A bivocational Hispanic pastor told an interfaith gathering at First Baptist Church of Greensboro, N.C., about how stressful the threat of deportation had been for him and his family – the rest of whom are U.S. citizens.
“They put me and my family through all this stress and worrying and not knowing for a year,” said Hector Villanueva, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Roca in Siler City, a congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC).
Villanueva, a legal resident, was one of three panelists who spoke after North Carolina’s premiere screening of “Gospel Without Borders,” a documentary funded by the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas with financial support from CBFNC.
Mike Aiken, executive director of Greensboro Urban Ministries, said, “The Bible clearly says in the Old and New Testaments that we should welcome the stranger.”
He went on to say, “I don’t see any Native Americans here. This means in our heritage, we are all immigrants.”
Fred Guttman, rabbi at Temple Emanuel, shared that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he and other faith leaders came together for a press conference “about not having fear and not persecuting those who are different,” referring to our Muslim neighbors.
The immigration issue, 10 years later, is similar because we have to be ready to welcome the stranger as Abraham did in Genesis 18, Guttman said.
During the dialogue session with panelists, a number of ideas were shared about how to engage the immigration issue.
Bridget Johnson, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church and a former Catholic Social Services employee, suggested that denominations could partner with their social services to form networks.
Aiken and Villanueva stressed the importance of congregations building relationships cross-culturally through joint missions efforts.
Villanueva shared that his congregation was offering English classes so that his congregants could get to know their Anglo neighbors.
Robert Parham, executive director of EthicsDaily.com, which produced the documentary, noted that the energy at the Greensboro screening and many others taking place around the country, could contribute to building the needed momentum for immigration reform.
“We need to preach from the pulpit and lobby in the pews,” said Guttman.
I shared with the audience of more than 50 that all CBFNC-affiliated churches and partner divinity schools will receive a copy of the DVD and will be urged to hold screenings in their communities and churches.
The next day, another screening was held at Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte that drew another engaged, ecumenical audience.
Maria Hanlin, executive director of Mecklenburg Ministries, and Shawn O’Neal, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, served as panelists.
O’Neal reminded the audience that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were immigrants when they fled to Egypt, and that Christ’s story calls for compassion, stating, “People aren’t problems. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Hanlin evoked communion imagery when she asked: “If Jesus invites all to the table, who do we exclude? Often it is those with darker skin, those who clean our hotel rooms. That is not right.”
She also encouraged the audience to rely on Scriptures, stating, “We have to know our Bible and be brave enough to preach it – not just to condemn sins that are not our own.”
The next CBFNC-sponsored screening will be from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 3 at First Baptist Church of Raleigh. Confirmed panelists include Al Gwinn, bishop, North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Church; Carlos Arce, vicar for Hispanics, Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh; and Villanueva.