The Church, the Hope for a Better World
Thoughts on the crisis at the border
As executive director of All People Initiative and a key leader of Immigrant Hope, Dr. Alejandro Mandes is charged with providing insight for our churches in understanding immigration and church planting/disciplemaking resources to help immigrants take their respected place among us as we reach this changing nation with the gospel.
While Alejandro is familiar with South and Latin American migration to America, he was in Europe and Africa for most of July, seeking valuable first-hand insight from immigrants, refugees and those involved in para-church ministries. While Alex’s perspective has been well-documented in past blogs relative to loving the stranger, seeking biblical justice and compassion, and seeking a gospel opportunity in this crisis, he submits this piece with a promise to follow up with lessons learned from his journey.
Alejandro has always blended a patient, prophetic voice that is consistent with EFCA doctrine, honors EFCA ethos and is filled with actionable next steps. Alejandro’s work is always done in community and well-vetted. This article is not the EFCA’s final word on this painful crisis; it sits well with other pieces recently submitted.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
This ideal world is captured well in Isaiah:
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.
As the waters cover the sea.
In a better world, the vulnerable must not/will not be hungry, sick, or threatened. Children will play and not feel pain and want. That is what we want for our own children. The vulnerable will be cared for and the sick bound up. This passage speaks of a better world that is yet to come at the glorious coming of our Lord. But it is also for today. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says,
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Unfortunately, some in the EFCA have been a bit too passive in helping those who are vulnerable, almost as if we believe in a Christian determinism. Sometimes, we have put more emphasis on the Great Commission over the Great Commandment. Both are essential to the heart of the Lord.
Please let me press a bit harder. Those who may overemphasize the Great Commandment over the Great Commission might refer to Isaiah, which points to this as Jesus’ manifesto:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn.”
(Isaiah 61:1-2 Also of note is Luke 4:18-191)
Yes, people’s suffering is on the Lord’s heart. He certainly hurts for the poor, broken, captives and suffering. While on earth Jesus personally set an example. He fed, healed, wept and even raised the dead, but He also knew there was no end to the hurt in this world. He also said, “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11) We who are made in His image should follow His example of helping and bearing people's burdens. (Luke 3:11, Proverbs 14:31, Philippians 2:4)
While the poor are an important focus, the latter part of Matthew 26:11 intimates another priority, namely, being about the Lord and His work. Always help the poor; it is the mark of a disciple, but not at the expense of making disciples. Truly, if done right, preaching and serving are almost seamless.2 When the disciples were first sent out to practice this ministry, Jesus told them to proclaim the good news and “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:7-8) If we really want to plant transformational churches among all people we must speak good news and practice good news.
Must we choose orthopraxy over orthodoxy? I think not. More often than not it is good to have that tension. Some are more passionate for either the Great Commandment or the Great Commission. Some, with their bias toward orthodoxy or orthopraxy, marginalize others due to gift or cause projection.3
All we have to do, however, is look at Jesus. He had some political zealots on His team, like Simon the Zealot, who carried two swords at his side.4 I’m sure many on Jesus’ team were sympathetic to Simon. Some were like Nathanael, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” ( John 1:47) Good leadership does not always seek unanimity but also allows for all to best articulate their positions.5 “There is a time and a place for everything...” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy?
I would say the EFCA has leaned toward orthodoxy, which is always the necessary first step. I wonder if the day is coming when we may need to lean into orthopraxy? If we have placed our theological footing well, are we not the most well-equipped people to better address the matters of cultural engagement without going to the extreme? I believe so.
However, in our desire to wait for the right moment, some people interpret a pause in speaking out as indifference on matters of orthopraxy, and in exasperation, they lean into politics, news and causes more than they seek the Lord’s wisdom; these people are never at a loss for opinion. I certainly keep my ear to these sources of information.
Additionally, it would surely help to listen together with younger leaders, since they clearly have a stake in the future outcome.
Please be assured that wherever you’re at on the orthodoxy/orthopraxy spectrum, the EFCA continues to pursue God’s leading and will speak and act on His Word and direction. We have not been remiss to date. Our movement is firmly planted in “compassion and justice,” as you will find in our Statement of Faith.6 We have acted earlier than most, as demonstrated by launching Immigrant Hope. We can and will do more.
What border crisis?
We must consider the “Crisis on the Border.” Some debate whether it is man-made or the normal outworking of population growth and accelerated global migration, accelerated by man-made crisis. I say yes to both ideas.
What truly hurts me is when politicians use real and hurting people as props for political points and the media sits on the sidelines acting as if they are nonpartisan. It is made worse when the church does not understand that something needs to be done. If justice is not clear due to polarizing media and political party jostling, we must remember that compassion continues to be in order until the way to justice becomes clear.
