Editor’s Update (May 2, 2013): G92 is joining other Christian organizations throughout the country in urging you to pray fervently over the next ninety-two days for immigration reform. Please commit to praying & sign up for weekly requests and reminders at www.pray4reform.org.
Last year, I wrote a New Year’s Resolution blog. I thought that publicly sharing my goals for the year might assist me to stick to them. I have to admit somewhat sheepishly that I failed to keep my resolution to write to at least one legislator per week throughout 2012, though that’d be a valuable exercise in stewardship to try again in 2013. (I’ve also gained about ten pounds since this time last year. Bummer.)
This year, rather than sharing resolutions dependent upon my own discipline and efforts, I’m going to focus on my prayers for 2013, some huge things—some very personal, some national in scope, but all well beyond my authority to control—that I’m asking that God would do, if it is his will, in the coming year.
1. I’ve written in the past about my cautiously optimistic sense that 2013 will be the year that immigration reform will finally pass. Though passing immigration reform is a strong personal passion of mine, I’ll be slightly disappointed if it happens with most white evangelical Christians still saying that they see immigration as a threat, parroting a fear-based politically-informed narrative about immigrants that I do not believe is consistent with biblical values. I’m excited about a new initiative that World Relief is helping to sponsor called the “I Was a Stranger…” Challenge, which invites Christians to pray and to read a few brief Bible verses related to immigration each day for forty days. My prayer is that, as the calendar turns from 2013 to 2014, immigration reform—including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a rational revision of our visa system—will not only have been signed into law, but that millions of evangelical Christians will have allowed Scripture to inform their thinking about immigration, become strong advocates, and formed a crucial part of the broad coalition that made immigration reform a politically-viable, bipartisan effort.
2. My second prayer request is related: presuming immigration reform has happened, my prayer is that the Church in the United States (and especially the evangelical churches with which I identify) step into the gap to help meet the enormous need for authorized, affordable, competent legal services. You see, if immigration reform passes, my colleagues at World Relief and I will be shouting “Hallelujah,” but that will very quickly be followed by a “Lord, have mercy!” as we confront what will be a tidal wave of need as somewhere around 11.5 million individuals need to determine their eligibility for legalization and then fill out the appropriate forms. World Relief already provides immigration legal services that are recognized by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals in a couple dozen locations around the country, but we’re struggling to meet the current demand for affordable, authorized legal services as it is in the relatively few locations where we operate, and we simply do not have the resources to open up hundreds of new locations all over the country. Neither, to the best of my understanding, does any of the other national networks of non-profit immigrant legal service providers.
Though not every community with immigrants has a non-profit organization providing authorized, affordable legal services, every community does have a church—and many of them have space that does not get fully used except for on Sundays. They also usually have photocopiers, computers, file cabinets, and many other resources needed to provide legal services. What they lack is trained individuals (whether paid staff or high-capacity volunteers) and the recognition from the federal Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that is necessary for a non-profit entity without attorneys on staff to lawfully provide immigration legal services. World Relief is able to help with training, offering both intensive legal skills trainings and on-the-job shadowing opportunities with our attorneys and BIA-accredited staff, and with the process of applying for BIA recognition; it is one my favorite ways that we fulfill our mission to “empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.” My hope and prayer is that literally thousands of local churches step up to become authorized, affordable providers of competent immigration legal advice.
Following the “amnesty” of 1986, World Relief partnered with a few particular denominations to equip local churches to become authorized to provide legal services. My colleagues who have been around longer than I have tell me that, in addition to assisting thousands of people in the process of becoming legal residents of the United States, we also saw many who had never entered a church in their lives come back for Sunday services. Many who came for legal services also ended up as citizens of God’s kingdom as they heard and accepted the hope of the gospel. About 2.7 million people eventually legalized their status as a result of the 1986 legislation: now, there are probably about 11.5 million people who are undocumented. If immigration reform passes this year—as I think it will, in some form—the need for legal services will be a tsunami. I’m praying that our churches will have the wisdom and courage to see and swiftly respond to an unprecedented opportunity.
3. Finally—on a much more personal level—I’m praying that in June I become the father to a healthy baby boy or girl. My wife Diana and I have prayed for more than a year to have a baby, and it’s been deeply disappointing to both of us as, month after month, it has not happened. That’s why we’re so grateful to God that we can now announce that Diana is seventeen-weeks pregnant. We’re rejoicing and incredibly grateful to God for answering this prayer (and for the many who have prayed for us), and also praying that God would give us wisdom as (with some fear and trembling) we enter the exciting world of parenthood. (Some of you who know us well know that we’d begun an adoption process some months ago; we’re still really eager to adopt eventually, but given the unexpected pregnancy we’ve put that process on hold for now).
I have been reminded over and over again that God really does hear and answer our prayers. My most important resolution for 2013—one that I hope you’ll join me in—is to commit to fervently praying for the changes that I hope to happen over the next year that I cannot really control, but which I believe God can.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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