Dec 14, 2022

This powerhouse duo has been fighting for human rights for decades 

In Chicago, Illinois there is a husband-and-wife duo that believe they have a responsibility to make this world a better place. Denis and Martha Pierce have a deep-rooted philanthropic vision to be a voice for the poor and unempowered. The couple has three children and five grandchildren that have watched them selflessly give to missions in Latin America for more than 20 years. 

Denis worked hard as a lawyer which enabled Martha to fulfill her calling serving as the director of a small non-profit organization that focused on social injustice and immigration reform. “I am so grateful that we get to do this work. Denis’ hard work over the years has enabled us to share our resources with those who are working and hoping for justice,” Martha said.  

“We initially got involved through our church in a sanctuary movement in the 80s. Congregations would declare themselves a sanctuary for immigrants, providing protection from Latin American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador,” Martha said. “With our involvement through the church I was invited to go to on a trip to Latin America in 1984. I saw first-hand the suffering and the struggling… the poverty, they wrestled with their faith, trying to understand their role in how to bring justice to their country.” 

It was that first trip that led Martha to seminary. She felt she was being called to challenge and grow her own faith. “When I graduated from seminary, I got the director job. We started to take our youth group students on missions’ trips to an orphanage in 1991. To this day we still have relationships in that orphanage,” she said.  

Martha didn’t just talk about human rights and social injustices—she lived it, walked in it shoulder-to-shoulder with refugees. “In 1994, I accompanied about 1000 Guatemalan refugees from Mexico back to a plot of land they secured in Guatemala,” she said. “They wanted to return to their homeland to reclaim their rights and start a new community.” 

The new community was established on January 12, 1994. “Every year we go back to celebrate that anniversary. It is so emotional to see where they were… living in tents and huts made of sticks to now having cement block houses. Those who were teens then are now grown with their own families and are giving back to their community,” Martha shared. “When we are there, we meet with groups of people to hear their stories. These stories are heart wrenching tales of injustice that we bring back here to inform our representatives to help impact the US policies that can help the indigenous people of Latin America.” 

Another way the Pierces give is by means of their scholarship fund. “Denis was interested in providing a scholarship to Kenyon College to help a person from Latin America who wants to better themselves to ultimately help their people,” Martha added. 

While Martha’s passion is weaved throughout Latin America, Denis has his own private philanthropy stateside. “After retirement, my husband started a foundation that focuses on helping organizations that help those who are housing insecure, homeless or maybe are just struggling,” Martha touted. “Many non-profit organizations struggle to grow and succeed. Our foundation seeks to provide support for those organizations and help them to be better able to carry out their mission.” 

What they do has been etched into the hearts of thousands, how they do it is by pouring themselves out to make the world a better place, but what drives them? What is the why behind the passion? 

“I have always had a heart for the underdog,” Martha shared. “I suppose it’s always just been a part of who I am. When I was growing up my family helped Estonian refugees from World War II, then in the late 70s, Denis and I were a part of a group of people that sponsored refugees from Cambodia.” 

“I have been serving in this ministry for a long time, and I have learned so much from these people about what really matters and what is important,” she said. “When you start out you are fueled by anger about the injustices and suffering, but what keeps me going is the relationships that I have developed with people who share the vision of having a better world and doing their part to make the world better.”