Who are we to trust in these confusing matters? Many today have less confidence in politicians and media, so who can we trust?
I know that some question whether or not there really is a crisis on the border. There most certainly is a crisis at the border. There has been one for a long time. Not long ago, little children began to be separated from their families. Our governmental systems were never created to handle that eventuality. Some acknowledge the crisis but would rather get involved in the who’s-fault-is-it game. I am far past that. I live in South Texas. I started Immigrant Hope in Brooklyn. Today as I write this, I am in Europe and Africa seeing what I already knew, that immigration is a global issue.
Here is a reality check: This is the new normal. Border problems are not going to go away. Border problems are being exasperated by population growth, a proliferation of despots, fanatics and drug lords.
There is an opportunity here for the church to stand tall.
What can we do?
We must do what Jesus did!
When Jesus was on the earth, Israel was an occupied, greatly oppressed territory. While some of His disciples wanted to join the fight against the Romans for a free Israel, He did not lift a sword.
Okay, He turned the tables on the religious fat cats. That was because He was laser-focused on the things that the Father sent Him to do: live as an example, die for our sins and make disciples. Not very flashy. He fed the poor. He healed many, but even His compassion had a gospel opportunity.
Important Point Here: The Great Commandment served the Great Commission to create the great transformed community! The GC3.7
It is essential to acknowledge that man’s efforts at compassion, apart from a gospel focus, eventually go wayward. There is little earthly justice and compassion by human effort, and there is no ultimate justice and compassion apart from Jesus. This is why we seek compassion and justice with a gospel focus. It provides earthly good with an ultimate purpose.
To not seek justice is to miss the point of Micah 6:8:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
To turn our eyes away from the hurting would be a violation to the Great Commandment. We are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
We must seek compassion and justice, but with a gospel purpose. We must ask, “what is the gospel opportunity here?” Sometimes evangelizing in deeds alone can mean simply helping the beggar without sharing the gospel in words. But it would be even better to work on gospel initiatives that satisfy the Great Commandment and the Great Commission! This transforms the community. It is what Jesus did with His time on earth.
The EFCA, grounded in Article 8 of the Statement of Faith, “compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed,” began Immigrant Hope as a holistic ministry that synergized the Great Commission and Great Commandment. We were one of the pioneers of “church based legal services” to immigrants. (Legal services, citizenship classes, and other services). Immigrant Hope’s initial motto was “compassion with a gospel purpose.” Ben Johnson took over that ministry and took it to another level by perfecting training that met national standards to allow EFCA churches to be part of the solution.
Ben, and I, truly grieve over the pain at the border. I see little advantage to assigning blame, as that is only sideways energy and diverts from finding gospel solutions. We channel our passion, most of the time, toward Immigrant Hope’s God-ordained mission: To provide the HOPE of the gospel, HELP in a legal pathway and a HOME in the church.
Some may want more of the sword! Others a more sanitized Great Commission. Politics may be some people’s thrill. Some want to live in the past where people stayed where they were until we reached them. But please understand this, God uses migration as a gospel opportunity.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
God has often used migration as a means of having His way with people. “...that they might reach out and find Him.” (Acts 17: 27) God is at work. Let us look to see where He is at work and join Him there.
I am not talking about circumventing American immigration law. I am saying we have a clear mission to love the immigrant, assuage their pain and initiate gospel ministries to evangelize, disciple and build communities. The government is turning to churches for help. Now is our time to be about the Father’s business.
Keep it simple…choose your one zeal!
When I was being discipled by the Navigators at the University of Texas, my leader was a prophetic artist. He created a postcard for me with the picture of a burning bush with Psalm 69:9 written underneath, “Zeal for Your house has consumed me.” I still have that postcard. It’s laminated and sits on my desk at home. That is me. Not bright. Not a shining star. This is my place in God’s universe. His House. His purpose. His People. His Way. When I get kicked to the curb, I will only seek one thing…His house!
So, what should we do? Here’s a call to action:
- Learn to discern. Be careful of the media and social media cycle. Turn off the single media conversation…listen to all sides. They all have a part of the truth,8 but not the complete truth. Most, not all, the media has moved from reporting the news to making the news.
- Burn for the eternal thing. Get on God’s agenda. Read the many stories of immigrants in the bible. Consider an internet bible study called Bible Verses About Immigration.9
- Read a wonderful book by my brother, Roy Oksnevad. The Burden of Baggage: First Generation Issues in Coming to Christ.10 Also, Greg Strand’s 2018 article on immigration gives a good theological foundation.
