By Jeff Brumley
Baptists can no longer stand by and watch as Catholics, Mennonites, Methodists and other Christians take the lead in ministering to immigrants, a Baptist scholar and immigration advocate told members of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America Thursday morning.
But that’s been a tough sell to Baptists in Texas and elsewhere, said Jesus Romero, director of Immigration Service and Aid Center, or ISAAC, a Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission effort with locations in Dallas and San Antonio.
“It’s been hard to convince the body of Christ immigrants are people we should care for,” said Romero, who also serves as professor of Spanish and chair of the department of modern languages at the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio.
Romero was the keynote speaker at the Baptist Peace Fellowship breakfast in Dallas, where the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is holding its annual General Assembly.
His address covered many of the obstacles — most of them intellectual — Christians face to getting involved in immigration ministries.
One includes the language that has grown up around immigration and immigrants. Using words like “illegals” to refer to immigrants must stop because they judge a person’s character and life based on their legal status or actions, he said.
“There is no one in this world who is illegal,” Romero said.
Another obstacle is lack of awareness about the ways open to help immigrants.
Two years ago, ISAAC began offering legal services to immigrants. Few know that churches can also offer legal services, even without immigration attorneys on staff. It just takes attending a 40-hour course in basic immigration law.
Nor do many know that offering legal services opens the door to ministering to the whole person, Romero said.
“They come with all these immigration needs … and it turns out the immigration needs are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Ignorance also surrounds the detention centers where immigrant children and older youth are incarcerated in the United States. He said the conditions are deplorable and do little more than heap more emotional abuse on youth people already traumatized by the ordeal of crossing the border.
And there is the failure to see the connection between the plight of Hispanic immigrants along the U.S. border and the biblical personalities many Christians claim to know, Romero said.
It’s forgotten that Abram was an immigrant, commanded by God to wander into foreign lands. Joseph was a victim of human trafficking when sold into slavery. Jesus and his family were immigrants in Egypt, fleeing there to escape persecution in their homeland, he said.
“They would have been turned away at our borders,” Romero said.
Wendell Griffen, the pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, said Romero was on target with his assessment of why more Christians are not involved in immigration advocacy. He also agreed that more action is needed.
“We need to be told, we need to be convicted and we need to respond to it,” Griffen said.
It’s tempting to rationalize that immigration is too large to be addressed through ministry, Griffen said.
“The great lie is that we can’t do anything about it,” he said. But to read the Bible and not act to help the stranger is “heresy,” he said.