Prayer vigil fortifies detained immigrant’s family

The Rev. Scott Friedgen-Veitch, of Haws Avenue UMC in Norristown, speaks with Pilar Molina, whose detained husband faced an immigration interview April 10 that may lead to his deportation or his eventual return to his family. The church hosted a prayer vigil Sunday night, April 6, to seek justice and mercy for undocumented and detained immigrants.

Cuando el pueblo del Señor alaba a Dios
suceden cosas, suceden cosas maravillosas
Hay sanidad, liberación, se siente la benedición

(When the people of the Lord begin to pray
God will start doing, God will start doing marvelous things,
God’s spirit flows, healing begins and we live in liberty.)

El pueblo, the people, gathered on a cool Sunday night, April 6, at a United Methodist church in Norristown, Pa., for their “Prayer Vigil on Behalf of Immigrant Families.” Their songs were lively, their testimonies poignant and their prayers ever hopeful that God would do something marvelous.

Those prayers, among nearly 80 people who came to Haws Avenue UMC, were lifted for one family especially: a mother and two young daughters whose husband and father may soon be deported, depending on the outcome of an immigration interview to be conducted Thursday morning, April 10.

Pilar Molina came to the prayer vigil as she had promised and briefly told of her travails since her husband of 10 years, Israel Resendiz Hernandez, was arrested and detained for being undocumented  by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in January. Her daughters Caitlin, 9, and Arian, 3, both born on U.S. soil, were at home.

Molina, who turned 29 Friday, April 4, said she does not know anything but life in the U.S. Brought here illegally by her parents at age 7, she does not face deportation due to President Obama’s two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

“When is Daddy coming home?”

She works 10 hours a day at a tiny neighborhood store near the church that she and her husband own and where they used to work together. She hardly sees her children, she said, because she works so many long hours. Her mother helps care for the two children, but they constantly ask, “When is Daddy coming home?”

Hernandez’s interview Thursday, rescheduled from Monday, will determine if he goes before a judge who is known to be tough and unforgiving, Molina says. She fears that means almost certain deportation. She will have to go with him, but is torn about leaving her mother.

UPDATE: Israel Resendiz Hernandez of Norristown, Pa., who has been detained in a York County jail since January, was interviewed by U.S. immigration officials Thursday, April 10, to determine if he will face a judge and possible deportation back to Mexico. His wife, Pilar Molina, informed the Rev. Esdras Seda, EPA Latino Ministries Coordinator, that the interview went well, but it may take about a week to get a decision. If the decision is favorable, Hernandez’ attorney feels he may be freed on bond and can begin applying for legal status, although the process can take a year or more to complete.

Hernandez, an independent construction contractor, has been deported before and was caught by the U.S. Border Patrol in January reentering the country from Mexico after attending his father’s funeral there. He joined other detainees on a 19-day hunger strike in February to protest their status. He claims fear of persecution and threats of kidnapping if he returns to his country.

Eyes glistened with tears across the quiet, soft-lit sanctuary as Molina spoke Sunday night. She said she remembered how hard it was growing up without her father, and now she can’t bear to see her daughter endure that same struggle. But if they are forced to leave, her mother will be left alone here because Molina’s sister died from cancer a few years ago.

“God will deliver us.”

She admitted her daughters are taking it very hard and don’t understand why this is happening. But she thanked those gathered for their support and prayers, and she expressed confidence that,  “God will deliver us.”

An offering resulted in small baskets overflowing with nearly $700 that would be given to Molina and her family. The Rev. Scott Friedgen-Veitch, Haws Avenue UMC’s pastor, promised Molina his support. “God will work things out,” she told him after the service. “All I need is faith in God.”

Such steadfast faith and determination is what Bishop Peggy Johnson preached about passionately, as she drew upon Jesus’ parable of the persistent woman who pleaded with a stubborn, unjust judge to give her justice (Luke 18:1-9).

“This parable…can remind us of the power of persistent prayer and God’s heart for justice,” she taught, recalling other examples of strong, prayerful women who stubbornly sought justice. “God will grant justice to those who cry out to him day and night. That’s a promise!”

We can pray it in!”

Joined there by other EPA Conference leaders, she urged the congregation to prayerfully “imagine a Latino new church start in Norristown, and imagine that the immigration laws in this country can change. We can pray it in!”

In Norristown, where Molina graduated from high school, Mexican immigrants now make up more than 22 percent of the total population of over 34,000. But among the many large, historic, stone-walled churches dotting the streets there, few have successfully welcomed and created a home for their Latino neighbors to join them in worship, fellowship and ministry.

“This is a great way for us to reach out into this community,” said Friedgen-Veitch, whose predominantly white Anglo church hosted a conference training event March 15 to help non-Latino churches like his develop successful ministries with the growing Hispanic communities in their midst. “I believe partnering with our conference’s Latino Commission has been a blessing and offers a new beginning for the life of our church.”

“When Gods people unite in prayer many wonderful things can happen,” said the Rev. Esdras Seda, the EPA Conference’s Latino Ministries Coordinator, who organized the training event with other Latino clergy.  At his invitation, Pilar Molina came and spoke to that earlier gathering too about her ordeal and her faith, and then those gathered laid hands on her and prayed for her family.

“Let’s keep this family and all the families going through similar circumstances in prayer,” said Seda after today’s news.

By John Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director