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We the poor — all we have is God to protect us and we put ourselves in God’s hands’


Focus during 1001 webinar is on house churches

September 28, 2020

The Rev. Elmer Zavala, pastor of the Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston, baptizes the children of families who are now feeling the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus. (Photo by Ellen Sherby)

The Rev. Elmer Zavala of the Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston in southern Louisville knows about the unusual and difficult challenges that immigrants face with COVID-19.

Many in the house church of more than 40 families work in restaurant kitchens, hotels or construction firms that have been slowed to a standstill by the coronavirus.

Nearly 50% of those in the community have lost their jobs, Zavala said — and those who are still working are earning less because they’re working fewer hours. Making matters worse, under current law, even those who have a tax ID and pay taxes are not eligible for unemployment benefits or government stimulus checks.

Zavala said that what is happening to the community he pastors, in the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, is happening in immigrant communities across the country. Recently, in raising awareness for its new church development emergency fund, the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta said that 35% of its new worshiping communities were struggling with poverty before the coronavirus hit and are currently at risk.

The media specialist for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Miranda Emery Segrest, wrote in an email that families in these Atlanta-area worshiping communities “are being hit hard, because they fall outside of the government safety net and stimulus packages as they face such things as job loss, eviction and food insecurity.”

According to Zavala, some families in the Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston who have access to benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — are hesitant to use them because they are in the process of trying to gain residency.

“They’re afraid if they’ve been getting public (assistance), it might harm their ability to get a permanent resident card,” he said.

That fear is real. Zavala has heard stories that legal immigrants with Social Security numbers are afraid to apply for benefits because doing so might harm the immigration status of a family member.

In reality, Zavala said, what is coming the rest of 2020 is going to get even more difficult for many in his community. In Kentucky and in other states, landlords can’t force renters to pay rent. Courts are not accepting new eviction filings, at least for the time being. But eventually those worshiping in the Preston Highway community and in other communities across the country will have to pay what they owe to their landlord.

“Even if their working hours get back to normal, they won’t be able to pay their accumulated debt,” Zavala said. “The bills are coming, and the situation doesn’t allow them to stay home, even if they want to.”

Calling the situation for those in the community who are not able to work “a tragedy,” Zavala overheard two members recently having a conversation that went like this: “Thank God I’m working. Are you working?” “No, I’m not working. I don’t have a job right now.”

And another man in the community told him, “We the poor don’t have the luxury of staying home. We the poor — all we have is God to protect us and we put ourselves in God’s hands. We have no other choice.”

“It made me realize how Ellen and I are so privileged,” Zavala said. “We’re having a completely different conversation.  We’re talking about how we’re not working in the same way as we were before.”

On behalf of the Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston, Mid-Kentucky Presbytery applied for and received a $7,500 COVID-19 PDA Grant. The Rev. John Odom, presbyter for Community Life, said the presbytery has already begun dispersing the money to the southern Louisville ministry.

Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  House Churches

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jenny Oldham, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Dayna Oliver, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

God of justice and peace, we mourn for our country’s growing homeless population and ask you to inspire congregations and individuals to work for affordable housing so that all your people will have a home. Amen.

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