Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. -- Exodus 22:21
RALEIGH, N.C. (Mennonite Mission Network) -- This verse was selected for the Sip of Scripture email from Third Way Cafe,
a website sponsored by Mennonite Media
, the morning of January 12, 2008.
The same morning a group that has been actively serving their immigrant neighbors in creative ways gathered in Raleigh, N.C. Brought together through their work and an invitation from Mauricio Chenlo, Mennonite Mission Network church planting coach and director of the church planting academy, they came to put their heads and hearts together.
Before this event, Chenlo had already begun the work of building relationships and helping to resource these church planters. Chenlo suggested this weekend gathering as a time for like-minded people to gather together to affirm work that is already underway, encourage future efforts, and to learn from each other’s experiences. Despite busy schedules and rising travel costs, nearly all those invited were in attendance.
This meeting brought together people from Atlanta, Ga., Mountain Lake, Minn., Goshen, Ind., Harrisonburg, Va., and several other points on the Mennonite map. While their stories and locations were diverse, all participants agreed that their work is responding to a call.
After the event, Chenlo said, "Most of the participants were 'ordinary' lay folks who are taking the initiative and responding to the call to plant the seeds of the kingdom. In my mind, when I look at the bigger picture of the MC USA, that’s one of the pieces that is being lost: regular believers doing God’s work. It feels like fresh air to hear the stories of a variety of people with so many different backgrounds in responding to God’s call."
The participants brought a range of experiences to the gathering. There were stories about struggles to access the necessary needs and services.
Alterna is a bilingual, missional community in West Central Georgia comprised of United States citizens and immigrants from Latin America that seeks to follow in the prophetic Judeo-Christian tradition by nurturing a vision founded on principles of social justice.
Anton Flores Maisonet explained that Alterna offers local immigrants services including transitional housing, advocacy, court accompaniment, crisis intervention and spiritual support. Joy Hostetler and Lisa Fry of East Atlanta Christian Fellowship told the story of a woman who, as a result of attempting to remain ‘undiscovered,’ waited more than eight months into her pregnancy before walking into the clinic for her first medical exam.
Participants told stories about not being entirely certain what to do, but moving forward nonetheless. In Mountain Lake, Minn., Steve and Judy Harder sense God's presence as they gather with local immigrants on Saturday evenings to study God’s word, often in spite of a language gap.
Through the English Without Borders (Inglés sin Fronteras) ministry of Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church, a team is working to teach English as a second language to their immigrant neighbors. As well, they are providing training on various life skills including interacting with the school system, navigating various health-care resources, and accessing available emergency services.
Victor Espinoza shared stories from Iglesia de la Esperanza, in Wallace, N.C., which meets in the storage space of a Spanish grocery. Espinoza is a church planter from Honduras and helped begin four churches prior to his work last year to plant Iglesia de la Esperanza. Espinoza spoke of cooperation that has crossed denominational and theological boundaries, and how shared resources from these relationships have helped meet the needs of this new church plant.
Espinoza touched the hearts of participants when he said, "If you have much, then what is sweet may seem sour, and to the one without, what is sour may seem sweet."
Rosa made an interesting suggestion when he said, "Let us train people who are at risk for deportation to be church planters. If they are deported, they go with a mission.”
After a full day of inspiring stories, the discussion turned to the question, what next?
Chenlo said, "Listening to the stories was reaffirming and encouraging. One of my questions is how to continue this dialogue.”
The group intends to have another event in the future that will include new participants and offer additional resources. Chenlo will continue to travel and network with group members.
Participants of this event are also invited to the Missional Leaders event sponsored by the Mission Network US Ministries department next April in Chicago.