The result of the presidential election and the politics in regard to immigration issues have impacted America in so many ways. Being a Latino pastor in a country where the Latino population reaches close to 60 million people gives me the opportunity to not only share the gospel in Spanish, but also to be concerned with the issues that affect my community.
My heart feels for those who are facing the uncertainty of their current immigration status. Moreover, I am writing from the bottom of my heart to present a plea for my brothers and sisters who at this time are concerned with their future and the future of their children. My intention here is to beseech my own denomination to intentionally reach out and help the Latino community in the United States.
The Church of the Brethren is known for the size of its heart in regard to social issues, humanitarian concern, and humane relief. It is in our DNA to respond to injustice, be concerned with people in need, and help those without a voice. Since we have the heart for those who are suffering, it will come naturally that we as a church respond to the current situation with the love of Christ to the many families affected by deportations. It seems to me that we have been silent on this issue, thus losing the opportunity to preach the gospel of love in the language we know best: helping others in need.
We have helped people in other countries during hurricanes, tsunamis, and arson, yet it seems we have failed to see and respond to needs of the Latinos in our own back yard. For instance, “The Obama administration deported 414,481 unauthorized immigrants in fiscal year 2014. . . . A total 2.4 million were deported under the administration from fiscal 2009 to 2014, including a record 435,000 in 2013,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the data.
The question is this: are we as a church ready to see this reality not as a political issue, but as an opportunity to minister to those who are in need? Are we ready to be intentional in reaching out to the largest minority group in this country? Are we ready to establish an office, focused to deal with the social and spiritual issues of the Latino community? Could our congregations make a meaningful presence in our communities by providing a welcoming space? Can our congregations become a part of a social/ spiritual movement in which the gospel of Christ is taught with a serving love that breaks all language barriers?
Here is an example of what I have been experiencing: A couple of weeks ago I picked up six of the kids who normally come to our Wednesday night program. The difference this time was that the conversation among them became a bit intense due to the current immigration news we have been experiencing. I noticed that the conversation among them became more and more political as they discussed the future of their parents, if they were to be deported.
That is when a nine-year-old boy with a Honduran undocumented mother said to me, “Pastor, my mother told me that if she was deported I should go and live with you. Can we?” At the exact moment, his little sister also asked the same question: “Pastor, will you let us stay with you?” My immediate response was, “But of course!”
As the days passed I began to reflect on what had happened. I pondered, what is the true role of the church toward those with whom we minister? Where do we draw the line? Are we only interested in their eternal future or are we also concerned for the struggles they are experiencing?
As an immigrant myself, having had four different visas and having had to wait almost 25 years in this country before becoming a US citizen, my heart feels for those who may never have that privilege—no matter how long they wait. I can honestly say that my denomination played an important part in helping me get the legal documents needed to establish my life and make my future in this country. I am not only an immigrant, I am also the product of what a loving church can do for those who struggle with a broken immigration system.
After more than 20 years of being a Latino pastor in this country, I see the need for our denomination to do more. We can be united in a nation-wide program to assist members of our Latino congregations in this country. We can create venues in which we support Latino immigrant families left behind without their bread winners. We can redirect money invested in failing programs to nurture social outreach programs sponsored by our Latino congregations. My plea is for those whom we are pastoring and who are afraid of even driving to church or being in large gatherings. So, let us:
- Find ways to provide free immigration consultation for Latino immigrants in our communities.
- Partner with Latino Church of the Brethren congregations in their efforts responding to Latino social needs.
- Open the doors of our congregations for Latino community events such as quinceañeras, baby showers, birthday parties, etc. (This will extend our love and show that we are concerned more about people than our buildings.)
- Challenge the members of our congregations to know and be friends with the Latinos in their neighborhoods.
- Find volunteers in our congregations who would teach English classes, tutor, or even provide interpretation for Spanish speakers.
- Do a congregational “Latino small business support day”: gather 20 to 40 people from a congregation and go to a Latino grocery store and purchase something all at the same time.
- Adopt a family. Find out how possible it would be for a congregation to adopt and support a single Latino mother. Some mothers are now the sole bread winners for their families, because their husbands have been deported and they are left with the children.
I believe our denomination has huge potential to minister to the immediate needs of the Latino community in this country. We must be sensitive to what is happening around us and in our congregations. Please listen to the plea of a Latino Brethren. Let us help our brother and sisters.
I am a Latino Brethren and this is my reflection!
Daniel D’Oleo is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and a leader and pastor in the Renacer movement of Latino congregations.