Undocumented Migrants: They are here. They are living next to us, and very few of them have anyone outside of their culture saying, “Jesus loves you and so do I. How can I pray for you? How can I help you? Please come to church with me.” Illegally here or not, they are here, and they are as much in need of Jesus’ grace and transformational power as you or me.
Church leadership is sometimes daunting. A term on a vestry, a run as a volunteer ministry leader, a call to be part of a church staff, or God forbid, the pastor of a church are all calls that bring particularly deep and sometimes unexplainable blessings. Ministry also carries a personal burden that only those so burdened understand.
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) Later on He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16: 24).
So, the answer to the question “Is serving Jesus awesome and wonderful?” The answer is, “Yes, of course it is, even when it’s not.”
That is the great spiritual struggle swirling around my head as I leave my temperature controlled and faithful, in-town congregation and drive off into the jungles of Johns Island (not an exaggeration). Every Sunday afternoon I physically cross cultural boundaries, weather the extreme cold and the southerner-wearying heat to try to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who barely know me and who have a hard time understanding my attempt at speaking the language of their childhoods. Not to mention the current political environment. As a conservative person, I am all for strong borders and legal and orderly immigration policies. However, I weekly meet and pastor people who are new to the U.S. and who did not pass through any border checkpoint. They are the current “easy to hate” people. Our government is doing a terrible job managing our borders, and our two-party system is now not willing to work together to benefit the country and the migrants with legislation that will protect the truly persecuted and curb human child trafficking. Okay. I’m stepping down from my soapbox; if you want to talk to me about what’s going on at our nation’s southern border, please call me.
Now to what is happening here and now in our diocese:
The vast majority of the Spanish-speaking people who come across our border legally or illegally are hardworking, family oriented, intelligent and loving people. Thousands of them live in our towns, work in our communities and farms and go to our schools.
I don’t know this because I assume it; I know this because I know many of them like I know the people of my own parish. You already know some of this because you have seen them repairing your roofs, cleaning your yards, or walking with their families in Walmart. Your children may have more and more friends named Juan or Esmeralda. (Please note I am not talking about Latino people of means who have come here with a visa to go to college or to fill a professional position.)
I’m speaking about the people in our towns and cities who were, at some point, at our southern border and swam or walked across it. Thousands and thousands have crossed in that manner. Reports are that tens of thousands have died trying. Hundreds of thousands have been deported in the last 30 years (choose your President’s name and insert here), but many thousands are living close by, surviving, some even thriving, despite very low wages and terrible living conditions.
They are here. They are living next to us, and very few of them have anyone outside of their culture saying, “Jesus loves you and so do I. How can I pray for you? How can I help you? Please come to church with me.” Illegally here or not, they are here, and they are as much in need of Jesus’ grace and transformational power as you or me. If they are ever deported and sent back to their countries of origin, wouldn’t it be better if they left here knowing the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way?
In the words of the Rev. Janet Echols, “They are the Samaritans among us.”
Ministry to the hidden, marginalized, sometimes undocumented and certainly hard to understand, migrants in your area is way less fun sounding than a coat drive or Vacation Bible School or Angel Tree or even a mission trip to South America. Because it’s not as easy to escape when it’s over.
When you minister to the migrant population, you will witness the poverty in which they live and will be embarrassed to invite them to your comparatively mansion-like house. You will see them in worship and make a spiritual connection, and then you will see them at Walmart and the context will change, and you will be equals. And God forbid, you will spend more than the eight days in a row you spend with people of another culture on an overseas mission trip and you will be forced, if you allow it, into a deeper personal relationship with a Samaritan, and that is uncomfortable. No, it’s true. That can be uncomfortable. Discomfort is the main reason we stop doing things, even good and godly things. I mean, why don’t you go to church more than two times a month? Comfort.
And yet Jesus’ own example, and that of the disciples, is to cross the clear cultural boundaries around us and bring the Good News to a hurting world—baptizing, healing, and befriending them.
God tricked me into this, and it was good.
Without knowing it, I was led by God through training and experience and given a certain temperament that would make this very small ministry possible. From high school on through seminary, He brought me people and teachers who would encourage my learning of the Spanish language. He gave me an ability to hang around people whom I didn’t always understand (when I was a Youth Minister it was teenagers), and He got me on the soccer team in high school (a surprise to most) which ended up becoming my first entry into the lives of the men at the work camps. I “let them” thrash me on the soccer field; it was a great ice breaker. And once I was launched into it, it was a blessed surprise to me. I hope you get that same surprise.
If you are reading this, the Lord may be calling you to minister to the Samaritan in your midst, Spanish speaking or otherwise; minister to them until their status—in your heart—changes from Samaritan to brother or sister.
In Christ Jesus all is possible including your ministry to the migrant workers nearby, so find your Samaritans and run toward them. If God is in it, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will provide.
May the Lord bless, keep, and inspire you to dangerous compassion and uncomfortable ministry. Including taking yourself and your family to church every Sunday.
In the image above, two men from the work camp learn English from the Gospel of Mark. There are about 25 men in this work camp, most of whom do not speak in English, who are in need of a little kindness and Christian fellowship. If you would like to join us in this ministry contact me, the Rev. David Dubay, at email@example.com.
By The Rev. David Dubay, Rector, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Charleston and Vicar, La Iglesia Movil (The Church on the Move)
(Image by David Dubay)