Ray Duran had been a Calvary Chapel pastor for decades, before he found his true ministry calling at age 60: Working with Coeur D’Alene’s Spanish-speaking and immigrant population. “God’s great commandment is to love everyone, and immigrants need a lot of love and understanding,” says Duran, who runs an office-cleaning business during the week.
The Hispanic population accounts for just 5 percent of this small, traditionally white city of nearly 46,000. But it has been growing, and now has its own Spanish-language radio station. Statewide, the Hispanic population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2014, helping make Idaho the 13th fastest growing state during that time period. It is no coincidence that the state has subsequently been leading in job growth, as well.
God’s great commandment is to love everyone, and immigrants need a lot of love and understanding.
This has brought challenges. One state report estimated that nearly 30 percent of Hispanics in Idaho did not speak English well or at all. Yet studies show that when immigrants are given the skills to adapt to their new homes, they become important contributors to economic and civic life. It also benefits the regional and national economies. Studies show that a lack of English skills is the largest contributor to underemployment and a major contributor to unemployment in the immigrant population. Combined, these factors rob the U.S. economy of tens of billions of dollars in spending power and deprive federal and state governments of billions of dollars in annual tax revenue.
Duran wants to be an engine of this integration, because he knows how much immigrants have to offer. “I have employed Hispanics in my cleaning business, and they are some of the hardest-working people around,” he says. In Duran’s congressional district in western Idaho, the foreign-born are more likely to be of working age — 70.6 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64 compared with 49.6 percent of the U.S.-born — and are far more likely to have less than a high school education — 41.6 percent compared with 8.6 percent of the U.S.-born. As a result, they tend to fill low-skill jobs that Americans often don’t want. The dollars they earn doing the jobs Americans don’t want add up for everybody. The 38,000 immigrants in Duran’s district hold $609.8 million in spending power and pay $163.4 million in taxes every year.
On a good Sunday, Duran preaches to 25 to 70 congregants. “When I started, I didn’t even know if the church would continue, but I told the Lord, ‘If you give me 10 people who want to come to church and be taught the word of God, I will do it,” says Duran. “Our success is evidence that there’s a need. We’re the only Spanish-speaking church around.” He’s since received calls to minister in nearby prisons and courts.
Duran would like to see newcomers welcomed into communities and immigration reform that provides undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, so they’re not forced to run afoul of the law simply to survive. “It’s especially important for Christians who have strong convictions,” he says. “When you obey God, you also want to obey the laws of the land and do things right.” But what he really wants people to know is: “Those who come here are good people. God says we should welcome the stranger. He tugged on my heart to do this work, and I have answered.”