Sharla Gottschalk's initial response to her pastor's sermon two years ago was, "Oh, no, Lord."
As Rev. Dwight Nash talked about immigrants on that Sunday morning at Sent Church in Plano, Tex., her chest became increasingly heavy. A long-time Christian, Sharla knew God was speaking to her and wanted her to get involved.
But the middle-aged mother of two and former school teacher thought God had the wrong person.
“I was not the obvious choice,” Sharla said. “The only language I know [other than English] is sign language.” Her two daughters were in college and she planned to return to the classroom to teach elementary-aged students.
Sharla chose to be obedient. After that initial nudge, she became certified to run the Immigrant Connection center at Sent Church, 30 minutes north of downtown Dallas.
“I am able to leave seeds of how Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves [in Mark 12:31],” Sharla explains. “It makes me happy every time I am able to share. Who knows if they are hearing that from anyone else?”
As God continues to challenge and encourage her, Sharla loves digging into God’s Word to fully understand his heart for immigrants. Others’ hearts are being changed in the process too. One gentleman approached her with negativity about her involvement with Immigrant Connection. She encouraged him to seek God through Bible reading and prayer. Ultimately, God revealed to him that his own citizenship was in heaven and he felt God telling him, “If you can help someone find temporary citizenship here, you can point that person to eternal, heavenly citizenship."
“I did not expect to learn a whole new field, but it’s fun!” she said. “This is God–whatever he calls us to, he equips us. When you’re doing just what God asks you to do, you find great joy from it.”
In Oklahoma City, Rev. Nathan Hedge and his May Avenue Wesleyan Church congregation are responding to the changing ethnic landscape in the city and themselves. Rev. Hedge credits the church’s Immigrant Connection site as the main catalyst.
Department of Justice approval for May Avenue began in October 2015, and clients arrived for legal services two months later. Located on the southwest side of Oklahoma’s capital city, May Avenue is a small church situated in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
What used to be a monoethnic church is now multiethnic, with English-speaking and Spanish-speaking services.
More than 150 clients from 28 countries have walked through May Avenue’s doors seeking legal services. Opportunities to communicate the gospel have multiplied.
One client said during a consultation that she did not believe in prayer. However, when Rev. Hedge asked if he could pray for her, she said yes.
Another client moved to the United States on a fiancée visa. After getting married, she experienced spousal abuse. Her husband withdrew support, and she is trying desperately to find a way to survive in the U.S. legally. Walking with her is May Avenue Wesleyan Church.
Rev. Hedge knows he has a sacred opportunity to communicate Christ’s love whether it’s through the client Christmas party, local newspaper interviews, or participating in a local rally to raise awareness for immigrants.
He is especially thankful for the impact Immigrant Connection is having on his family. His four children, ages 14, 12, 11, and 9, are aware of what Immigrant Connection is all about.
My kids share in the joy of helping people from so many places,” said Rev. Hedge. “They are developing a heart to help immigrants know Christ..."
“We’re helping people who need legal help and who can’t afford a lawyer,” said one daughter. The youngest two children oversee organizing and restocking the toy box that sits in the Immigrant Connection office so clients’ children have something to play with during their parents’ consultations.
“My kids share in the joy of helping people from so many places,” said Rev. Hedge. “They are developing a heart to help immigrants know Christ because of Immigrant Connection at May Avenue.”
Immigrant Connection is one way The Wesleyan Church (TWC) is transforming lives, churches, and communities. National Director Zach Szmara defines Immigrant Connection as, “a network of Wesleyans envisioning the Spirit of God bringing immigrants and churches together to cultivate relationships, share resources, and provide legal services.” Szmara also pastors The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind.
“Immigrant Connection serves all categories of people,” said Szmara. “We don’t have just one type of client. We help undocumented individuals. We also help those with green cards (legal permanent residents) renew them or apply for citizenship. We help refugees adjust status and become green card holders. We help them apply on behalf of spouses and children. Sometimes we help U.S. citizens apply for an immigrant spouse or their children or other family.”
There are 14 Department of Justice-recognized Immigrant Connection offices within TWC and 20 accredited Wesleyan representatives working in them.
“Wesleyan sites have served thousands of immigrants from over 70 countries who come to a local church to receive help, truth, and understanding about a very complicated journey that is usually filled with confusion, animosity, and mistruths,” Szmara added.
“We become beacons of hope for a restored future in our communities.”
Immigration Site Map
See how dozens of Wesleyan churches are transforming their communities by offering low-cost legal services and the love of Jesus Christ to their immigrant neighbors.See the map