Calling for Justice
By Molly Marsh
The kitchen of El Milagro Lutheran Church is the nerve center of this busy Minneapolis congregation. A stream of people bustle in and out of the room—to chat, pour themselves a cup of coffee, or drop off food for the post-service lunch.
Pastor Judith VanOsdol stops by to stir a pot of chili, laughing as she points to her thick clothes and winter boots. The boiler has stopped working, so there’s no heat in the building.
VanOsdol has pastored El Milagro (“The Miracle”) since 2008. Her parishioners are composed primarily of immigrants from Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and, like many Latinos in southwest Minneapolis, most of them struggle. They are homeless or near-homeless, unemployed, or under-employed. Most of the children receive meals through school feeding programs.
“More people than we can realize fall between the cracks and find themselves in situations where they are unable to feed their families,” VanOsdol said. “A family came to me yesterday and said, ‘We are sleeping on the floor. Is there anywhere we might be able to get beds?’ I have a person who lives on potatoes because potatoes are dirt cheap.
“I believe our call is to walk with them, work with them, and look at the underlying reasons why people are hungry—why people are many times forced out of their homes and land, and why they can’t feed their families,” she continued.
VanOsdol has seen firsthand the places many of her parishioners come from. Prior to 2008, VanOsdol worked in Argentina for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 15 years, traveling throughout Latin America.
“Poverty is part of a global system. I learned a lot about global economics and the processes that push people out of their homes and livelihoods,” she said.
Soon the fellowship hall next to the kitchen fills with people. The women who led singing during the worship service set out chili, bread, milk, and water. A sprinkling of desserts attracts a swarm of young children, and sounds of English and Spanish conversation fill the air.
“People need to know these programs for people at risk are critical to the well-being of the whole society,” she said. “If we ignore the segments of society that are really, really on the edge, we’re mortgaging our own future. The circle of protection has everything to do with not just what’s happening today, but what kind of future we’re building for tomorrow.”
Having lived in a country that experienced a brutal dictatorship, VanOsdol sees the importance of active and engaged citizens, people who follow the work of their members of Congress and take part in decision-making processes.
“Our faith calls us to a place of seeking justice and recognizing that God is a God of all. And there is a place in God’s heart for those who are on the margins,” she said. “It’s easy to say we believe in justice. Do we do it? Do we practice it? Is it part of our day-to-day livelihood? The decisions we make and the decisions of those we elect are also within our purview as faithful Christians.”
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