I’m writing this in the San Juan airport, heading home after a week at the Bishops’ Academy. The focus of the academy was “Ministry at the Margins,” and we spent a good deal of time talking about ministry with people whose distance from the centers of power and wealth make them nearly invisible. We focused particularly, though not exclusively, on ministry among Hispanics/Latinos.
This is a helpful and essential conversation, and one that needs to be sustained, for two key reasons–first, the gospel of Jesus Christ sends us to the margins to proclaim good news, and second, we remain a predominantly Anglo/white denomination. Every day, we look less like the rest of the country.
This isn’t the place for a conversation about immigration reform. Rather, it’s about finding ways to go to places and people that are largely new to us. As our speakers pointed out, even 2nd- and 3rd- generation Latinos are “border crossers” every day. Particularly in predominantly Anglo communities, the assumption is that Latinos aren’t natives; on the other hand, residents of their country of origin, whether their family left it months ago or generations ago, now see them as Americans and no longer quite Guatemalan, Mexican, El Salvadoran, etc. So whichever community is encountered, it is encountered as a “border-crosser.”
For the Church to be effective in connecting with Latino communities, it has to be comfortable crossing some of its own borders. Our forebears gathered in ethnic enclaves and continued to speak the language of their home countries until their children began to learn English in school. It’s not so different for immigrants today. The difference–and it’s an uncomfortable truth to acknowledge–is that most of “our” forebears (not all of us are descendants of European immigrants) looked a lot like the people in the neighborhoods they moved into. They spoke a different language and practiced different traditions, but they looked like their neighbors. Most of today’s immigrants–not only Latino, but African and Asian and Middle Eastern–look different than the majority of Americans. That majority is shrinking, however, and America is becoming much more diverse. The fastest growth in the changing American complexion–what has been termed the “browning of America”–is among Latinos. This reality requires us to be more aware of, sensitive to, eager for and committed to ministry in and among Latino communities.
In our hesitation to change–in any area–we often come right up to the very edge of the cross; but we hesitate to pick it up and bear it. The burden of change seems too heavy, too challenging, and we stop at the edge; we border the cross.
Christ’s call isn’t simply to consider the cross, but to carry it; not merely to note those around us, but to engage them–to stop bordering the cross and start crossing the borders; those borders that keep us from Christ-following, cross-bearing, gospel-proclaiming faithfulness.
What are the primary challenges for you, and for the communities in which you live, as you contemplate how to cross the borders you encounter in order to minister to those at the margins? Who are those marginalized neighbors, and what ministries–what risks–do they call us to?