By Anna Brewster, Assistant Faith Editor
Walking is part of everyday life, but sometimes, people choose to walk the extra mile – or in this case, extra six miles.
Over 500 participants prayer walked through south and downtown Oklahoma City Saturday, Mar. 4 for El Camino Del Inmigrante OKC (translated “The Path of the Immigrant).
The prayer pilgrimage began around 8 a.m., at Santa Fe South Elementary School (5325 S. Penn), and ended over six miles later at the doors of Frontline Church Downtown (1104 N. Robinson).
It was a diverse group, with people from many races, denominations, ages and backgrounds.
Professors,students, doctors, pastors, young professionals, families and immigrants forfeited several hours of their weekend to walk in solidarity and show their care for immigrants and refugees, undocumented and documented alike.
John-Mark Hart, Head Pastor of Christ Community Church, was a main leader of El Camino and spoke before the walk began.
“We want to say that we love immigrants in Oklahoma City,” Hart said. “We want to stand together in good times and we also want to be together in difficult times.”
The walk was first inspired by Hart’s participation in a similar walk from Tijuana, Mexica to Los Angeles, California.
He and over 100 other participants walked about 15 miles each day over the course of 11 days, and that walk led to others around the country.
One of the overarching themes of El Camino OKC is found in Deuteronomy 10:18 (ESV): “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”
Hart had three points on being people of love that take care of the sojourner as God does:
“Love listens… love suffers… love speaks,” Hart said.
His points were translated into Spanish by Alex,* an undocumented student at OSU-OKC. He added a few sentences of his own to Hart’s.
“No están solos. No están solos… El amor habla muchos Ienguajes,” Alex said. (Translated “You are not alone. You are not alone. Love speaks many languages.”)
Vero,* an undocumented student in OKC shared her story next.
Her mother brought her to the United States when she was only six years old, and there were, and still are, many hardships. Vero’s father left her mother, along with Vero and four other children.
About six months ago, Vero’s mother lost her job, and life did not look hopeful until those that loved her stepped in and helped.
“My mom could not afford the house,” Vero said. “Not too long ago, my mom got fired. “My small group from my church gathered money to pay my rent and God used them to help me.”
Her family can’t afford much, and she chooses not to ask her mom for anything because she doesn’t want to be a burden.
“My shoes are bought by my teacher because she loves me,” Vero said. “She also bought me [a] shirt and every Wednesday, she takes me to dinner. It’s hard, but it’s humbling, I guess.”
After Vero’s story, Kyle Harper, University of Oklahoma Provost shared a few words, followed by a prayer from vicar Nate Carr.
Hart and several other speakers also made clear that the purpose of the walk was not to march in protest but to walk in prayer and to see immigrants as people instead of problems.
No signs were allowed, but small wooden crosses were provided, and each participant was also given a free backpack and a “passport” to be stamped at each of five prayer stations.
Chauncey Shillow, Associate Pastor at Christ Community Church, shared the idea that skin color, denomination or political affiliation are not the only classifiers.
“Before you are anything, you are in the image of Christ,” Shillow said.
After a group picture on the front lawn of the school, the walk began. Strollers were pushed over cracked sidewalks, and several participants gathered litter as they trudged along.
Many conversations were held with friends and strangers alike.
Participants in El Camino were from all different walks of life.
Mary Hernandez, a congregant at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, attended to support the immigrants because her husband is an immigrant.
“I think if [El Camino is] covered well, it will perhaps open the eyes for moving immigration reform,” Hernandez said. “I hope it shows the immigrant population that people are concerned for them.”
Cuco Escalera was at the walk with people from Saint James Episcopal Church.
He sees the walk as an opportunity to impact the community.
“This… is a wake up call to those who are in the shadows,” Escalera said. “Those that do not want to come out and express themselves. This is to encourage them to come out and we should not be afraid because God told us not to be afraid.”
Dr. David Chappell, professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, also attended El Camino. Chappell found the walk different than he had expected, and thought it could have a huge impact.
“It’s not an angry self-righteous crowd,” he said. “It’s a crowd communicating patience, understanding and love.”
Upon completing the walk and arriving at Frontline, each walker received a free lunch of tostadas provided by Faithworks of the Inner City. Hart also spoke after the prayer walk on actions steps participants could take.
He encouraged people to learn about refugees and immigrants and to continue a dialogue about immigration reform.
“This is not the end of the journey… this is the beginning of a journey,” Hart said. “If it isn’t the beginning, then it’s probably not very meaningful to us. Think about this as a step on the journey – leave here praying ‘God, what’s the next step?’”
Organizational sponsors of El Camino Del Inmigrante donated several thousand dollars for the event. They included Christ Community Church, City Presbyterian Church, Faithworks of the Inner City, Frontline Church, Saint James Episcopal Church, The Spero Project, The Well Church, Western Oaks Church of the Nazarene and Evangelical Immigration Table.
First Baptist Church of Moore also provided a bus to shuttle walkers back to their cars after the event came to its conclusion.
*Some names are altered to protect the identities of undocumented immigrants.