Associated Churches first became acquainted with the Clinic through their mutual service. “Because we serve a diverse population, the Clinic was already doing ministry in the same places that we were,” says Roger. “We were providing emergency food relief for the food bank and the Clinic was providing intake at the same location.” This put the Legal Clinic on Associated Churches’ radar, and thus, a new relationship was borne.
For some time, Mario and his friend were harassed by a local Narco group led by the town’s own Mayor. “[The Mayor] tries to recruit all the boys to be murderers and vigilantes for him,” says Rachel. But Mario and his friend both resisted. This refusal came at a high price, and when Mario was only 16, the Narcos killed his friend in front of him. Mario barely escaped with his life.
Janet found the face-to-face meetings with clients during intake to be especially transformative, their needs frequently going beyond the scope of what legal assistance could provide. Although she was able to offer them her legal expertise, their stories were often filled with dark and difficult chapters. “In some cases, we met the face of profound despair,” Janet says. “This is the humanizing encounter and one where Jesus has called us to be present.”
On Wednesday mornings, clients at the Clinic can fill out a small form if they would like prayer. At times, the language barrier complicates things, but Christine trusts the Holy Spirit to guide her. For one woman in particular, Christine felt a powerful need for safety, and so she prayed for a hedge of protection. She then learned more of the woman’s story, which included sexual abuse, drug trafficking, and much danger. Christine says Kathleen told her, “This is not an atypical story.”
Due to recent events, the Clinic hopes to clarify and provide information to the public and our supporters regarding refugees. In the upcoming days, we’ll be sharing stories of just a few of the clients we have come to know and appreciate on social media, so be sure to like us on Facebook. We’ll also be sharing more information about why the Clinic serves refugees and why we believe this work is an important part of our mission.
While Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s main office is located in Indianapolis, there is also a satellite office in Ft. Wayne. Desiree Koger-Gustafson serves as its Director and part-time attorney, while Cathy Warney serves as the only full-time employee. In addition to her paralegal duties, she also handles reception and coordinates volunteers. “My days are pretty crazy,” says Cathy. “I wear lots of hats.”
Lacy Panyard knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to be an attorney. But it was a study abroad trip to Mexico with her school at the age of 17 that helped determine her specialty. She says, “While I was down there, I saw people who were wealthy and who have everything they need. They’re living better than us. And then I saw the people who are 5-year-olds, out on the street, selling gum and homemade goods because they don’t have food on the table.”
But to Fatima, the Clinic isn’t just an excellent employer; she believes the work the Clinic does is absolutely pivotal to the community. “I think there’s a gap in the justice system. If you get in trouble and it’s a criminal issue, you’re entitled to a public defender,” she says. “If it’s a civil matter, you basically have no protection… It puts people in a vulnerable situation when they don’t have access to an attorney.” She stresses that these already-vulnerable situations are often compounded for people by their lack of specialized knowledge about issues like immigration law, paperwork, and unknown deadlines. She believes part of her purpose in life is to help walk people through this kind of information.
Recently, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic was honored at Exodus Refugee Immigration’s Celebrate the Life Ahead gala. We were given the award for Community Partner of the Year. Elizabeth Standiford, Director of Development and Communication at Exodus, says, “[The Clinic] is a true partner in upholding human rights and you have made such a difference for refugees.”
What kinds of things might bar a refugee or immigrant from entering the United States? What is our obligation as a UN nation to helping refugees? And what role does faith play in providing services to them?
In Part 2 of our special two-part series on Immigration and Refugees, Director of Outreach & Immigration Services at Exodus Refugee Megan Hochbein and Immigrant Justice Program Staff Attorney Rachel VanTyle answer these questions and share some of their favorite moments working with refugees.