All People blog

IMMIGRANT PATHWAY Institute is underway this week in San Antonio, Texas.

In my work with Immigrant Hope, anywhere from a quarter to half of my time is spent preparing for and running our biannual week-long immigration law class.

Right now, I am sitting in the sanctuary of Communion Chapel, an EFCA church in San Antonio, Texas, with a group of 32 students listening to an attorney describe how the government screens for fraud in marriage-based immigration cases. It’s not what I expected when I signed up as a missionary with the EFCA.

However, IMMIGRANT PATHWAY Institute is one of the major tools that we use to fulfill our great commission and great commandment mandates.

A biblical framework

When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he met a man named Onesimus, a runaway slave. Onesimus had broken a brutal, unjust law, but as a Roman citizen Paul was bound to turn him in. Many of us in Paul’s situation would see two options: follow the law and send Onesimus to his death, or flaunt the law to protect an oppressed man. Inspired by the gospel, Paul found a third way. He befriended Onesimus, eventually calling him “my son.” He led Onesimus to faith in Christ and made him a partner in ministry.

Then, he sent Onesimus back to his owner, but he did not send Onesimus alone. He put his own resources and reputation on the line to heal the fractured situation. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon, who was Onesimus’s owner, a Colossian Christian and a personal friend. He offered to pay any debt Onesimus owed.  He reminded Philemon of their equality before God, of God’s redemptive plan and of the eternal debt Philemon owes both to Paul and to Christ. Paul used his education as a lawyer, his personal connections and his knowledge of the Colossian church culture to deftly and powerfully argue for compassion and reconciliation. Crucially, he did not base the argument on human rights, mitigating circumstances, or the unjust law, but on the grace and reconciliation God offered to us when we had done nothing to earn them.

A current issue

We used Paul’s example to dig into a similar situation today. On the one hand, immigrants entering the U.S. face a complex, archaic system with roots in racist exclusion laws and preference for white Europeans. Even the simplest cases – say, a U.S. citizen seeking a visa for a foreign spouse – require detailed legal analysis and dozens of pages of supporting documents. The government has selectively enforced immigration law based on its own interests and priorities. Many people get in trouble because they do not understand the law or do not know what they are eligible for as an immigrant. Immigration attorneys are rare and expensive; predators posing as experts are common. Consequences for simple mistakes can be severe: long-term detention, separation from family, return to war, persecution, or economic devastation. On the other hand, millions of immigrants are living in the U.S. without legal status; many of them intentionally broke and continuing to break the law.

Most people, even Christians, pick sides – condemning or excusing. Like Paul, we believe there is a third way.

Workers at non-profit organizations, including churches, can become government-certified immigration legal counselors and help vulnerable immigrants navigate the system. We can use the gifts and resources God gave us – time, education, access to resources, knowledge of U.S. law and culture – to provide immigrants with the resources they need to understand and follow the law and stand in the gap between broken immigrants and a broken system. In this, we have the opportunity to build relationships with our clients, show that we love them and make disciples.

This training is the first step toward certification to offer immigration advice. Many of our students share our vision and will work to start church-based, evangelistic immigration legal aid clinics. Others have different faith backgrounds, but will spend a week hearing from committed Christians motivated by the gospel of Christ, who share their passion for justice and compassion.

And that is why we are here.

Ethnic Mentoring

Alvin Sanders – October 17, 2014 Leave a comment
All People Blog

Ethnic mentoring is crucial to fulfilling the Great Commission.

After the presentation, I tapped the speaker on the shoulder as he sat down in his seat. The presentation was on cultural trends and, during his talk, he mentioned how he was hindered by his “whiteness.” He grew up in a middle class, lily-white suburb and knew very little of the world outside that lens. I offered to spend some time with him during a break.

As we sipped coffee together in the break area, I asked him a simple question, “Are you aware that all the faces on your slides are white?”

How ironic in a presentation on cultural trends, where the biggest trend of all is our changing demographics. The reality was that both his slides and presentation demonstrated a white person’s view of the world, exclusively. He was quiet for a moment.

We went on to discuss his comments, during the presentation, about hip hop. The musical genre had captured his attention, so much so that he thought seriously about pursuing it as his next academic research interest. He suspected that hip hop has the same, if not more, impact on culture as postmodernism.

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Why Care About Ferguson?

Alvin Sanders – October 15, 2014 3 Comments

All People blog

During a conversation with a very influential Christian leader, he told me—point blank—that race isn’t that big of a deal. “The culture has moved on,” he said. If I said his name, most of you would know it, but his attitude is not uncommon.

We live in a paradoxical world, one where there is racism without racists. What do I mean? Although racial divides exist in our neighborhoods, churches and other institutions, nobody owns it.

There have been many similar statements made about Ferguson. Before that it was said about Trayvon Martin. I heard them when in 2001 I started a church in the middle of a race riot in Cincinnati. Really, those type of statements are not helpful. Here’s why:

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The Kingdom Story

Alvin Sanders – October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

All People blog

When we do work in the ministry of reconciliation, it is important to remember that the kingdom of God is not a physical place, but rather a way to describe God’s reign on this earth. Wherever king Jesus went, there was the kingdom. And regardless of how large or small some of His actions were, they always brought forth fruit.

Mark 4 uses the image of a mustard seed to describe God’s kingdom. If you have ever seen a mustard seed, you know they are tiny. I think as ministers of the gospel we assume that the bigger a ministry is, the more impact it is having. That is not necessarily the case.

