The annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference is something like Christmas for me. I look forward to it all year. It is simultaneously energizing and exhausting, and I wish it lasted longer. The CCDA describes itself thus: “As a network of Christians committed to seeing people and communities wholistically restored. We believe that God wants to restore us not only to right relationship with Himself but also with our own true selves, our families and our communities. Not just spiritually, but emotionally, physically, economically, and socially. Not by offering mercy alone, but by undergirding mercy with justice. To this end, we follow Jesus’s example of reconciliation. We go where the brokenness is. We live among the people in some of America’s neediest neighborhoods. We become one with our neighbors until there is no longer an “us” and “them” but only a “we.” And, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, “we work and pray for the well-being of our city [or neighborhood],” trusting that if the entire community does well and prospers, then we will prosper also.” For the folks in my under-resourced neighborhood who are able to attend each year, it’s a huge blessing to be among like-minded Christians. It’s also exhausting to have so many people from across the country—old friends and new—to connect with over a few days. I tend to pack my schedule with meetings from early morning breakfasts to late night hang-out sessions. I do this for the insightful workshops, Bible studies, and worship—but probably more than anything else for the relational connections. CCDA is a priority event on my calendar and I would encourage any who haven’t been before to plan now to join us next year from September 26 through 30 in Minneapolis. All that said, I thought I’d offer a few brief takeaways from this year’s CCDA conference, held last week in Indianapolis, that relate to immigration:
- Richard Twiss, a theologian of Lakota origin, challenged North American Christians to recognize the injustices committed against Native American communities throughout our history—and the ways that biblical Christianity was manipulated to do so. “We should have had tighter immigration laws,” Twiss joked. We often speak of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants,” but we have erred—and need to repent—of leaving this country’s original inhabitants out of the conversation. That has been true at g92.org as well as in the Christian community’s national dialogue and in our societal discussions around immigration. (Incidentally, Twiss will be speaking again at The Justice Conference in February 2012 in Portland, Oregon, along with CCDA founder Dr. John Perkins. You might not want to miss that!)
- CCDA CEO Noel Castellanos brought out a surprise guest speaker during a session on education reform: his fifth grade teacher. Noel described his teacher, Mrs. Reece, as one of the most important people in his life. As she has done for hundreds of other children over a long career, Reece saw potential in young Noel when he was a low-income Latino kid facing challenges at home. She, along with her husband, mentored him along through life. As someone who has been blessed by Noel’s leadership and character, I’m grateful for “Mama” Reece and the thousands of other teachers like her who see it as their God-given mission to pour their lives into kids.
- Jason Williams is a pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a large Presbyterian Church of America congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. He shared his personal testimony of how God rescued him from a life of drugs, found him in prison, and transformed him into someone whom God is using powerfully to serve his community and share the hope of the gospel in Birmingham. But he also spoke of Alabama’s controversial new immigration law, H.B. 56, calling it a “black eye” on the state. I’m grateful to hear an evangelical leader from Alabama speaking out against this law: we need more to show the courage that Pastor Williams has in calling out a law that is having devastating effects and which could criminalize some elements of Christian ministry (though some elements of the law have been temporarily blocked by the courts, pending further judicial review).
- Finally, Dr. John Perkins exhorted us each morning from the Scriptures. I’m not sure if he was so bold when he was younger, but at 81, Dr. Perkins doesn’t seem to be concerned about offending anyone. He brings the truth of God’s Word without softening it. Dr. Perkins said we would not have racism—or any need for discussion of racial reconciliation—if we really believed in the biblical truth that each person is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). As our political cycle brings immigration issues into the national spotlight and the rhetoric against certain groups of immigrants intensifies, my prayer is that we can hold onto that truth that every single immigrant—regardless of country of origin, language, ethnicity, religion, or legal status—is a person made in God’s image, for whom Jesus Christ died.