On June 19, 2012, a press conference was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a national, evangelical hub, to further promote the Evangelical Immigration Table. The intention was both to encourage a united evangelical front for immigration reform and to seek a common, biblically mandated vision for helping create a better life for immigrants in America. This post is the second in a series of three documenting what was shared by several local Colorado Springs leaders during the press conference. Matthew Soerens’ usual Monday blog will appear this Friday.
This is an unprecedented gathering. As evangelicals we are called, above all, to love God as we love our neighbor (Mark 12:30). Listening to people’s stories is one way to love them. Stories of survival, brokenness, and thirst for justice are common themes of immigrants anywhere. When we learn from these stories we cannot be neutral to the call to be a people who do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
Jesus once said, in Matthew 25:36-40, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” As evangelicals we want to affirm the divine mandate to respect the God-given dignity of every person. As people of God we cannot be indifferent to this critical mandate. All of us have a story to tell. Mine is a story of displacement, hope and learning. Living as an immigrant helps a person to depend on others. A friend once told me, “Study hard, love people and listen to their stories and you will be enriched.”
I served as local pastor in Los Angeles. People’s stories—about survival, hard work, and hope taught me so much. These stories equipped me to understand the issues of injustice, exploitation, and poor working conditions. There is so much to be done. Because of my role as professor, I moved from LA to Colorado Springs, and I found myself displaced once again. After much search I found a small immigrant Latino church plant and visited. There, I was welcomed and reminded of my story once again. Along with Pastor Jaime Lazaro, I serve in El Centro church. Here stories continue to be written. The power of people’s stories reminds me again where I came from.
We have an opportunity to flesh out our love to God as we listen and welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to defend the unity of the family and to ensure fairness to the immigrant without distinction of color or nationality. We must say NO to indifference because we have a God-given mandate—to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Forgetting or denying our stories, especially stories of our ancestors who were immigrants in this nation, is simply depriving us from becoming sensitive to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
But how can we do this? I will illustrate this with a recent story. A local white evangelical pastor in our city learned about our immigrant church and offered to volunteer (he and his leaders) to serve meals for an event for immigrant families. It was a unique experience. This was the beginning of a flourishing partnership. Later, both congregations visited each other and this pastor shared his story in his message. He grew up in a Spanish-speaking country, experienced displacement, and had to learn Spanish as a foreign boy while his father worked in a business in the country. The power of his story was compelling and yet vulnerable.
This whole experience gave me hope that congregations across our city can learn from others (even from an immigrant church—no matter from what race or nationality) in such a humble and intentional way. Thus, this Anglo pastor demonstrated the love of God in tangible ways, and he proved it when he opened his congregation, Beth-El Mennonite Church, to welcome us.
After getting to know each other as communities, via dialogue and meeting his church board, now our Latino church is received as a sister church—something both congregations never experienced before. The power of our stories has revitalized our sense of mission for our city. God reminded us that we are one family called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Could we deprive our congregations from the opportunity to learn to love as we serve others and speak for them? Let’s seize the moment as we stand together and join hands for a move of God in which our call to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly is indeed possible. Let our children and young people learn how to love and how to serve as our congregations choose to welcome the stranger and learn from them.
Wilmer Villacorta, Ph.D., was raised in Peru until age 19 and lived as an immigrant in France and in the US. He served as a pastor in Latino communities in New Jersey and California from 1985 through 1997. He served in two non-profit organizations assisting with advocacy and job development in the Los Angeles county from 1989 to 1994. Currently, he ministers as a graduate school educator at Fuller Seminary. His students are pastors, relief workers, ex-pat workers, and market-place leaders from the US and several nations from around the world.
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