Petitions Support Pastor in Fight Against Deportation

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By Stan Friedman

TORRANCE, CA (December 6, 2010) – Evangelical Covenant Church leaders from several conferences and Covenant Offices have signed a petition of support on behalf of a pastor facing deportation to Colombia.

More than two thousand people signed a petition of support on behalf of Margarita Monsalve that was presented to an Immigration and Custom Enforcement officer during her final deportation hearing on December 1. Of the total signatures, more than 125 represented religious leaders of different faiths.

Monsalve serves as pastor of Navegando con Cristo Ministries, a mission to low-income and drug-addicted individuals and families. She is a long-time member of a Covenant church and was recommended to be a church planter after going through the denomination’s Assessment Center. (In an earlier story, it was erroneously reported that neither she nor the ministry were officially connected with the Covenant). Multiple Covenant churches provide support to Navegando con Cristo.

Dave Olson, executive minister of the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism, said the denomination has not formally assisted her in planting a church until her immigration status is decided. “This is because the Covenant and the conference are following the employment laws of the United States.”

Monsalve came to this country in 1990, fleeing communist guerillas in Colombia who had targeted her family because of the family’s leadership in the business community, supporters say. She initially applied for political asylum, but a series of errors by her lawyers ultimately led to the deportation order, they add.

The petition reads, “Our strong impression is that this denial was the result of technicalities rather than substance. Fearing for their lives, they chose to reside here in the United States without authorization.”

Supporters say that the Monsalve family has “lived quietly in their community” since arriving here. Monsalve also attended Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET), the Covenant’s Hispanic training center.

The petition adds, “Pastor Margarita continues to build and strengthen a flourishing ministry to the ‘least of these’ . . . her ministry has transformed the lives of multiple youth-at-risk who have gone on to college, Bible college and seminary as a result.”

Signers of the petition include Covenant superintendents Efrem Smith (Pacific Southwest Conference), Richard Lucco (Great Lakes Conference), and Rodney Sawyer (Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska); Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice; Donn Engebretson, executive vice president; Samuel Galdamez, president of Hispanic Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church and pastor of Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (La Familia de Dios) in Turlock, California; and Ed Delgado, president of CHET.

Monsalve was arrested in July when immigration agents stopped her adult daughter, who is married to a U.S. citizen and mother to a child born here, on the street while walking to work. This led the agents to Monsalve, the primary caretaker of her grandchild.

Monsalve spent a night in jail and was released due to a pending surgery.  In mid-September she underwent the surgery and was ordered to 30 days of bed rest.

She could have been detained but was allowed to return home. She has worn an ankle-monitoring bracelet since her arrest in July.

Returning to Colombia still presents a significant danger for the Monsalves, say supporters. Guerillas have continued to target pastors, according to civil rights groups and the 2008 U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report.

The immigration officer said he will make a decision soon, says Walter Contreras, Pacific Southwest’s director of outreach and Hispanic church planting. He is serving as Monsalve’s pastor.

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