Greetings on day 7 of our Rural Immersion experience. In the morning, I woke up and turned on the TV to find the CEO of Whole Foods talking about the new book he wrote entitled, “Conscious Capitalism”. The reason I bring this up is that the idea of being conscious of who you serve and working in the spirit of mission to faithfully serve the greater good was a consistent theme through out the day.
Our first stop in Lexington was with Anna Castaneda of The Welcome Center. The Welcome Center began as a mission outreach by two congregations (one being Grace Lutheran Church who we would visit later) to help reach the immigrant community with the good news. It has since matured into a well run social ministry that accompanies immigrants through the process of moving into the desired status. If anything was apparent during the conversation, it was that Anna has forgotten more about immigration law than I could ever hope to learn. As she spoke of the complicated process of moving from immigrant to citizen, the current delays in the process, the stories of those who have been effected by the process, the tales of immigrants being taken advantage of in the process, and her sense of mission in performing her duties of helping these marginalized communities, I became convinced that her service, and others like it, would be valued in many communities.
We moved then to Lexington High School were we saw the effects of immigration at the school setting. While being forewarned by others of a school marred with gang activity and violence, what we saw was the exact opposite. The principal, Kyle Hoehner, spent over 2 hours with us walking us to each classroom, showing us each program, answering each question we had, and, like so many during our trip, expressing a sincere concern for the community he and the schools serve. With a population that was truly diverse, where 80% of the students live below the poverty line and nearly ¼ struggle with the English language, Lexington has taken significant steps to set up academic success for students who regularly are written off in the education process. I was significantly impressed with the work of Courtney who oversees the English Learned Language program. Also impressive was hearing and seeing the successes of the Endeavor Academy, which goes above and beyond to ensure that young people like Geraldo and Jesus are valued and inspired to grow and flourish academically.
After the school, we want to Grace Lutheran Church where we were graciously welcomed by Pr. Megan Marrow, Jerry, and John. Jerry is the current mission council president and a former elementary school principle while John was a security guard at the Tyson facility. They shared about the mission of their congregation in the context of the immigrants and the resulting “white flight”. They shared how they strongly feel that the kids can help integrate immigrants through their involvement in extracurricular activities. Pastor Morrow, after expressing some of the challenges of such a drastic change in the community, said one line which I feel summarizes most of what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard during this entire trip; “You get to see God do stuff because everything is bigger than you.” As our day concluded with a tour of Lexington and a drive (again on the worst roads in the state), I reflected on that statement and appreciate how this trip has reminded me of the truth in such a comment.