Kristi Van Nostran named Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer
October 10, 2019
During six years in El Salvador as a mission co-worker with the Joining Hands Network, Kristi Van Nostran worked to bring people to a common table and create a network to support ongoing efforts around justice and food sovereignty. Now she is working with two Southern California presbyteries to once again walk alongside her Central American brothers and sisters.
With an increase in migrants seeking asylum and Immigration and Customs Enforcement randomly releasing migrants on the street in Southern California, the presbyteries of the Pacific and San Gabriel, with financial support from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, have hired Van Nostran as Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer.
“This position is perfect for my strengths, my passions and my gifts,” she said. “There are so many congregations and individuals in Presbyterian circles that are already engaged in this work. It is already touching their hearts. They are already asking the questions — how can we best support our immigrant sisters and brothers, particularly those who are seeking asylum?
“We determined that what we need is someone to help coordinate these efforts. Pastors and presbytery staff are overextended; nobody has the bandwidth to go out and pound the pavement to find out who is doing what and how we can resource one another. I just thought, my years facilitating ministries of accompaniment have trained me to do just that.”
The two Southern California presbyteries applied for a grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and thought Van Nostran’s experience made her the perfect candidate to coordinate the program. The idea quickly became a reality.
The two presbyteries have developed a “three-pillar ministry,” first by encouraging people to open their homes for short- or long-term hosting. The second is the development of “circles of support,” which allow volunteers to offer gifts including transportation, appointment-keeping, grocery store gift cards — or just a casserole and a home visit. They also encourage visits to detention centers to offer accompaniment and spiritual support.
The third pillar is advocacy, speaking up both locally and nationally. Following the action alerts issued by the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., is a timely way to know when and how to speak out.
Since November, Van Nostran herself has been hosting Marisol, a female asylum seeker from Honduras. “I thought about how many times hospitality was extended to me and how many times I was welcomed into someone’s home in Central America and now I am able to reciprocate,” Van Nostran said. “That is very meaningful.”
The two of them often go together to talk with churches and groups about the work they are engaged in, and Van Nostran said there is a lot of misinformation about those seeking asylum. For instance, asylum seeking is a legal process requiring migrants to physically set foot on U.S. soil. They must arrive at a border and formally request asylum.
She said the churches and programs like Joining Hands work hard to build up communities to be resilient and to create opportunities — particularly for young people, so they can find purpose and gainful employment.
“You risk all by staying or you risk it all by leaving,” she said. “I think that is what many people don’t realize. We live quite comfortably in the U.S. We can’t fathom a situation where we would risk our lives, risk our children’s lives to take a journey that uncertain. That is key. No one would do that if it weren’t their last resort. I’ve heard so many times, ‘We don’t want to leave. We don’t want to leave our extended families, our homes, our land, our country, our language, our heritage, but we don’t feel like we have any other option and there is no one who will protect us here.’”
Walking with Central Americans has been Van Nostran’s life for the past 10 years. She said she finds it very fulfilling to be able to be able to do that again in this new context.
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: New Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer
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Loving God, thank you for not giving up on the church and for giving us more opportunities to serve better and love more genuinely. Amen.