Christians called to 'welcome the stranger' | Print |

By Robert Dilday
Virginia Religious Herald

ATLANTA - Church members may disagree over political solutions to the immigration issue, but they can unite around ministry to immigrants who already live in the United States, a Texas Baptist immigration services advocate said Jan. 31.

"Immigration has become a political issue," said Richard Muñoz, director of the Immigration Service and Aid Center (ISAAC) in Dallas.

"Sometimes it's hard to differentiate political issues from mission issues," he said. "We can disagree with a political decision but God has told us to minister to the 'strangers' among us."

Muñoz and Houmphanh Vongsurith, pastor of a Laotian Baptist church in Texas, led a special interest session on "Welcoming a Stranger" Thursday in conjunction with the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant convocation in Atlanta.

"There is a tension between Romans 13, which urges us to obey our rulers, and Hebrews 13, which compels us to welcome strangers among us," said Muñoz, whose service is an entity of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

"How can we reconcile the tension? As a Baptist I'm glad that the word of God doesn't contradict itself and that our God is an awesome God. We can help people comply with the law while still welcoming those who come to our country."

Muñoz said ISSAC's goals are to provide churches with resources to help those who can be helped to comply with immigration laws. Among the opportunities:

  • Churches can apply to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for permission to operate accredited immigration clinics, which help qualified immigrants navigate the rules governing their application for citizenship. Any nonprofit organization providing legal assistance-which essentially is what that kind of help is-must participate in training and received accreditation.

  • Churches can help potential citizens prepare for the citizenship test, which last year became more difficult. No training or accreditation is necessary to provide that assistance, "and you don't have to invent the question-the USINS will tell you what you need to know."

  • Churches can offer English as a Second Language classes.

  • Churches can follow up on each member who has been deported for being in the country illegally and contact Baptists in the country to which their member has been returned.

Vongsurith, pastor of First Laotian Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, and president of the Laotian National Baptist Fellowship, said churches can ease immigrants' fears with a friendly attitude when they visit, such as shaking their hand, offering a meal and introducing them to someone in church who is the same age and gender.

"If you know the language of the person, you can say something in it-even one word-and they will fall in love with you," he said. "If you ask me how to say 'good morning' in Laotian, you are making me happy. In my heart I want to come back."

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