san diego

Problem to Fix or Opportunity to Embrace? 3 Ways to Care for Unaccompanied Minors

IMG_0672A couple weeks ago, Mexican and USAmerican leaders gathered at Friendship Park -- the wall between us -- representing millions of Christians throughout Mexico and the United States by offering a prayer on behalf of the 60,000 unaccompanied minors detained on our border. As I stood in this sacred prayer circle that extended across our shared border, I thought,“This is what the Church looks like when it takes seriously it’s call to care for the ‘least of these’ as part of our citizenship to a kingdom that knows no borders.”

While some Christian’s view the arrival of these children (many of whom are fleeing actual or pending violence) as a burdensome imposition -- welcoming these kids with protests and hate speech -- others are rightly viewing this an opportunity for the Church to be the Church and reflect Good News to some of the worlds most vulnerable. These kids can’t be viewed as a threat to our abundance, but the very people we are to care for out of our abundance. 

Thankfully, I have had scores of folks in the Church asking what can be done. Another way it has been asked is, “How can we welcome the children in the same way Jesus did?” 

Here are three tangible ways: 

1. Seek to Understand the Human Plight 

Few understand the gravity of the situation these kids are fleeing from. Whether physical starvation, hopeless depression, violent war or a gang reality, these kids are traumatized before they ever begin their journey to the United States. It is in that place that they begin one of the most dangerous journey’s imaginable from Central America to the United States. The vast majority of the girls who make the journey are either killed, raped or sold into sex slavery, while the percentage of boys who experience similar horrors isn’t much lower. With this in mind, imagine how they feel when they finally make it into the United States! While 60,000 have made it, scores of others haven’t. These kids need attention and care, so when we welcome them with hatred and signs to “GO HOME,” I can’t imagine how that adds to their trauma. Further, I can’t imagine that’s how Jesus’ would have his Church treat the strangers and children among us. 

READ: Enrique’s Journey 

WATCH: Which Way Home

2. Meet Those Behind the Headlines

This is not an issue to remain in the walls of political power or on the mouths of political pundits filling our news outlets. Because this is a humanitarian issue, we must meet the humans behind the headlines and debates. There are detention centers and shelters in cities all across the United States where these kids are being held as their future hangs in the balance. Go and meet these kids. Play soccer. Share a meal. Hear their story. 

Just a few weeks ago, we (TGIP) brought of a group of US teenagers to a shelter here in San Diego to spend time with these teenagers from Central America. While it took a few minutes to break the awkward “hello’s,” these kids bonded as equals. They were no different from one another, they just had dramatically different stories. After hours of soccer, games and sharing tables, the common humanity was all any of us could see.  

GO: Southwest Key is the largest network of shelters in the United States and are located in multiple states. Also, you don’t have to search long to identify a detention center in your city. 

3. Act According to Your Convictions

Having gained both an academic and experiential understanding of this crisis, there are plenty of ways to take action. Here are a few suggestions for you and/or your community:

  • Foster/Adopt: There are now organizations and ministries facilitating the foster and/or adoption process of these kids. This is a VERY tangible way for the Church to be the Church. Imagine if we weren’t waiting for the government to care for these kids, but taking action ourselves to solve this crisis by opening our doors and hearts?
  • Donate: Search organizations who are caring for these kids and offer your finances or material resources.
  • Advocate: Call your representative and tell them the Church supports the care of these children and that this crisis must be viewed as a humanitarian crisis politically.
  • Educate: Invite those closest to you and the leadership within your Church to academically and experientially educate themselves on this issue.  Offer them tangible steps towards redemptive engagement.

In the way that Jesus opened his arms to children when those in power told him to do otherwise, may the Church open its arms to the children on our doorstep who are so desperately in need of love, dignity, healing and hope.

 

Deported: A View From the “Other” Side

GilbertoI was recently sitting in a Tijuana shelter that houses men for 12 days after they have been deported from the United States. I was guiding a group of pastors and leaders from around California and Arizona who wanted to learn the human story of immigration first hand. With that goal in mind, we simply sat with Gilberto, the director of the shelter, and asked him to tell some of his story and the story of those he has given his life to over the past 30 years.  

Unimpressed by our glowing resumes, large church attendance or broad vocabulary, Gilberto humbly shared about the path Jesus led him on toward caring for society’s leftovers. With a glowing resume of his own, Gilberto intentionally chose to step off the path of comfort and “success” to step deeper into the reality of his brothers who needed his support. 

He shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the US for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the US when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the US. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish. 

He shared about the US military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones, was deported to Mexico. 

He shared about the man who had recently been deported and was now desperately trying to return to his wife and young children in the US.  

With each story, the layers of isolation, dehumanization and misunderstanding began to be peeled back. We had all heard the stories of deportation in the headlines, but none of us had come face to face with the humans behind the story. 

