Several years ago, Rene Ticas watched helplessly as his son Elmer, his uncle, and his friend—all from El Salvador—were arrested by police in Miami, Fla., for immigration violations. Salvadoran by birth, Ticas had come to the U.S. with a work permit, but the three other men were in the country without documentation. As the three men were taken away, Ticas prayed and reminded himself “God is in control,” a thought that had crossed his mind 14 years before, when he left his home country in search of better economic opportunities in the U.S.
Soon thereafter, Ticas called Pastor Valentin Fontanez at Refugio Eterno Brethren in Christ Church (Lake Worth, Fla.), where Ticas’ family attends and Elmer was the main pianist in the worship band.
Fontanez pointed Ticas to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast’s South Florida Immigration Program, which offers affordable, Christian legal counsel to members of Anabaptist churches in the area. Immigration attorney Rachel Díaz, a member of La Roca Firme BIC Church (Hialeah, Fla.), and a consultant for MCC East Coast, took the cases of Rene Ticas’ son and uncle. Their friend was deported.
Díaz pled their cases before a judge, who allowed both of them to be released while their cases continued in the courts. Though the uncle’s asylum case was denied and a deportation order was issued, Elmer Ticas fared better. He was able to complete high school in 2012 and received a temporary work permit, allowing him to remain legally in the U.S. and to continue worshipping at Refugio Eterno BIC.
Meanwhile, Pastor Valentin—who is thankful his pianist is back playing for the church—continues to help those who are undocumented, which includes at least half of his 70-member congregation. “It’s not fair to talk about Jesus if people can’t see how Jesus is reflected in what we do,” he says. “I can preach to you, but I can also walk with you. Jesus preached but he also gave food and healed the ill.”
Adapted from a 2014 story by Mimi Copp Johnson, MCC East Coast