As a pastor, this week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. It is a week that seems to end in confusion, defeat, and despair but on Sunday I have the joy of proclaiming hope, restoration, transformation, life, and a future. This message means even more to me recently as I’ve had the amazing privilege of sitting on the front row and witnessing a resurrection miracle over the past three years.
It was three years ago, the week after Easter, when my family reluctantly came to Logansport, Indiana. We were excited about other ministry possibilities, but felt compelled to give this declining church at least 2 weeks of our time before we moved on to exciting other places and left the church in Logansport for someone else to take care of it until it closed its doors.
I wanted to move on because I honestly love Jerusalem, Judea, and the far parts of the world, but I don’t care much for Samaria. Logansport, Indiana was a small city that had gone through a rapid change from being a Jerusalem of middle-class, Anglo, English-speaking, conservative Midwesterners to a city in which almost 1 in 3 who lived in Logansport were from an immigrant home. A school system that had less than 20 students out of 4500 learning English a decade ago, now has 1758 students learning English because their heart language spoken at home is a language other than English. The community was changing, but its residents and its churches were unprepared for the dynamics of that change.
On the second (and what I thought was last) Sunday I preached in Logansport, an immigrant family asked us to come to dinner with them. During that meal, Samaria became more than a place to avoid as Samaria now had faces and stories. We decided after that meal that we were home – that we would stop avoiding and bypassing Samaria, but we would actually set up residence in Samaria.
In Samaria, I learned that God called me, as He calls all His followers, to Biblical hospitality. The Greek word used throughout the New Testament for hospitality is philoxenos, which literally means, “love” (philo) “immigrants” (xenos). As we began loving, learning from, serving, and worshiping alongside immigrants, I found out that one of the major felt needs that immigrants face is the confusing labyrinth of the current immigration system. Many immigrants find themselves lost amidst the countless rumors swirling around immigration and others have given their whole life savings to fraudulent individuals (called “notarios”) that actually are detrimental to their process.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the United States government has a provision to allow a representative to legally guide someone through the complex and confusing immigration system. After receiving the necessary training and experience, our application was approved and The Bridge Community Church in Logansport became the very first Immigrant Connection legal site in The Wesleyan Church and one of the first local church-based sites in the nation.
Opening an Immigrant Connection site has sparked transformation on countless levels. In one year’s time we have helped close to 300 different individuals from over 22 nations spanning North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. We have reunited families who had not seen each other for decades. We have helped young people receive DACA and become eligible to go to college for the first time. We have been instruments of redemption to victims of violent crimes and helped them find a hope and a future and a way forward. We have helped make crooked paths straight and brought truth into situations wrought with rumors and lies.
Our church family has quadrupled in size from the time we decided to launch an Immigrant Connection site. This growth has been across cultural, ethnic, and linguistic lines with multiple cultures worshiping together in both English and Spanish every Sunday. Even more, the spiritual growth that has occurred is remarkable as Anglos, who believed the worst of immigrants their whole lives, and immigrants, who believed the worst of Anglos their whole lives, now share life together in small groups and call each other friends and family.
The transformation has overflowed into our community and we are living what it looks like to bring God’s Kingdom to our city as a voice for the marginalized, advocates for the disenfranchised, and leaders in bringing education, empowerment, and reconciliation. Our school system regularly invites us to share with faculty, students, and parents. Recently we were asked to form and lead a countywide diversity task force. When city leaders, organizational leaders, and business leaders think about how they would like the future to look, they think of The Bridge. Each day I am amazed by all that Jesus is doing in us and through us because we answered His call to love immigrants.
I am so excited that Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church is partnering with Wesley Seminary and World Relief to support a class on church-based immigrant ministry held at the seminary in Marion, Indiana and also here at The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Indiana. This course provides understanding of the immigration system in the United States in preparation for taking the exam for BIA recognition and approval. It also provides the Biblical and theological foundations for Christian engagement with issues of immigration.
I would encourage you, whether you are a Wesley Seminary student, pastor, or just an active member of a local church that has a heart for immigrants, to consider engaging in this class to learn the tools that make it possible to see lives transformed in your community and get a front row seat as to what resurrection and new life looks like. The need is great and it exists in almost every area of the United States, from large urban areas to suburbs to small towns like Logansport.
May you lean in to what Jesus is calling you to do in your community. May you choose to go to Samaria rather than bypass it or turn a blind eye to it. May you enter into the despair, defeat, and confusion that exists and be an instrument of truth, hope, transformation, and resurrection!