Mesmerized by this sage who cast such a strong aroma of Jesus, we asked, “What would you encourage us to say to our congregations regarding the plight of the immigrant?”

He quickly responded with words I’ll never forget: 

“Tell them to read their Bibles. Jesus told us to care for three types of people; the orphan, the widow and the stranger. It’s been 2000 years and we’re still doing a pretty bad job.”

We were frozen in our seats. 

How could a group of pastors who have given their lives to following Jesus and to the work of encouraging others to do the same argue such a profound statement?

It was one of those strange, other-worldly moments when conviction and inspiration seem to collide.  

Now, we could argue this politically and enter into the endless rhetoric, partisan mud slinging and various interpretations of United States immigration history, but that’s not the point. The point is taking seriously Jesus’ mandate to care for the orphans, the widows and the strangers (“refugee” in some translations) among us. 

In his 30 years, Gilberto has cared for 220,00 “strangers” who have come to his door. They aren’t a problem to fix, but a blessing to receive.

Maybe, just maybe, after we begin to care for and love the people Jesus asked us to, we will discover that we need their love as much as they need ours. 

Maybe, just maybe, after we begin to care for and love the people Jesus asked us to, we will have the relational credibility to legislate their well being.

We might not care for 220,000, but we can start with one.

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NOTE: If you and/or your community want to experience this reality first hand, consider joining one of our Immigrant’s Journey Learning Labs. More info HERE on The Global Immersion Project website. 

Pastoring in the New Parish

IMG_3448The longer we live in our neighborhood and enter into deeper relationships with a handful of the 13,000 people who live within the 10 X 7 blocks of Golden Hill, the more we become aware of the importance of the faithfulness of our little faith community in this place. We are discovering that the majority of our neighbors would never consider attending a traditional church (for a variety of reasons) and many others who have attended churches in the past have been deeply hurt, disillusioned or disconnected from the church communities of their past.

So is that it? Game over?

No, far from it. As we find ourselves invited (and inviting) deeper into the lives of our neighbors we are discovering it is just the beginning. Whether walking with women through pregnancy and supporting them in the intimacy of child birth or officiating weddings of those who wouldn’t otherwise have a “pastor” in their life or sitting on our patio with the war veteran enduring PTSD or checking in on the elderly man next door or sharing a meal with a friend in the park who doesn’t have a home or simply offering a warm greeting to those on our sidewalks, we are embracing the fact that our neighborhood is our parish and we are its pastors.

So, if we believe Jesus is the hope of the world and that the Church plays a role in God’s mission of reconciliation, then how might the Church express itself in a neighborhood like ours?

There must be a movement of us that rise up not to impose our beliefs on our neighbors, but to simply walk with them, care for them, encourage them in the realities of everyday life and empower them to live more fully into who they were created to be.

Doubts.

Loss.

Career transition.

Children.

Marriage.

Play.

Those who embrace this pastorate can’t reduce our congregants to those who come in our buildings once or twice a week. No, our congregants are the people we share life with everyday. There is a building movement of those who are retracing our pastoral roles back to the ancient idea of parish. The neighborhood (the physical place where we live, work and play) is the new parish and we are its pastors.

We have meals in our homes. We take care of each other’s children. We offer marriage support and counseling when they’re in need. When our neighbors are the most vulnerable, we hold space for them to experience the gift of simply being present. In those spaces, both the presence of Jesus and the presence of the Jesus Community is made real.

Further, in this pastorate of everyday relationship, we open ourselves up to be pastored by our neighbors. Genuine relationship doesn’t run one direction, it is an act of mutual submission that frees us to fully share and receive love…even if from the most unexpected people and places.

This isn’t a walking away from formal leadership in the Church, it’s our faithful act to fully embrace the pastoral vocation we have been called to live out each and everyday. 

It’s hard. It’s ambiguous. The metrics are difficult to calculate at times. The pain often outweighs the hope. We don’t get a platform or a microphone. Instead, we are given the gift of genuine relationship. Relationship where we are as formed as those we form.

In this pastorate, there will be no title that assumes leadership or authority. No, our only authority comes when we have fully submitted ourselves to our neighborhoods and lead with tangible acts of humble presence and long-term commitment.

I’m not saying the role of pastor in a “traditional” sense is bad or wrong or unnecessary. It is surely needed! What I am saying is that it’s time we expand our definition of pastor and begin to create tangible pathways for those of us called to this form of pastoring to be mobilized, equipped and sent to participate with God in the people and places far off the beaten path of most churches influence.  

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NOTE:

1. Our Thresholds Missional Community Cohort -- of which I’m on the leadership team -- is committed to the coaching, training and mobilizing of this very kind of pastor. A pastor who is leading embedded communities of faith and reconciliation.

