Viverette: This is the Faith Health Learning Forum Podcast, a podcast series designed to offer insights into the vision of Faithfulness, a dynamic partnership between faith communities, Wake Emily ViveretteForest Baptist Medical Center, and other health care providers focused on improving health. I am Emily Viverette, director of Faith Health Education. This particular series focuses on mining the wisdom of key leaders within the division of Faith Health ministries at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Today I am talking with Chaplain Francis Rivers Meza and Reverend Enrique Catana. Francis is a certified educator and the FaithHealth liaison with our Latinx community. Enrique is one of our six supporters of health and he also serves our Latinx community. Francis and Enrique, thank you for joining us today.

Rivers Meza: Thank you.

Catana: Thank you for having us.

Viverette: You have both really been pioneers in your roles with us over the past few years and have pushed us out into places that many people turn away from. I wonder if each of you might talk some about the work you do in our community and your passion for it.

Rivers Meza: Well, this is Francis. I’ve been in Winston-Salem now almost 20 years and that coincides roughly with the arrival of some of the first Latinx clergy. So I had an opportunity to know and be friends with these people for a long time. And sometimes we see each other frequently, sometimes time goes by. But what I’ve learned is that if you convene, they’ll show up. And the latest thing we’re working on, because it’s a big need in the community, is access to behavioral health. People are really struggling and there are very limited number of bilingual counselors. So that’s the main passion these days.

Catana: Hello, my name’s Enrique and it’s a pleasure to be today sharing with my friend Francis. Thank you for having us today. And I’ve been here in Winston for almost 17 years and my passion is to help others in the community, meeting people and identifying the different needs from our community members. And my passion has been, since I remember mom helping people in our country in Mexico. And I think that passion, it’s in my heart, still every day.

Viverette: Yeah. Well and you can really, it really exudes from you. And I wonder if you might just say a word about how did you get to know each other? How did you get connected?

Rivers Meza: You know, I was trying to remember when you mentioned that. My memory, but I’m getting old, is that we met at that Methodist Church on, what is that just off of main street that most says Florida’s had convened a group of clergy and that’s the first time I remember seeing you. But it may have been before that.

Catana: What I’d remember meeting Francis for first time, I think it was on my interview coming to this position for faith health and I use God the great impression the first time when I met Francis, I didn’t talk to him much, but it’s when officially I started knowing Francis, about his work in the community and faith health.

Related article: Francis Rivers Meza on working with special populations

Viverette: Okay, excellent. And we’re going to come back to kind of your role, Enrique, and specifically what you do and what you’re actually interviewing for at that time and whether you actually knew what you’re getting yourself into.

Viverette: So, but Francis, first, I wonder, I know that one of the unexpected areas of work was the development of a community ID and our hospital was one of the first in the nation to recognize such an ID. Would you tell us a story of how this ID came to be and how you understand its value?

Rivers Meza: It all began with an asset mapping event in three neighborhoods where we know that there was a large Latinx population and we asked people to describe their neighborhoods to us and what the challenges were and what are the safe places were. And a consistent theme was that people were afraid to drive because they didn’t have driver’s licenses. And in Winston Salem, if you can’t drive, you’re really stuck because the public transportation isn’t set up to go all around the city.

Rivers Meza: So just shortly after that I met David Forcaro, who’s the director of Faith Action International House in Greensboro and learned that he was a pioneer along with the Greensboro Police Department, a community ID card. And I went to an ID drive and it was really stunned by the energy and the interest. And watching people interact with law enforcement in way I’d never seen before, so David and his staff were kind to come and train us in Winston-Salem and we had our first ID drive in January of 2016 I think, and we were overwhelmed by the response.

We were expecting, I don’t know, 50 people and over 600 people showed up and things have changed since then in just these past few years. They’re a lot more cities that offer the Faith Health Id. It really is the triangle and the triad. There are several drives every month. I saw David recently and he told me that the sort of the hotspot now is western North Carolina, Morganton Boon, Alkin, they’ve had drives in which several hundred people have come out.

So if people continue to see of a value in the card, many people renew the card, it’s good for a year and so we take it that if they renew it’s they’re finding it useful. And I guess in the Medical Center, our front line medical staff immediately recognize the value because they often aren’t sure who they’re interacting with either because the person was, you know, the person that met them didn’t get their name right or they’re using different names. And so especially in the emergency room, the fear of doing something that’s contraindicated was significant. So in this way they had a name, a consistent name, a consistent address. And it’s also been very helpful at the clinics. So that’s how it’s evolved. And I was very proud of the medical center for being one of the first in the country, if not the first to to take this step.

