People are on the move. Worldwide, one person in every 30 live outside their country of birth. In the United States, close to 14 percent of the population is foreign-born and more than one in four people are a part of an immigrant family (first-generation immigrant and their children).
All kinds of communities in North America — rural, urban or suburban, are undergoing changes. The Church, amid an unprecedented opportunity for ministry with and among immigrants, must decide if it will rise to the call of our times and join in the ways Jesus Christ is moving. Immigrants are on the move, but God is on the move in the midst of them.
Wesleyans are on the move with God in this moment.
Welcome 2020, a three-hour online conference held on August 18 and hosted by Immigrant Connection, a subsidiary of The Wesleyan Church, helped further equip Wesleyans on how to welcome immigrants to their churches and communities.
Hundreds of TWC lay and clergy leaders and those from other denominations and place of work were challenged to journey toward loving immigrants more effectively. Presentations were applicable for monoethnic or multiethnic, established or start-up churches.
Immigrant Connection Director Rev. Zach Szmara, shared how The Bridge, the church he pastors in Logansport, Indiana, was revitalized by starting an Immigrant Connection (IC) office. He said the church was on the brink of closing in a few months but after opening its IC office, members reconnected with the community, fostered faith and ultimately revitalized their significance in Logansport and the surrounding area. Szmara celebrated the Church’s internal growth that occurred through its external ministry.
Immigrant Connection has specific experience to assist in the conversation about welcoming immigrants. In the last six years, 21 Immigrant Connection sites have been launched in Wesleyan churches across the U.S. Two more sites are currently pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Since its inception, over 8,000 immigrants have been served from over 125 different countries. IC has become the largest Protestant church-based immigrant legal aid organization in the United States.
During Welcome 2020, immigration was discussed from a variety of angles accompanied by practical next steps for Christ-like hospitality. Participants were encouraged to imagine ways to create church communities that offer more of a radical welcome to immigrants.
- Wesley Seminary professor, Dr. Luigi Peñaranda, reminded participants that Scripture shows how God has consistently identified with immigrants and expects his people to welcome them with radical hospitality (see Romans 13, 1 Timothy 5).
- Pastors Johanna Rugh (director of Spanish Education and Clergy Care for TWC) and Adam Lipscomb (co-pastor, City Life Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan) discussed the risk and reward of preaching about immigration in the church and advocating for immigrants in the public sphere.
- Joanne Solis-Walker (strategist, Caminoroad) and David Drury (chief of staff for TWC and church planter) shared experiences and best practices of their own churches which are engaging immigrants in their communities.
- Jo Anne Lyon (General Superintendent Emeritus) and Joanne Solis-Walker talked about the need for perseverance and the power of prayer and presence as Lyon shared about a meeting with immigrants fasting and praying in a tent on the lawn in front of the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C.
- Pastors Matt and Emily Miller (co-pastors, Greenville Multicultural Church, Greenville, South Carolina), Pastor Jim Wood (senior pastor, Olathe Wesleyan Church, Olathe, Kansas) and Pastor Justin Bradbury (co-pastor, New Horizons International Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba) told how God has used immigrants to infuse life and vitality into their churches and to connect their churches more meaningfully to their communities.
Throughout the entire conference, including the introductory comments shared by Wayne Schmidt (General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church), the “power of the table” was a theme. Something special happens when immigrants and native-born church members gather and eat together. People drop their guards. Fears diminish. Misconceptions are corrected. Politics fade to the background. Community-forming vulnerability becomes a possibility. Breaking bread reminds Christians that Jesus is present.
“Immigrant Connection is proud to partner with all Wesleyans in their welcome journey because we have seen firsthand that welcoming immigrants doesn’t just change churches and communities — it will transform you as an individual,” said Szmara. “If we are to have communal public witness, this movement needs more local churches to work toward launching immigration legal services offices,” said Szmara. “And TWC needs every local church to set the goal of practicing biblical hospitality and welcoming immigrants in their communities.”
For more details of specific steps churches can take, as well as to view videos from Welcome 2020, click here.
Rev. Adam Lipscomb is co-pastor of City Life Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves on the board of Immigrant Connection.