2. My dear friends of the Parish Collective recently wrote a book that fills out the theological, historical and practical implications of taking seriously this form of pastorate. It is called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.

Owning Our Role in Gentrification & the Bible

IMG_7340What is the role of a community of faith in a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood? Is what we see as good actually good for the whole population of a neighborhood? How do we become aware of those issues? How do we promote a common good of both the haves and have not’s?

In developing a biblical framework for the reality of gentrification, there are two themes that we see helpful in highlighting.  First, how we enter a place is as significant as how we end up living in it.  In other words, we can move into a neighborhood or city in the posture of the colonizing hero or we can enter it with humility and a willingness to embrace the already established ethos.  Second, and requiring we hold the first theme in radical tension, we are to live in neighborhoods as advocates of the Kingdom of God and with the hope of God’s reign being made manifest in this place.  

So how do we enter a place with humility as a learner, while still advocating for a hope found in the reality of the Kingdom of God that was inaugurated in Jesus?  

As the physical place where all three monotheistic religions share a common history, Hebron is one of the most volatile cities in the Middle East today.  Home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to trace their roots back to their father, Abraham.  Today, there is a daily struggle for the acquisition of more land and better access to the cities’ religious sites to the point that land is being stolen from one another.  Rather than working with one another in common respect for the land, there is a posture of domination and acquisition that trumps their ability to celebrate a common bloodline.  

The irony of today’s struggle is that their father, Abraham, gives us one of the most important insights into how we are to enter into a neighborhood that is already inhabited.  After his wife Sarah died at the beginning of Genesis 23, Abraham enters a time of mourning and preparation for her burial in Hebron, which at the time was inhabited by the Hittites.  Having a significant reputation among the people, Abraham could have easily taken land for Sarah’s burial or assumed that it would be given to him.  Instead, he says, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead” (23:4). Over the course of the narrative, he is offered the land multiple times for free, but Abraham insists on honoring the inhabitants by paying a fair price for the land.  

At a later point in Israel’s story, God’s people find themselves in exile under the heavy hand of Babylon.  They no longer inhabit their neighborhood and their understanding of a rightly ordered world is a distant dream.  Yet, despite it all, the prophet Jeremiah shares the word of Yahweh to his people in exile;

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” -- Jeremiah 29:5-7

It is here that we get a picture affirming our second theme that we are to be advocates and participants in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in the places we inhabit.  No matter how we land in our neighborhood, city or suburb, we are to seek the good of our place.  We are to embody and advocate for the reality of God’s reign because the good of our place will equal the good of our family.   

After hundreds of years, exile had become Israel’s primary reality when Jesus, their deliverer, finally arrives.   For Israel, the Messiah was to bring about three realities: 1. Restoration of the Davidic throne through military conquest, 2. Rebuilding of the Temple and 3. Reoccupation of the Holy Land.  While Jesus comes bringing a message of hope in announcing the reality of the Kingdom of God, such hope wasn’t always realized in the way they would have anticipated.  In fact, because Jesus didn’t bring about any of these three realities in the way Israel expected, the majority of God’s people considered Jesus a failed Messiah.  He had moved into the neighborhood of humanity with the hope of the Kingdom of God, but rather than establishing God’s reign through military conquest, he established it through suffering and selfless sacrifice.  For Jesus, the common good of the human neighborhood required that he make himself last in order for others to be first.  

While Jesus was viewed as a failed Messiah by the standards of the Jewish community of his day, we know that his upside down approach was actually the means through which the Kingdom was made manifest.  Jesus did have some “short term” wins throughout his ministry, but there was a longer-term impact he came to bring about that wasn’t as easy to see or measure. 

As we faithfully inhabit our neighborhoods with the hope of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus, maybe our goal isn’t to fix everything right now, but to seek a longer-term good.  In fact, what might look like failure in the short term could be the sowing of seeds that lead toward a long term good.  Maybe just being with the people in a neighborhood can offer a long-term good that transcends some of the short-term realities of gentrification.  Maybe moving towards a common good with our neighbors out of the tangible hope of God’s Kingdom reign will redeem some of our apparent short term “failures.”

If there is anything we have learned, it is that transformation is slow and often comes about in ways we would never have expected.  Such is the life of Jesus and such is life as a follower of Jesus.  While committing to find our hope in Jesus’ enthronement as King of the Kingdom, we live, love and lead in our neighborhoods with curiosity, humility and a listening ear that leads us towards a common heart and life with our neighbors. 

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NOTE: This is an excerpt from a chapter I contributed to a book published by The Urban Loft called Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes and Urban Hipsters: Gentrification, Urban Mission, and Church Planting. 

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

goldenhillcafe1-300x199I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman. 

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.” 

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family. 

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.  

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.” 

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends -- whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. -- out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.  

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NOTE: After reading this, I have had multiple people inquire about what they can do. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration. 

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

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