Written by Alpha & Omega Community Center

Since 1991, the Alpha & Omega Community Center has provided a wide range of services to assist the Hispanic Community of Lancaster, PA, to become prosperous, contributing members of society. Alpha & Omega Community Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofits organization, with an IRS.

In the Old Testament God told his people to welcome aliens and strangers to their land, and New Testament writers refer to Christians, themselves, as strangers and pilgrims on this earth.

In a 2017 story, BBC News referred to Lancaster as America’s refugee capital, noting that people here welcomed 20 times more refugees per capita than the average in the rest of the country. At the Alpha & Omega Community Center we seek to be part of that welcoming community as we meet the needs of immigrants.

Why do people migrate to the United States? I know of three main reasons:

1. To work and therefore improve their current economic situation.
2. To unite with relatives who already are established here.
3. To flee from persecution or violence in their countries of origin.

Refugees are those people who flee a country because they suffered persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, or because they are members of a particular social group.

Refugees who come to the United States have been vetted and regularly receive their immigrant visa before arriving here.

An immigrant is anyone who leaves their country with the intention of permanently moving to another country. In the case of the United States, the immigrant can apply for political asylum, if applicable, or simply maintain an illegal status until some other solution is granted. In Lancaster we have a high number of refugees and other types of immigrants.

Many of these immigrants who have not been granted legal residence in the US are especially vulnerable to crimes and mistreatment, which they cannot report for fear of deportation. Examples include domestic violence/sexual FOREIGNERS & PILGRIMS assault, human trafficking, and/or labor exploitation where they are paid unfair or illegally low wages.

At the Community Center we have compassion for these people who come with dreams and desires for improvement, but who also face many challenges. We help refugees who are here legally through our Computers for Refugees and English programs. Our Counseling department handles cases of people in difficult situations each week in a professional and confidential manner.

Some time ago I was an immigrant here on a visa for English study while serving as a worship and praise director at a church in New Jersey. My visa eventually would have expired, creating uncertainty for me. In the midst of this situation, I met my wife, Mary Jane, who I married in 2004. Not only was this a landmark in my life because I married a wonderful wife, but it also opened for me a range of possibilities that would be impossible to achieve without the status of resident or American citizen. I remain sensitive to others who are not so fortunate as I am to be able to live legally in this great country.

I thank God for placing me as Director of the Alpha & Omega Community Center and pastor of Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren, from where I have been able to serve many people to this day.

—Joel Peña, Director

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