This is a guest post by the Rev. Greg West. Greg is pastor of the Puerto de Gracia Hispanic outreach at Grace Harbor United Methodist Church in Suffolk. This article was originally published in the April 2010 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate and is used here with permission from the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“Porque nuestra ciudadanía está en los cielos, de donde también esperamos ardientemente al Salvador, el Señor Jesucristo” — (Filipenses 3:20).
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. — (Philippians 3:20).
After being appointed to start a church in north Suffolk in 2002, I often drove around praying for the people who might be a part of this new ministry. Some of the first people I saw were Hispanics working in the fields at a nearby tree nursery. I pulled in and introduced myself to some of the supervisors. They were helpful and eager for me to meet the workers. They also shared, “You’ve got to meet Lloyd Bolt. He works with the Hispanics around here.”
Friendships with the amigos happened quickly as they are so appreciative of any “gringo” who speaks some Spanish; and a partnership with Lloyd, a faithful Quaker brother, began.
The majority of our amigos come from Mexico and Guatemala on a government H2B visa, which enables them to work in the United States about nine months of every year. Over the last seven years we have gathered with them for fellowship, worship, teaching both the Scriptures and English. One of our goals in mission at Grace Harbor is to establish long-term relationships with brothers and sisters and churches in Latin America. I didn’t know exactly how this would work, but I knew it was God’s heart.
We have had a faithful team of friends who found it a blessing to share life together with the amigos. Lloyd Bolt often led the way as we connected the amigos with doctors and dentists, fought bedbug infestations, helped when the Hispanics were victims of crime, and met various other needs. Lloyd traveled to some of the cities and pueblos where the workers lived, always receiving a big welcome. He brought video greetings from their husbands, sons, brothers, cousins and friends. These always turned into large gatherings and celebrations. Then Lloyd would film the families in Mexico and play those videos here to a full house.
These were beautiful, moving and sometimes agonizing moments. I watched as fathers saw their newborn children for the first time via video. I saw expressions of love and caring touching the hearts of these men so far from home. I witnessed a broken-hearted wife with children in her arms appealing to her faraway husband to break off the affair. While mission was a strong focus of mine in seminary, I underestimated the power of simple acts of love to accomplish God’s mission in the world.
Our ministry with these hardworking amigos has sometimes brought controversy with people unconnected with Grace Harbor. When people say, “They should have to learn our language,” I reply, “First-generation immigrants to this country rarely master the language — whether they are Italian, Hmong or Latino. However, the second generation has no problem with English.” When people say, “They shouldn’t be here,” or “They are taking our jobs,” I ask them to try to imagine being in their shoes. “If you could move north to Canada and earn in one day what it would take you two weeks to earn in your country if you could even find a job, then would you go to Canada? What if also you saw that your children were hungry because of your inability to earn money, would you travel then, even if it were illegal?”
These are difficult issues, and as followers of Christ we cannot forget the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A passage from the Old Testament that I lift up is:
“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
One of the greatest joys in being with our amigos is experiencing how the gospel transcends cultures, nationalities and geography! When a young man from Chiapas, Mexico, with dark skin and Mayan features trusts in Jesus to rescue him from his sins, new life comes just as it happens with all who trust in Christ! If we would see the sovereignty of God as well as the systemic injustice in so many of the people movements around the globe, then the church would mobilize to offer them Christ in word and deed.