Earlier this week an English-as-Second-Language (ESL) class arrived for their regular lesson at La Casa del Pueblo de Dios, a United Methodist congregation in Decatur, and discovered the church's meeting place had been damaged by vandals.
Rev. Gene Lankford, North Alabama Conference director of Hispanic Ministries explains, “The church was not broken into, but someone spray painted the glass over the 'Bienvenidos' (Welcome) sign on the front door and spray painted a window as well. Given the circumstances and the fact that nothing else in the same complex was vandalized, this appears to be an anti-Hispanic immigrant act.”
The Decatur police are currently investigating the incident and trying to determine if the act was indeed an intentional anti-immigrant act or if it was merely a random act by teenagers.
Both the Pastor of La Casa Del Pueblo Aida Barrera-Segura and Rev. Lankford believe that this vandalism could be backlash from recent marches and rallies promoting immigration issues.
They also explain that they do not know if students in the ESL class or documented or undocumented. This is not a question the church chooses to ask. Instead they insist the focus of this ministry is to teach English to anyone who wants to learn.
Rev. Barrera-Segura says this act of vandalism upset and scared both members of the congregation and students in the ESL class. She explained to The Decatur Daily News that the students who discovered the vandalism Wednesday afternoon “were like little children looking at me, 'What are we going to do? Are we going to have classes? Is it safe? Can we stay?'” She insisted that they not let fear stop their ministry.
She now reports that since local media have covered the story, the church has received and increased number of calls from people interested in their ESL classes.
Other ministries La Casa Del Pueblo offers include worship each Sunday morning, Bible classes for children, assistance for immigrants to fill out their necessary government forms and drills for those studying for their citizenship tests.