Every human being needs to be evangelized, discipled, and integrated into a local church. These processes are more delicate when dealing with undocumented immigrants but they are still essential. To best glorify God the local church must have a biblical and balanced approach in each of these areas.
Balance in Evangelism
Not obeying God given authorities is a sin (Titus 3:1) as long as what the government is asking is not contrary to God’s Word. With this current issue, it is wrong for illegal aliens to work without documentation but let us remember that it is a sin just like any other sin. After all, with the unsaved what else can one expect? Thus, the illegal immigrant has the exact same need that the rest of the world does – Christ! It is the local church’s responsibility to share the gospel with undocumented workers along with every other lost individual in their community. May we never allow our prejudices or even our patriotism to hinder us from winning Hispanics for Christ.
Balance in Discipleship
The discipleship process for a newly born again migrant worker is slow yet exciting. Slow, because Hispanics come from societies that are almost totally void of biblical principles. They come from countries where laws are relatively enforced and where corruption is normal and acceptable. I grew up in Mexico where the only reason the police would stop a driver is to ask for a bribe and where it is hard to get a permit for anything without giving money under the table. When we see God’s Word change this cultural mentality, the discipleship process becomes very exciting. Through discipleship, precious new believers begin to realize that God desires to right their relationships with their family, employers, and government. What a joy for Christian foreign laborers to recognize the hypocrisy of having a fake name and social security card and to begin to put their lives in order. Here are a couple of examples:
Juan Marcos had been growing in his newfound faith for several months when he recognized the need to right his legal status. He began to fill out the needed paperwork to get his documents in order. Eventually, Juan Marcos gained his residency and became a solid, core member in his local church in Iowa. Alejandro was a new believer in California who began the process of legalization but then was denied legal status. He then faced the decision of staying in the country illegally or returning home to Mexico. It would be an incredibly difficult decision to leave what had now been his home in California for several years. Alejandro was advancing in his job while his children were comfortable in the school system. Most, even believers, would continue to find a way to remain and work in the country illegally. With an all-constraining love for Christ, Alejandro uprooted his family and went back to the country and to the conditions he had struggled so hard to escape. His decision showed a great deal of spiritual maturity! A balanced discipleship ministry will encourage these types of tough decisions through the method of loving teaching with time allotted for growth.
Balance in Integration
Should legalization be a condition for church membership? This question is vague in Scripture and certainly is a debated and delicate issue. The easiest solution is to adopt a type of don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy where residency is never an issue for membership. Honestly, most Spanish churches adopt this approach. The problem is that many of these churches are unstable at best because the membership is not made up of mature believers. Churches are only as strong as the individuals and families who make them up. It is not possible to have a solid, mature church if the membership is not transparent and seeking to best glorify God in every area of life. Other churches have developed the strict policy that says, “no citizenship, no membership.” The difficulty here is that the local church now becomes a legal arbitrator checking green cards at the door.
In Acts chapter two, those who believed were baptized and added to the church. Baptism is a step of obedience that identifies believers with Christ. That is where the balance is found – integrating those into your church membership who have been saved, baptized, and who have a heart and desire for obedience to Christ. May they not be rebelliously living in sin but seeking to right wrongs and get their lives in order. I so appreciate the approach that our BCP church planter Miguel Quintana practices in his church plant. He is not loose when it comes to a philosophy on undocumented immigrants. As a result, the church planting process perhaps has been slower compared to other Spanish works. Nonetheless, now after about ten years he has a church that is solid with grounded mature believers. The emphasis is on discipleship and putting one’s life in order to best please God. Not every one in the church is a legal worker; however, the leadership certainly is.
Most every church in America either is or will soon be facing the issues involved with ministering to undocumented workers. It is important to avoid the extremes and to develop a biblical and balanced approach to ministering to this mission field God has brought to our own country.
by David Whitcher
former Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries with Baptist Church Planters