What happens when open hearts celebrate diversity and the value of all people? Rocio Martinez can tell you. Living in Nashville, Tennessee, she had no immigration status and was about to have her first child. She visited a church that offered a summer English as a second-language (ESL) class. These classes could help her take a step forward as she continued her efforts to become a legal citizen.
She could not believe that a group of people who did not even know her would invest their time to help her. "Why are these people teaching English?" she wondered. "Who pays them?"
Martinez found the answer in a community willing to address the needs of those around them. Leaders of Hillcrest United Methodist Church knew that people in their midst wanted to learn English and simply needed someone to teach them. Hillcrest offered summer classes where people could practice their skills. One of Martinez's volunteer teachers told her she "wanted to share what God has given her with the people who are her neighbors." While church members opened their doors, her experience soon grew beyond learning to speak a language.
As people continued to show Martinez the love of Christ, she began to let go of her fears and live a very different life. Her story did not stop at English lessons. As Martinez became involved in the life of the church, she learned the congregation was collaborating with organizations that served in other ways.
Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a partner of Hillcrest United Methodist Church, provides free legal services to low-income families. Martinez, who wanted to become a lawyer, knew she could not provide legal advice. However, she could support her immigrant neighbors in other ways. Her face lit up as she talked about how she would open the doors, welcome people and just be there to listen.
The peace of mind was priceless.
The investment of time that she questioned back when she took her ESL classes was coming full circle. People were finding a place where they could talk about their experiences. Martinez described it as "a blessing." She faithfully served as a volunteer and eventually reached a point where JFON accepted her as a client by reviewing her case for status.
The day she had been waiting for so long came as she received her U Visa. Tears welled up as she told of the world of opportunities that opened to her. "I was able to drive with my kids and have no fear," she said. "I was able to tell people I am sick and not have health services tell me they were going to deny me treatment. The peace of mind was priceless."
Now Martinez is taking classes at a local community college. She even joked about pursuing an acting career. She appeared on-camera as part of "Church Can Happen Anywhere,"* a new commercial for The United Methodist Church.
When Rethink Church heard Martinez's story, we knew she had to be a part of this project. We wanted real-life stories of people connected with United Methodist churches in their area. Martinez embodies the message that The United Methodist Church stands for justice and inclusion.
Hillcrest United Methodist Church might have taught Martinez English, yet her experiences there have left her speechless. "I do not have enough words," she began. "Thank you to JFON, thank you to The United Methodist Church and thank you to my home church, Hillcrest." Her deep gratitude led to one last sentence she needed to share. After a pause, in a quiet small voice, she said, "I am telling you, I don't have enough."
*"Church Can Happen Anywhere" focuses on living one's faith beyond Sundays. Watch how others are putting their beliefs into action; then share where 'anywhere' is for you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with us. #ChurchCanHappenAnywhere