Viverette: Thank you. And I wonder if you might say just a little bit more either of you about what the community ID offers for folks who get it. And one of the gifts I’ve seen is that it’s not only for people who are undocumented, but it really is a community ID where anyone gets the ID and can use it for various purposes. So I wonder if you might say a word about that.

Rivers Meza: Well, that’s exactly right. I think Greensboro has probably been the pioneer in this, although the card has spread to different parts of the country. The backbone and the original purpose was for interaction with law enforcement on the part of undocumented immigrants or others who couldn’t get a government issued ID. And that evolved to getting discounts at concerts and artistic events, discounts at different stores. We’ve been trying to do that same thing or in Winston-Salem and it’s slow going, but I think that people are beginning to recognize the card and it’s true, absolutely, that it’s not just for the undocumented, anyone can get a card, you need to have a valid picture id, a bill or something with your correct address on it and $10, and you’re good to go.

Rivers Meza: People have done these ID drives. Homeless shelters, the transgender communities wanted ID so that they have their preferred gender on the card. I don’t think any of us ever saw how this would spread, but it does seem to me that it helps people feel part of the community in a new way.

Viverette: Right. Thank you. Enrique, I want to come back to you just for a minute and I wonder if you might take some time to share a little bit about how you became a supporter of health. What that work has been for you and maybe even a story that you think might be important for people to hear, either one of the great successes or one of the great challenges.

Catana: Thank you Emily. As I was saying earlier, I have a big passion for my community and helping others all the time. I was working at that hospital in EVS department when I heard about this position, and my supervisor, and also my manager, encouraged me to apply. It’s when I decided to do it and it’s when I met Francis and that interview to decide for my, my position and it’s when I start the journey about to have this beautiful opportunity helping others in a better way close to these families and meeting their needs and trying to address so many issues that we find in our community. Things like people are struggling navigating the health system, the language barrier, the problem with the culture, when people don’t get to do a lot of new things in a new country as USA. And my focus is working with the Hispanic Latino community, but I do serve and I help anybody that are patients at the hospital. But my goal, it’s tried to be as much help for them to be a bridge and a trust member.

Catana: People can relate with me and we can work together about addressing these needs. Either looking for medications, or food, or transportation to go to doctor’s appointments. And that’s my role and it’s my passion right now, helping patients at the hospital in different ways. And I have met some beautiful people in the community, knowing stories, knowing the struggle of these families. And we have beautiful stories and sad stories. And one of the success stories that I have, I have so many good stories. We met this family, a member of this family, the father, he was diagnosed with diabetes. He couldn’t afford the medication, the insulin, and the pain medication and other needs. And also he doesn’t have transportation to go to the doctor’s appointment and other problems, like financial problems. So we were able to address all these needs for this patient and try to identify what kind of medication he was looking for.

And hopefully we went to one of the nonprofits, local organizations and we applied for this assistance. We were able to get the medications for this patient and we were able to get also hood and a, we coordinated transportation so he can continue in going to the doctor’s appointments and do the follow up for this illness, which is diabetes. One of the greatest right now disease that we have, problems that we see in our community. And also we were able to apply for Faith Action ID because in order to be seen on these nonprofit organizations you have to identify yourself and we were able to get these Faith Action ID that my colleague Francis Rivers mentioned before, and he was so happy to have something on his hands that he can show and prove he was this person and get so many resources for him.

He’s doing great. He’s doing much better and the whole family, is happy, and and we’re looking for just to continue in going to the doctor’s appointments, eating healthy, taking medications on time, reading labels for him. And this is one of the good stories that I have.

Viverette: That’s a beautiful story and it speaks to how many complicated needs folks can have and how important it is to have a trusted person who can walk alongside and help identify those needs and find the right resources. So what a gift. I’m curious, what have been some of the surprises that have emerged from your work, either Francis or Enrique, over the past few years as you think about the work that you’ve been get done in the community? What surprised you most?

