ENGLEWOOD (New Jersey, US) – Steve Chung would drive past the labourers lined up on the streets of Palisades Park, New Jersey, each day, a Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew constantly on his mind.
“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” is how he recalls the words. “That Bible verse kept pounding my heart,” he says.
An immigrant from Korea, he felt a kinship with the Latino immigrant workers.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he admits, “so I keep praying for 100 days.
And when I prayed, God gave me the idea that they are all angels.”
Soon afterwards, “Street Angels” was born. Mr Chung coordinates the programme at the Korean Community Church of New Jersey, a United Methodist congregation in Englewood, just across the Hudson River from New York City.
Every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening, two church vans roll through the streets of Englewood and Palisades Park, picking up 15 to 30 day labourers, predominantly men. Most range in age from 25 to 35 years old, and 80 per cent are natives of Guatemala.
Back at the church, the guests enjoy a hot meal prepared by congregation members. Then Mr Luz Cadavid, a native of Colombia who has worked for years in New Jersey as a barber, leads a Bible study in Spanish. The students then move into classrooms for practical job-training in air-conditioner repair, electronics, construction, refrigeration or computers.
“We can understand better other immigrants because we are immigrants,” Mr Chung says, laughing. “They need English, when employers try to hire them, and also some basic skills, such as construction and painting.”
Mr Julio Trinidad, a social worker, teaches the English class. His students Korean congregation serves Hispanic ‘Street Angels’ include Mr Porfi rio Hernandez. Except for his fellow day labourers and the people he meets at the church, Mr Hernandez is alone in the United States as his family is in Guatemala.
Speaking through a translator, Mr Hernandez says he often invites friends and fellow workers to the Street Angels programme.
“In the first place, we can learn the language we need in this country,” he says. “Some of my friends, they find jobs through this programme, it helps to find jobs for them.”
He also appreciates the Bible study. “Bible study is good for everybody,” he says, “because not just from bread can men live.”
The Street Angels programme, which requires the work of about 50 volunteers from the 1,200-member congregation, is a sanctuary for immigrants living a precarious existence.
The Greater New Jersey Conference includes 600 congregations across the state, and in two counties in New York and one in Pennsylvania.
There are significant differences in the status of Koreans and Latinos here. Many Koreans emigrated more than a decade ago, with college education and high- technology jobs, and now form an influential minority.
Mr Chung himself arrived in the United States in the early 1990s as an employee of Samsung. Five years later, he started his own business.
By contrast, politically and economically, Latinos are struggling.
Despite these differences, members of the Korean Community Church of New Jersey feel empathy, according to their pastor, and that led to the Street Angels programme, as well as a weekly Sunday worship service in Spanish. – United Methodist News Service.
James Melchiorre is a freelance producer based in New York City