Neighbor: Land of Abraham

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 20, 2000

is in South Alabama


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Oct. 19, 2000 10 PM

Abraham Calzadilla came to Alabama from El Salvador with two things on his mind – to work hard and to make money.

Very quickly, his mind had a single purpose – to stay in this country.

Calzadilla came with the same mindset of most Hispanics who come to America.

"The saying is ‘Come to America and work like a slave and then go home and live like a king," he said. "So many of the Hispanics who come here send almost every penny of their paycheck home. There is always someone waiting for the money in Central America or Mexico – a mother, a daddy, a wife and a bunch of kids."

There are 10 children in Calzadilla’s family and he had good work in the capital city of El Salvador, but, when a chance to go to America came his way, he "wanted it very badly."

Calzadilla took five days

off from is job as a food inspector to assist a mission group from Eufaula with building a wall for a school. He speaks fluent English and became friends with on of the leaders of the mission team, Scott Williams.

"It was amazing," Calzadilla said. "Brother Williams asked, ‘If I send you the ticket, will you come and work for me? I did not have to think to say yes."

In April, Calzadilla arrived on a tourist visa and began working construction for his friend.

"I did not have a work permit. I didn’t not have a social security number," Calzadilla said. "They came from the immigration department and asked, ‘Does this man have a work permit? Why, then is he on the ladder?’ And Brother Williams said, ‘It’s over Abraham. We moved too fast.’ And, I was very sad that I could not work."

A flurry of paper work resulted in an extension of Calzadilla’s visa but he could not get a work permit. "So, I could not work. I sat around waiting for nothing or waiting for something."

While he was waiting, Calzadilla began visiting different churches with some of his friends from Eufaula.

"We went to one church this time and another church the next time," Calzadilla said. "Many people knew about my plight and, at a revival service, one of the ladies came up to me and said not to be discouraged. She said , ‘The Lord is going to use you to help your people.’ I believed her but then, for a while, nothing happened."

Then, while attending the Saturday service at White Oak United Methodist Church, Calzadilla was amazed to hear a sermon on prejudices. The congregation was so moved by the service that Calzadilla was asked to start a Spanish-speaking service at White Oak.

"I don’t know why, but I said okay," he said. "But they said, ‘Not tomorrow, though. The next Sunday."

The next Sunday 10 Hispanics attended Calzadilla’s service.

"They were excited that White Oak had opened it doors to our people," Calzadilla said.

The young man had never preached a sermon in his life. He has spoken of his faith at some home services but never before a congregation.

In the Spanish-speaking country of El Salvador, "campo blanco" means white fields and white fields are those that are ready for harvesting.

In Alabama, Abraham Calzadilla has found white fields of a different kind, but as different as they are, they, too, are ready for harvesting.

There were fields for spiritual harvesting among his people, but there were also other fields that needed to be tended and brought to harvest.

"Most of the Hispanics who come to America are from the very poor regions and they have had few opportunities to learn the English language," Calzadilla said. "They need to learn the language here for many reasons – so they can communicate in the workplace and so they can read the information about safety. Many of them work around dangerous machinery and they did not know how to safely operate it because there was no one who spoke Spanish to tell them."

Calzadilla was quickly recognized as a valuable resource for the companies that were hiring Hispanic workers.

He was soon asked to teach English to the Hispanic workers by several companies.

"It was amazing that I was trained to teach English and they needed a Spanish-speaking teacher to teach English to their Hispanic workers," Calzadilla said. "I could teach, but I could not get paid because I didn’t have a work visa."

Pay or no pay, Calzadilla was willing because it was a service to his people "and it was a reason for me to stay."

Teaching and preaching brought attention to Calzadilla and the General Board of Global Ministries realized what an impact Calzadilla could have on the Hispanic people who continue to move to

Southeast Alabama in search of jobs.

The board will send Calzadilla to San Antonio where he will be trained as a lay missioner and will be used to teach English to the Hispanics in Barbour and surrounding counties.

His hope is that when he completes the training, he will be hired by the board as a lay missioner with the Spanish-speaking people.

"It’s a future for me and a future here in Alabama," he said. "I love my country and I miss my family, but here – it’s just so good to be here."

Right now, Calzadilla has no schedule, no plans.

"I’ll just let the Lord work it out," he said. "I will not worry. Just wait for Him."