic group wanted to spend the afternoon together. At first they went to the Tadeos’ home for lunch. As the group grew, families took turns hosting the group, and now a carry-in meal is held the last Sunday of each month in the church.
In 2001, a group of men sensed the need of getting involved in this ministry. They made contact with some of the Mennonite churches in the area for a financial stipend. That is when the Open Arms Ministry began. This ministry provided financial help but also helped people find employment, receive English lessons and solve other pertinent needs.
Many people became involved in the Open Arms Ministry. An Amishman has hired many workers for his furniture industry, farmers have employed workers, individuals have started English classes, employers in larger industries hire workers, and people donate Spanish books and money for Bibles to be handed out.
In 2004, Raul coordinated a retreat at Camp Luz that included fellowship, worship and Bible teaching for Hispanics from neighboring areas. A total of 119 from various Mennonite churches of Ohio came.
With growing numbers of people involved, Raul needed assistance. He spoke to Haroldo Nunes of the North Clinton Mennonite Church in Wauseon, Ohio, and invited him to come help with the work in this area. Raul knew Haroldo felt a call to ministry among Hispanics. Haroldo accepted the invitation and moved to Orrville, Ohio, with Esmirna, his wife, and their two children, Gabriel and Paulo. Baby Laura was born here five years ago.
Now in the Salem Church, two groups worship simultaneously each Sunday morning. When a minister preaches in English, interpretation is given via wireless equipment through earphones worn by Spanish-speaking worshipers. When preaching is in Spanish, the interpretation is given in English. Choruses and hymns are projected on a screen in both languages. One Sunday’s attendance included 27 Spanish-speaking and 34 English-speaking people.
In 2007, the Willing Hearts, a group of church leaders and pastors, came together to sponsor mission projects in the Ohio Conference. One was a mission festival for Open Arms Hispanic Ministries. It was called an intercultural fiesta and brought Hispanics and non-Hispanics together for a time of fellowship and food. This event has continued and grown in attendance.
Due to problems in other countries, people have been forced into exile. They come to the United States to find a new life in the land of opportunity. To the Hebrew people who knew what it meant to be strangers and exiles, God sent a message: “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
As Christians, we, too, are called by God to accept the Hispanic strangers in our land. Not only should we open our homes and tables to welcome them but open our hearts and minds and open arms.
Celia Lehman is a member of Kidron (Ohio) Mennonite Church.
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