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Church spearheads coordinated approach to Latino community

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Delta United Methodist Church recently hosted a "community conversation" in an effort to bring understanding and unity to a county that includes a large Latino population. The conversation was facilitated by Rev. Cesar Duran, a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

In attendance were church/mission team members, pastors from across the county, and representatives from Spanish language newspapers, Colorado Workforce Center, Delta County Health Department, Delta County Joint School District and the Hispanic Affairs Project.

All talked of "building bridges, not walls" as they sought to identify resources in the county to assist the 25 percent of the residents who are Latino.

Some are documented, some are even citizens, but there's also a large population of undocumented workers who live quietly to avoid discovery and deportation.

Not all are in the United States by choice, Rev. Duran observed. They have been forced to leave their homes and their families for a variety of reasons, including the necessity of finding work to support their loved ones.

Once here, they find that cultural/language barriers make it difficult to access immigration assistance, health care, education and aid for food, utilities and housing. Even obtaining a driver's license can be challenging.

On the other hand, there are fourth, fifth and sixth-generation Hispanic Americans who don't understand a word of Spanish and don't know anything about countries other than the United States.

"How do we work together to be in communion with each other, to be one community in Delta County?" asked Rev. Carol Rhan, pastor of the Delta United Methodist Church.

Because of its central location in downtown Delta, people from all walks of life stop by the church office seeking assistance. After attending a regional conference and speaking with many members of the congregation, she came up with a vision for an "Alliance of Neighbors and Friends," or "La Alianza de Los Vecinos y Amigos."

Raising awareness of the needs in the community, and the resources available to meet those needs, was the primary goal of the conversation held at the church Feb. 27.

"This conversation is the starting point of a long-term conversation about the things that keep people from being true neighbors and friends. That's what God asks us to do, to love our neighbors," Pastor Rhan said.

At the end of the session, a group of volunteers offered to prepare a questionnaire that will go out to all who work with the Latino community. The questionnaire will be a tool for exploring issues of concern to the Latino "constituents."

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled in May. Invitations will be going out to all who participated in the conversation Feb. 27, as well as other agencies identified as of value to the discussion.

As the meeting wound down, Pastor Rhan asked for a show of hands from those who had learned about at least one resource they weren't previously aware of. Nearly every hand went up.

"My personal goal has been met," she said.

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