Rivers Meza: I think I still marvel at the way Enrique and I met, the way we’ve met with other colleagues. I was born in Mexico but grew up in the Carolinas. My parents brought me to the states when I was three years old. That’s a very different experience and a very different story than Enrique. And when I met Enrique, I had heard about him actually from a reporter for one of the Spanish language papers. He said, yeah, everyone in the community knows Enrique and I’ve discovered that that’s probably true. And so how it was that we met and were able to blend our talents and our knowledge and reach out to other friends. And it surprised me that people who I thought would never talk to each other came together to collaborate, and are now friends. So we’ll see where we go from here.

Viverette: Do you have anything? What surprised you in Enrique.

Catana: Okay, well, relate to my work. I get surprised every day. What I see in these communities especially, the Hispanic, Latino community, so many challenges every day that our community face. And just to be part of a trust, a person to them and try to get the help they looking for. It’s a big success every day. And what surprised me, it was meeting Francis because I didn’t know many people like Francis and I think he’s a great person with big heart and he was sharing with me his stories and because he was here before me in the country. So he was more related with this communities, the Hispanic and Latino, and I was so lucky as Francis mentioned, to blend our gifts and working together in order to address the needs for our community and see a healthy community every day.

Viverette: Yeah, I mean it’s one of my favorite pieces of the work is I get to meet the most remarkable people with the most remarkable hearts. And I’m really curious, we exist in a time in our culture when it seems really hard to get people to talk with one another, particularly those people we think will never come together and talk. So for instance, I was curious, I mean just a minute ago you said there were folks that this, that came together that you never imagined being in the same room and having conversation and collaborating. Do you have any wisdom on what it was about this that helped kind of get people in the room together and work together?

Rivers Meza: Oh, well, it’s funny. Over the last few years I’ve met people who, they’re dug in and they’re never going to come out of their bunker, and I have other people who really get excited about bringing people together across divisions that maybe aren’t divisions. We had an event, I guess it was earlier this week, at a meeting with a representatives of ICE Here in Winston-Salem and law enforcement, and they wanted to talk about human trafficking. I have no doubts that there’s human trafficking and other things going on, but that’s not the part of the community that I see. I see the community that’s hardworking, struggling, and often very afraid. How to put these two worlds together, we’re not there yet, but at least we’re talking, and that’s the way it starts.

Viverette: Yeah. Do you have any thoughts, Enrique, about how this has brought people together in ways that other issues haven’t?

Catana: It’s amazing how the community can come together. This is what I see in my community. I think we need to be more stick together, knowing each other, every community and also be exposed to other cultures because other people, other communities, other cultures, they have the same needs, maybe even worse scenarios of different problems, and when we come together it’s when we start to identify these needs and it’s when we can help. Once we come together and I see a very united community now, because the issues that we face together, our common, immigration issues, immigration problems, people looking for counseling, people looking for advice, people looking for how to do things right in this country, this culture. And I’m so happy to see a united community now. I know there’s challenges yet, and different communities and cultures, but here in Winston-Salem, we try to work as hard we can to help our communities to love them and show the love of God to each person that we touch.

Viverette: Yeah. Well and one of the things I’ve really appreciated with each of you, and the faith health movement in general is often people go into communities looking for everything that’s wrong and, what’s not there and what people need. But I encounter both of you as seeing kind of a real richness to what the immigrant population brings to our country, and being able to kind of focus in on the assets, and raise that up too. So I wonder if you could speak just a word about the assets and the richness of these populations that sometimes we often turn away from.

Rivers Meza: So, well, the, the latest quixotic adventure is trying to begin a dialogue with a Bible College here in North Carolina. I’m not Baptist, but I watched the Civil War, and I still think that there are people who imagine they’ll never speak to one another again. But the fact of the matter is that we’ve had a very difficult time recruiting Latinx students to our CP and training programs. There just aren’t that many Latinx students going to seminary and wanting to go into the clinical training. But where you do find a lot of Latinx people interested in ministry, is precisely in these Bible colleges. I know that they’re very conservative. I know they emphasize preaching rather than listening, so we’re going to have to find things to talk about that we can agree on. I think one of the things we can all agree on is that it would be good for people who are on the front lines as many of these pastors will be, have some clinical training and some sense of how to offer spiritual care and not, not just preaching. Nothing against preaching, but not just that.

