Six months have passed since federal authorities labeled an Iowa City pastor as one of the “worst of the worst,” devastated his family and deported him to Honduras.
Friends and family of Pastor Max Villatoro marked the anniversary with a week of focused prayer, religious ceremony and advocacy activities. The Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious group with whom the Villatoro family identifies — continue to lead outreach efforts on behalf of the family. Church members have, for instance, launched numerous physical and online petitions calling for the return of Pastor Max. This past week, they’ve also encouraged supporters to phone the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Last month, private donations allowed the four Villatoro children to travel to Honduras and be with their father for the first time since he was caught in the March Immigration and Customs Enforcement sting operation intended to target violent criminals.
To expand their donor base, the group has begun to sell “Villatoro Family Blend Coffee” through their website. The medium-roast Honduran Capucas was created for the Villatoro family by Brian Gumm, owner of Toledo’s Ross Street Roasting Co.
“I decided to do a coffee project for this cause because I have a lot of Mennonite friends who brought this situation into my awareness, and I was very upset about it but also very frustrated that I couldn’t do much besides sign petitions and make phone calls,” Gumm told me Thursday.
“When I was ordering green coffee from my supplier — a Mennonite pastor in Virginia — in April, I noticed that he had a Honduran fair trade organic coffee available, and the idea just kind of clicked in my head. We’ve done three rounds of the project so far and I’m very happy to be able to help out in this small way.”
But despite the local focus, services held this past week weren’t limited to the single situation. Concern and calls for action were for all families who have been separated.
“Let us raise our voices not only in prayer, but also in protest against hate-filled, dehumanizing speech, against oppressive policies, against arrogant and heartless laws,” reads a portion of the suggested text. “Oh, God, hear our prayer and grant our federal and state legislators compassion and wisdom as they consider various proposals for immigration reform. May their ears be deaf to lies born of fear. May their eyes be open to the humanity of each immigrant.”
It’s an especially big order given the salacious backdrop of the 2016 presidential contests, which has offered unchecked, unfair and unrepentant characterizations of immigrants, and especially Hispanics.
No doubt the Villatoro family is better off than others in similar circumstances. Their extended family hasn’t forgotten them, and supporters show no signs of sitting down and shutting up about the injustice of what’s happened.
Their efforts can teach us all an important lesson: silence does nothing, accomplishes nothing. Regardless of the disappointing responses we receive from those in authority positions, we must keep making our voices heard.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on September 26, 2015.