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What I’ve learned from Working with Young Immigrants

Children often feel as if they are straddling two worlds

• Family mores are often in direct opposition to American mores. Here is a scenario I ran into several times. A young woman has grown up in the United States, attending public schools. She reaches the age when she wants to date as her peers do, and she is thinking about life after high school. Straddling two cultures, she struggles to understand her place in this world. Her father doesn’t allow his daughter to date and doesn’t want her to attend college. Conflict ensues, the arguments may become physical, and often the girl runs away.

• Sex trafficking is a huge issue in immigrant communities, and Southwest Florida is no exception. Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights developed an excellent overview of the sex trade in Southwest Florida: “Florida Responds to Human Trafficking.”

As a Christ-follower, I believe the only hope for the human heart and real change comes not from a social or educational institution but through a personal relationship with Christ and experiencing community in the local church. After working with this population, my fervent prayer became “God, please send someone into these communities to plant life-giving churches.”

Many churches with large immigrant populations in their communities have started adopting blocks within these communities. My own church has adopted several blocks where every Saturday morning, people volunteer to cook breakfast on designated streets, do crafts and sports games with the kids, and develop relationships with families. As a result, many people have accepted Christ as their Savior and are attending our Spanish-language services.

After working with this population for years, my capacity to love increased. My love for these young people challenged my Christian walk. What I learned was that as a Christ follower, I am called to love people where they’re at, just as Christ loves me, no matter someone’s ethnicity or legal status. I also realized that I don’t have to go overseas to find a mission field. I have one right here in my own community.

Julia Mateer is a writer, speaker, therapist, and director of women’s small groups at Bayside Community Church. You can connect with Julia on her website.

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