the shape of leadership

Helping Those Who Are Here

A Q&A With Marlane Codair

Chris Colvin on April 17, 2019

Marlane Codair attends Freedom Hill Community Church (Assemblies of God) in Malden, Massachusetts. She is founder and director of Compassion Immigration Services, a nonprofit ministry that helps guide people through the immigration and naturalization process.

INFLUENCE: How did Compassion Immigration Services start?
I was a paralegal for 18 years. I loved my job leading litigation. I was attending a church with a large percentage of immigrants. And because I worked in law, people started asking me for help.

I was looking at launching my own nonprofit to help immigrants through the legal process. But then God spoke to me through a word of prophecy, saying that I was looking outside the walls of the church when I should look within. So I approached my pastor, and he agreed to help get Compassion Immigration Services started in 2009.

What types of services do you provide to immigrants?
We help people going through the legal process of becoming citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. That includes anything from helping them fill out paperwork to practicing for the citizenship test. Today, the paperwork is more complex than in years past. It’s vital that there are people who are willing to walk them step-by-step through the process.

Compassion is seeing people where they are and helping them.

Why did you choose the word “compassion” for your ministry?
It was actually my pastor who suggested it, but it was in my heart for some time. Proverbs 31:8-9 is a Scripture on an index card near my computer. It encourages me when the present culture is so negative about immigrants: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (NLT).

It is what Jesus did: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

I believe compassion is the ability to take a person where they’re at, understand their circumstances, no matter who they are, and help them in a loving way toward a goal.

For us, that’s navigating the system and helping people come out of the shadows and into legal status. But it also includes reuniting families.

What can churches do to help immigrants in their communities?
It’s important for churches to realize there are immigrants right where they are. They may be here under legal status, or they may be “illegal.” They need help, and they need Jesus.

Churches need to be careful not to offer legal assistance without the proper training. But we can offer compassion to immigrants through a food pantry, a clothing drive or other service. Just hosting conversation circles to help them learn English is powerful.

Compassion is very simple, even in a ministry that includes very difficult legal maneuvers. Compassion is seeing people where they are and helping them. Compassion opens the door for the gospel every time.

For more information, email

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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