- Read material from the National Association of Evangelicals. Some have maligned this organization, but they are balanced. Additionally, the Evangelical Immigration Table principles include:
- Respects the God-given dignity of every person
- Protects the unity of the immediate family
- Respects the rule of law
- Guarantees secure national border
- Ensures fairness to taxpayers
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
- Dine with an immigrant. We have gotten used to our houses being fortresses to keep us safe. We need to open them up. Good biblical hospitality includes welcoming strangers into our homes. (Hebrews 13:2) Additionally, your children can be your best sources of contacts to immigrants in their schools.
- Pray for our elected officials, that they are united in finding equitable solutions that support the “rule of law” and respect the dignity of people made in the image of God.
- Give to Immigrant Hope. Join us in showing compassion with a gospel purpose. Our mission is to provide the HOPE of the gospel, HELP in a legal pathway and a HOME in the church.
The way forward is backward
Looking to the past we see the church reaching the lost by a healthy mixture of truth, compassion and courage. To reach the demographically changing America of the future,11 we must embrace the strangers already among us. Why? Because they constitute 95 percent of the future growth of the United States of America.12 America has always benefited from immigrants.13
Few denominations have focused on reaching the immigrants in the United States as wholeheartedly as the Catholic Church. I have pondered why it is so much easier for the Catholic Church to see immigrants and refugees as a mission. One key reason is because they are a global ministry at the core of their identity. They do not see the immigrant as national or international because “Catholic,” by definition is universal.
Immigrants around the world, from the United States of America and especially from Latin America, have added many devotees to the Catholic Church in the United States of America. This, in spite of the scandals of the Church. By joining their ranks, immigrants spared the Catholic Church from closing many schools, churches and other ministries. They have added their sons and daughters to ecclesiastical positions at a time when the other groups were leaving.
We, the Evangelical Free Church of America, already have a robust global ministry in five regions of the world. Nevertheless, we, the 1,600 EFCA congregations in these United States must see the integral opportunity to love, serve and reach immigrants/refugees here on our soil for our Lord. They will change us. They will add new life to us as they join our ranks and help revitalize our churches and help us see the world differently. They will help seal the gap between foreign and national ministries in our United States.
I believe we in the EFCA have it in us to succeed. We are tethered to the text of Scripture, grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and compelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This makes us a missional people. We have a good start, we have 153 immigrant congregations, including free-standing and second language congregations within our churches.14 It is for this reason that in 2011, I started calling these 45 million immigrants in the USA, who have come from the ends of the earth, Samericans.15 Naming them Samericans, was a strategic effort in order for our congregations to see how God was calling us to love our neighbors.
The transformed heart and mind are the hope for a better world!
When we can match our good stand on orthodoxy with sacrificial compassion, when we can see the strangers among us as people made in the image of God, when we can see the gospel opportunities, and when we welcome them as part of us, then we will truly be a transformational movement.
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
The revival is in the harvest, reach Samerica!
- Furthermore, when John the Baptist was imprisoned and he wondered about his own life and ministry, he wondered if Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. In response, Jesus told those who asked on John’s behalf to inform John of what he did, which was reflective of the fulfillment of these words from Isaiah and Jesus. You can read of this in Luke 7:18-23 and parallels.
- In Matthew 10:1-8, the disciples were to proclaim the kingdom and to live out the presence and reality of the kingdom: “And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” (Matt. 10:7-8)
- Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
- Luke 22:38
- Illustrated in the book, Team of Rivals. I wonder if our inclinations toward one or the other are not God-given in order to not deny the church of the best articulators of these two great mandates. Nevertheless, they must be held in good tensions. This is a great summary of the book.
- EFCA Statement of Faith Article 8. Christian Living: We believe that God's justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed. (My note: Please notice that the objective in this is “in obedience to “Christ’s Commission” to make disciples.)
- See the Blog on the All People EFCA Site called GC3.
- They both communicate an aspect of an event or story, just not the complete truth.
- Bible study tools.
- The Burden of Baggage
- Washington Examiner, and Pew Research
- We Do Not Come Empty-Handed: The Economic Case for Immigrants
- As of December 31, 2018, EFCA reports Immigrants Served: 3,494, Immigrant Churches: 14, 2nd Language Congregations: 72, Hispanic congregations: 9, Asian congregations: 58.
- I am thinking of Acts 1:8, but I do not see it only linearly. In our day the people from the ends of the earth have come here. Jerusalem and Samaria have literally come to us. If our missiology is purely linear then we might say we have not responsibility, but I think until the Lord comes the whole world is still our charge. So Samaria in America (Samerica) is a fitting way of keeping them in front of us as a people needing the Lord Jesus Christ.