Inequality, injustice and indifference all have one thing in common: they weaken a society.
Have any changes been made to strengthen our society? To answer that let us begin by recalling several milestone changes in how our country viewed specific groups of people. For instance, concerning slavery, recall that in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation. Concerning women, recall that in the United States women were granted the right to vote only after an Amendment (the 19th Amendment adopted August 8, 1920). And who can forget that in 1965 Congress passed a law to allow cities to transport students –our children– who lived outside one particular township to another for the sake of attending public schools (this was not enforced until 1970, however).
Once these amendments or bills were passed was racial equality achieved? NOT by a long shot! Equality is not merely a matter of legal or formal treatment or the status of a particular group before the government. The Jews were, and often still are, treated with contempt after WW II in Europe. The Japanese feel at times ostracized as a fallout of WW II prejudice caused by the attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Today it is our Muslim friends who feel this same suspicion. And in some towns even the person of color (any color) is questioned or inspected with more frequency by the local authorities because they have more pigmentation in their skin color.
Equality will not be achieved simply by forcing it or by declaring it. When will the Afro-American, the Native American, the Asian American or the Hispanic not be assumed to be inferior or weaker or a miser or a cheat? One key step is for people of all races, all skin colors, all ethnic origins and all national heritages to acknowledge this powerful truth:
He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth…He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created ALL THE NATIONS THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH. (NLT, Acts 17:24-26, Tyndale House Publ.)
Racism, inequality, and prejudice toward those of other skin color or other ethnic original can be removed, and our treatment of one another transformed, when we understand that God has created all people from one man. And by reminding ourselves that we will answer to the Creator for our attitudes and treatment of those different than ourselves!
As this issue continues to burden churches and towns, it also generates fears, doubts and feelings of superiority that are easily camouflaged by artificial barriers (like speaking of those who ‘live on the other side of the tracks’) or by means of comfort and customs that demean those different than oneself. What is the result? Not only is America as a society weakened, but for similar causes the Church of Jesus Christ is also injured, splintered, and sometimes even put on a path of intentional accusations and fault-finding. Or sometimes worse!
That condition has but one answer: the application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Churches everywhere, of all types, and creeds and social or ethnic composition will do well to stop using traditional labels and comfortable groups as they serve the needy, the outcast or the immigrant. No doubt there are questions to answer concerning how and when it is appropriate to offer work or gift some medicine or clothing to an socially outcast person. If you are seeking guidance to work through those questions as you develop a more robust and proactive mission to those in need, read this book: When Helping Hurts (by Steve Corbett and Brian Finkert, see the ebook here.)
No one book or person can give all the answers, but it will move you toward not only rethinking race, ethnicity and sociological groups, it will be a stretch for the heart and soul as you ask just what it means to be truly just and be faithful to the Gospel where racism or prejudice set artificial barriers in the past.
While we have by no means all the answers, our experience in the major capital city of Santiago afforded us some valuable experience. In Chile over the past 10 years over 450,000 Haitians have sought refuge, and in the past five years more than 135,000 Venezuelans have also fled to Chile. Between 2014 and 2016 the number of Haitians jumped from 8,900 per year to over 44,000 in just one year! Most arrive as tourists…and stay for life!
Some ways our ministry has responded to this massive (and messy) immigration problem include:
- Teach your church members to set aside old habits and learn new ones. This includes ways to greet others, food preferences and even language.
- Organize classes in the language of the group you desire to serve. It was a stretch for sure, but 1 class I taught was in Creole, through a Haitian translator.
- Train leaders to be the first to break the ice. Encourage, and form methods of social interaction that the arriving migrants are accustomed to to help them feel welcomed. One way we did this was to encourage small group fellowship between the worship service and Adult Bible Fellowship that were language oriented.
- Challenge the church to identify key people and pay for them to study the language of the new arrivals. This has been a key for several years in our church and it has made a huge difference, which allows those studying the language to translate in services and to call or visit when they are sick or need help.
- Build strong small groups to care for each person. These will tend to create some healthy networking and mutual communication channels for all.
When we learn and practice ministry across racial and ethnic lines, both at home and on the mission field, we will soon see that God not only CREATED all nations from one man (Adam) but that He is also transforming all nations by leading them to ONE SAVIOR, Jesus Christ.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min.