Viverette: Well, thank you, Francis. One of the things you mentioned earlier that we haven’t talked much about goes back to one of the challenges in working with some communities, is the real deep seated fear. And I think about, you know, there might be people listening to this podcast who want to be able to engage any number of populations. What are your recommendations for folks starting out and wanting to engage immigrant and refugee populations in their neighborhood, or other populations that might be living in fear for entirely different reasons?

Rivers Meza: I don’t know that this is a recipe that could work everywhere, all the time. I think we were fortunate, Enrique and I and others, to have friends in the community who had already earned trust and it was often churches, but there were other places as well where people who, yes, are afraid, felt safe gathering. And it was going to those places without an agenda, without trying to sell anything. But just listening to the stories, the experiences, I think the resilience of many undocumented immigrants is unfathomable. I’m thinking especially very, very poor women from the state of Guerrero, illiterate, suffered all kinds of violence, horrible experiences crossing the border and now having to live in the shadows and Winston-Salem. And yet they showed up at church and they cared a lot about the church and the church was the place they felt safe. And that’s where I think the most important conversation to begin.

Catana: I believe that we need leaders who can build this trust in the communities, and we know we have few lists that we can tell about and that they’re really worried about the community, what’s going on on immigration right now, but there’s fear. People are afraid to be detained and be sent to their countries. Be deported. Couple of weeks ago, one of my friends who was detained right now in Georgia, Lumberton ,Georgia and he’s waiting to be sent back to his country. So we are dealing with this maybe every day, listening to stories and we working with his wife and now she’s alone with his son, trying to find resources through Faith Health, and see how we can be a resource for her. And and also I think the key here, it’s to have more people with heart for these entire communities that are facing this kind of issue right now.

Maybe someone is going to hear us and say, this is not my problem, or my community or I don’t know much about this topic, but we do know what’s going on in our communities, and we see cases every day. So I think the real leaders, they will play a key role to support these families and others as well. Especially refugees. They’re looking for constantly and how to apply for legal services. And also we have the undocumented community, we have the immigrant community, we have this population that they come from their country, they’re professionals, and they just need to know how to navigate the system to become more efficient and looking for opportunities.

Viverette: Well, thank you. My heart always aches when I hear about folks who are in detention and facing deportation and the families that are left behind. And I’m grateful for people like you, Enrique, and others in our community who step up and care for folks in need. I think it’s apparent in this conversation that both of you, you Enrique, and Francis, are men of faith. I mean you’re both ordained ministers and I’m curious about how your faith or your theology guides or shows up in this. Maybe it’s too heady for this, but there’s something deeply moving about how faith is at work, and your faith is at work in the world of Faith Health.

Rivers Meza: I grew up in a Roman Catholic home. My mother was very pious and in terms our family was very, very pious and so not so much religion, but faith has always been important to me. I think my teachers really are the Waldensians, with whom I had the chance to study and learn from in both Italy and Rio de la Plata that is Argentina and Uruguay, and they showed me new ways to do ministry and thekind of heart that they displayed every day, could not help but inspire and how to come home and do something like that is what I think about every day.

Viverette: That’s really beautiful. Thank you, Francis.

Catana: For me, my faith, it’s the one who gives me a stand every day and believe there’s good people out there and just being able to offer the love that I received one time from God that give me not just continuing passion every day, continuing love for others. And I think my faith plays a big role. It’s a key in my life and everything because my mom, she’s a faith mom. Even she is a thousand miles away from me. She stays in Mexico, and it’s been 17 years. I haven’t seen her and fighting every day here in this country, that is not my country, but I embrace and I love this nation because I think it’s God’s nation and faith for me, it’s, it’s everything. It’s how I keep the standing every day, dreaming every day to see new horizons, fresh breath from the heaven. And I can say until now, God’s been very faithful to me, to my family and I really appreciate that mom was able to teach me the love of God everyday with his testimony, with her life and as you know, we are not perfect. We are human beings, but God knows when someone loves him from the heart and he’s with that person.

Viverette: I am just so moved and grateful for your willingness to share your stories, and your heart, and your faith, here in this space and with our community and our neighbors, and look forward to the things we’ll get to do in the future. And I’ll start this over when Francis stops his phone, that’s fine. All right, so we’ll keep going. So I just want to say, I am so grateful Enrique and Francis for your willingness to be here, to have conversations with us, but more importantly for your heart, your faith, and your work in the community. Thank you.

Rivers Meza: Thank you, Emily.

Catana: Thank you, Emily.