My work with the Immigration Alliance recently connected me with Linda Rigby from Cape Coral Community Church, a Free Methodist congregation in Florida. Linda and her husband, David, the church’s lead pastor, emigrated from Canada in 1995 along with their three daughters. In 2017 the church opened the Community Bridge, an approved and certified Immigrant Legal Clinic that offers assistance to low-income families and/or individuals eligible for an immigration benefit.
Read on for Linda’s miraculous immigration interview testimony. Learn why her church opened a legal clinic and what has helped her connect with immigrants. My conversation with Linda brought to light many practical ways to support immigrants, even during COVID-19.
Emily: As an immigrant and a Christian seeking to share God’s love with other immigrants, could you share an inspiring story?
Linda: The story is my own immigration interview story from July 2019. This is a story that I often share with others preparing for the interview to emphasize how important it is to pray and ask for prayer when in this process.
I had been a “permanent resident” for about 24 years and decided to become an American citizen. I received notice for my interview. However, leading up to the interview, I became very sick and weak. I was so worried about the civics test especially because I was certainly off my game.
We arrived early (as is recommended). However, we were told that we were too early and had to wait. All this time I was feeling just horrible. There were television screens all around the room with the civics test questions and answers being shown continually, and, as I watched them, I began to get confused on what I had studied and fear began to take over. I started to pray, and the lines of the popular song came to my mind — “Fear Is a Liar.” I started to say these words over and over in my mind and then softly in a whisper. “Fear, you are a liar. Leave me alone. Fear you are a liar.” Well, God heard me, and I suddenly had a peace come over me, and all those feelings of fear just left, and I sat there calmly waiting my turn.
Suddenly a man came through the door who had never appeared previously and called my number! “Where did he come from?” I thought.
Anyway, I followed him, apologized for hardly having a voice at all, and went into his office. He was so kind. He asked me a few questions about myself, took my picture, etc., and then said, “Let’s do this little test. Who is the president?” All right. President Trump. “Where is the capital of Florida?” Tallahassee. “When do you have to file income taxes?” April 15. Then he said. “Oh, you know this stuff. You’re good.” I know I was shocked, and I remember thinking: Lord, this is so easy! He then closed my file and said, “You will be getting a notification for your swearing-in ceremony in about a month.” He told me how nice it was to meet me, shook my hand and walked me out of the room to the entry.
I believe with all my heart that man was an angel. He was not in the rotation of other immigration interviewers that day while I waited from 1 p.m. until 4:20 p.m. In his presence, all my symptoms of illness were gone, and the ease and miracles of my interview were unparalleled.
I was sworn in as an American citizen Sept. 13, 2019. All glory be to God.
Emily: Why did your church open a legal clinic?
Linda: There were so many people in our community that needed help. People were having difficulty with the forms, not knowing where to go, not knowing the language. We felt that there was an opportunity to minister to our community.
Emily: What has helped you connect with immigrants?
Linda: Our experiences as immigrants have helped us relate to other immigrants. Shortly after we moved to the USA, my grandmother died. We were very close and I wanted to go to her funeral, but I could not go because our paperwork had not yet been finalized. We could not cross the border. It was a very sad experience, yet it is one that I often share with immigrants who are new to America.
Emily: How has COVID-19 impacted immigrants in your community?
Linda: Right now my three adult daughters are in the process of getting citizenship. They have all used the Community Bridge. Due to COVID-19, their LPRs [lawful permanent resident status] expired before their citizenship could be finalized. Therefore, they had to pay to renew their LPRs in addition to paying for the process for naturalization. Additionally, the limbo has created stress. Not knowing when the next step will take place is difficult.
Prayer + Practice
Linda’s story reminded me of two ways we can, right now, support immigrants. Many immigrants are on the cusp of citizenship; however, their process has been paused, postponed and extended. If you know an immigrant in this process, call them and pray with them. Keep in touch with them and continue to pray for them. Offer to help them practice the questions for their exam. These are all things that you can do with as much social distancing as is needed. Anyone can do this. You do not have to be licensed, recognized or experienced.
Emily Fontenot is the communications director for the Immigration Alliance of which the Free Methodist Church – USA is a founding member. She has a balanced mixture of professional experience in nonprofit management and personal experience in church-based multiethnic ministry. She originally wrote this article for the alliance’s blog from which it is republished with permission.2