Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ministry among immigrants...

Two experiences this week brought this hot topic to the forefront of my life. First, Baptists from all over Texas gathered in Amarillo earlier this week for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. There's not much more fun to be had than 2,500 Baptists in Amarillo!

Because of the University I work for being a Hispanic-serving institution, I was asked to lead a workshop on ministry among immigrants. It was a great discussion, with about 30 people in the room asking questions about how to best be Jesus in the migratory flow of humanity we're experiencing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Of course, the hottest debates are reserved for issues surrounding how to best deal with the 12-14 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Our workshop had a cordial but tough discussion (what you can manage in 15 minutes of dialogue within a one-hour workshop anyway) on how to best do ministry among "illegal" immigrants. Some felt that it was important to share ALL the story right off the bat, something like "Jesus loves you, here's some food, now go back to your country and stop breaking our laws." Others wanted to serve them in the name of Jesus without talking about immigration status, others still wanted to help them become US citizens. Like I said, it was a cordial discussion, hopefully healthy.

But then I heard today about something that just kills me. We often try to place our students in churches as interns, especially in predominantly Anglo churches that have a growing Hispanic community around them. One such church's pastor had been working with our staff for some time, and we thought we have found the right student to come and help this church.

But some in the church had other ideas.

Apparently, when the student went in view of a call (Baptist speak for a church hiring someone as a minister), some church members voiced their concern about a Hispanic being on church staff and Mexicans taking over their church. In the meeting. In front of our student and his wife. With other Hispanic church members also present.

So what is the church for someone who thinks this way? It is a protector of a culture, a bastion of a time when those people heard God's voice and it ministered to them. But it has become a hollow shell, and the Spirit's voice is no longer heard, when the cultural icon that is a church becomes more vital, more important to protect, than getting the life-changing message of Jesus into the world across cultural boundaries and barriers.

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