In 2013, a diverse group of Wesleyan leaders and pastors gathered to discuss ways to build relationships with and serve immigrants and refugees in their local communities around the United States. At that first gathering, it was affirmed that immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people and Jesus’ love compels Wesleyans to act as agents of Spirit-filled outreach and hospitality to all. Rather than wait for much needed immigration reform, it was decided to launch a grassroots network that would launch Department of Justice recognized immigration legal services offices and provide low cost legal services to immigrants and refugees in local communities across the country. The first Immigrant Connection site launched in February 2014. Since that time, Immigrant Connection has launched 18 DOJ recognized immigration legal services offices all hosted in local churches. Our Immigrant Connection leaders have trained over 160 other leaders and annually hosts a conference for church-based immigration legal services offices. The Immigrant Connection legal network has served over 4500 immigrant families and filed over 2800 cases. While our desire is to continue to build capacity and launch more church-based immigration legal services offices, we also want to help every church and every community learn ways to welcome and connect with immigrants and refugees. The work of Immigrant Connection has been featured in numerous national and local publications, including: The Leadership Journal, The Washington Post, Welcoming The Stranger, There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, Seeking Refuge on the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis, and Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.
Zach Szmara is the National Director of Immigrant Connection. He has been a Department of Justice accredited legal representative since 2014 and has served over 1500 immigrants from 65+ nations in the 5 years he has led his local Immigrant Connection site. He also serves as the pastor of The Bridge Community Church – a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic church in Logansport, Indiana. He has spoken nationally on the topic of immigration, diaspora, multi-cultural/multi-ethnic diversity, and holistic outreach to immigrants and refugees. He is married to Lyndy, a special education teacher, and they have one son, Isaac.