There are times things look bleak when you are rowing against the grain in a violent community, or it may seem like you are spitting into the wind trying to cross racial lines. During these times it is important to grasp the concept of mustard seed faith.

On the surface, many of the things we do look to be trivial, but in reality will have eternal impact. Our job is to not grab headlines, but to do our ministry quietly and faithfully. As we do, like a mustard seed, God’s reign will take hold within both ourselves and our communities.

The Bart Campolo Story

Alvin Sanders – October 8, 2014 14 Comments

Years ago, when I served as Director of Ethnic Ministries for Cincinnati Christian University, I struck up a friendship with one of the best communicators I have ever encountered. He was a very winsome guy who had a heart for the ‘hood.

Through this relationship, I invited him to preach campus chapels, as well as at my church, and every time he did he knocked it out the park. The preacher’s name: Bart Campolo.

So it saddened me when I found out recently that this good man, who was immersed in ministry aimed at seeking justice for the oppressed, decided he was no longer a Christian after being injured in a bike accident in 2011. I say saddened, but I don’t say surprised.

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Building Bridges

Alvin Sanders – October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

All People blog

One of the most practical steps a ministry can take to embrace reconciliation is that of cultural adaptation; to recognize that culture shapes lives and willingly make the adaptations necessary to further the kingdom.

It’s not a foreign concept. Youth pastors, for example, regularly adapt Christian values, attitudes and beliefs to cultural forms that youth understand. For some reason, when it comes to race, social class or gender differences, we often do not follow the same principle. In those cases, we’re concerned that adaptation is instead showing preference.

Most differences, based in cultural backgrounds, are not inappropriate, just different. For example, years ago when I was a pastor, I noticed that most of the people we served in our food pantry wouldn’t attend our Sunday services. The whole point of us giving them bread was to introduce them to the “Bread of Life.”

After several interactions with these guests, I realized the reason. We were an urban white-collar congregation, and our food-pantry clientele was intimidated by that. So we made some changes.

We set up a “spiritual station” at the food pantry, staffed by members of our church. After receiving groceries, people were encouraged to go there for prayer and/or encouragement. Meeting someone face-to-face eliminated the fear factor, and after several months, our friends at the food pantry began to attend our worship services.

How did our white-collar church make a cultural adaptation? We brought two aspects of church life (prayer and encouragement) to them on their terms (at the pantry) rather than on ours (a worship service filled primarily with white-collar people). When we started building relationships, they realized, “Hey, these are nice people; I might visit their church.”

Cultural adaption is the art of building a bridge over the barrier of cultural unfamiliarity, supported by a long-term commitment toward knowledge gain, character formation and relationship-building. Are we so different that my social concerns cannot become yours and vice versa? Can’t we learn from each other and adapt to each other in the church?

All People

The attendees enjoyed a game of “How well do you know your spouse?”

The EFCA West Hispanic Pastors and Wives retreat, September 11-13, was set in the San Jacinto Mountains covered with pine forest. It was a far cry from the city jungle and heat that is typical of most Hispanic ministry. It was the perfect place to call out the pastors and wives to get away, regroup and begin to develop an identity of what they can do together. The retreat was the first to bring Hispanic pastors and wives together to build into them.

A retreat is a common experience in most church life, but it is not typical in Hispanic work. Many of these pastors and their wives labor in their area and rarely get away, much less know that there are other laborers also working the Hispanic field not far away.

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Learning to Flourish

Alvin Sanders – October 1, 2014 Leave a comment
EFCA All People Initiative

The 2014 EFCA/CCDA pre-conference was a success.

One of the highlights of my year is to attend the annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) national conference. Each year, it draws close to 3,000 people from around the world to share in best practices of Christian community development. This year, it was held in Raleigh, N.C., where the theme centered on how to build flourishing communities.

What sets this conference apart is its “guide on the side” philosophy. Most conferences operate under the “sage on the stage” mentality, where everything revolves around ministry stars. Not here. Yes, there are champions, but they are as accessible as all the other attendees.

Hundreds of practitioners teach workshops around important topics pertaining to justice, and plenty of time is given to network. Credible resources are offered and stimulating speakers challenge perceptions about what it means to minister to those in poverty and cross-culturally.  Continue Reading…

The Gospel Changes Everything

Ruth Arnold – September 26, 2014 Leave a comment

If you were peering into the life and work of 2nd Mile Ministries, you would see dozens of people living and investing their lives in the Brentwood community of Jacksonville, Fla.

We are building relationships with the community through living there, shopping in the local stores, playing in the local parks and volunteering in the local schools and nutritional garden. Many are also building relationships as they work locally in our community as teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, etc.

As we build relationships, we invite neighbors into our after-school program and summer day-camp, youth leadership initiatives, community beautification efforts, healthy living activities, and our local church.

Our pursuit is all about engaging every person’s complete being (spiritual, physical, intellectual, social, economic, etc.) with the life changing power of the gospel. We believe the gospel has the power to transform everything! Continue Reading…

3 Elements for Community Transformation

Alvin Sanders – September 25, 2014 Leave a comment

As we work towards making under-resourced communities places of peace, I think at times some overlook the obvious. Jesus makes a definitive statement about the one thing that will make the most difference in the world. In Matthew 16:18, He tells the disciples, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” One blind spot that many Christian community developers have is appreciating the true value of a healthy church in a community of poverty.

In order for a church located in an under-resourced community to make a difference, it needs to be three things.

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