“To the Dentist with Jesus”

Yes, that was indeed my calendar entry on a recent day. I did a double-take and couldn’t help but chuckle. But it was true! I was taking a Mexican man named Jesús to the dentist that day.

Many times, we English-speakers disregard the importance of that little tilde, the “accent mark” that appears in Spanish over certain vowels. But it can totally change the meaning of a word, like esta cosa (this thing) or está acá (it’s here). Esta and está are different words.

Or, in this case, it can affect how we actually understand and perceive a word, like Jesús or Jesus.  While Jesús is a relatively common name in Latin America, its popularity doesn’t often extend to the American-born population. We rarely encounter anyone actually named Jesus.

But the calendar entry that day made me stop and think about my own theology and the truth of these words. I believe that the spirit of God dwells in the lives of each of the persons with whom I work. Some people recognize or acknowledge God’s presence in their lives, others do not.  But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there.

I thought back over the last few weeks and the frequent medical and dental appointments I had had with my clients. Diabetic education with Maria. Oral surgery with Dustin and his mom. Foot surgery with Laura. Ingrown toenail treatment with Naomi. Follow-up for high blood pressure with Trinidad. An eye exam, blood tests, x-rays and labs and pharmacies. With clients aged 5 to 75, from countries as diverse as Uruguay, Honduras, and Mexico.

And finally, to the dentist with Jesús.

Jesus was at the dentist that day, in the presence of the doctor and staff who attended to Jesús. They treated him with dignity and respect regardless of his ability to speak English or pay in full for his treatment. Jesus was with us in the car driving to and from the visit, helping me to explain why this Christian dentist would donate his services to help this 53-year-old Spanish-speaking immigrant who had only been to the dentist once in his life and was in pain that day. And Jesus was present in the life of Jesús himself, who recognized God’s care and concern for him through average folks who put their faith in practice and follow Jesus in their everyday lives.  We truly are the presence of Christ in the world!

Servants among Friends: “After all I’ve done for you”

“After all I’ve done for you ….”

Many of us have used those words with our children – or heard them from our own parents!  But those words came alive for our Latino youth group this summer as teens spent time interviewing their parents, hearing their stories, and sharing stories of their own.

LUCHA Ministries’ youth program, Project 3D, seeks to increase Latino teens’ sense of personal, spiritual, and cultural dignity.  We focus on increasing self-esteem, growing closer to God, and appreciating Latino heritage and culture.  This summer, with the help of Amy Beth Willis and Jessie Tamayo, summer interns through CBF’s Student.Go program, youth were challenged to talk with their parents about aspects of their lives that are many times difficult and painful subjects: “How did you (or we) get to the US?”  “What was your life like before?” “Who did you have to leave behind?”  “Is life better for us here?”  Here are some of the things our teens heard and shared:

“My mom was very young and had a baby, and they were really poor.  When she came to the US, my grandmother wouldn’t let her take the baby with her.  My mom hasn’t seen her oldest daughter since she was 2 months old.  My sister is 23 now and has never met any of us.”

 “My mom told me that she and her brother were so poor that they would watch people at the store buy ice cream in little cups.  If the person threw it away before it was finished, they would run to the trash to get it out, so they could have ice cream, too . . . It hurts her when we don’t like the food she fixes.  She says we’re lucky to have a choice.  She was lucky just to have food.”

  “My dad must have loved my older sister more than me, because when I was born, he left for the US.  When he came to Mexico to visit us once, I wouldn’t let him carry me or hold my hand.  I remember that he began to cry, and my mom cried.  After that, he found a way for us to come to the states to be with him.”

“I know things are hard for my parents here, and they have struggled.  For a while, all five of us were living in one single room . . . My parents want to go back home to Mexico.  Life is too hard here for them.  But we are older and have jobs now, and we’ll be OK.”

“I stayed with my grandparents when my family came to the states, and I came when I was four.  I didn’t know I had a brother who was two years older than me, or a sister, and I didn’t know my parents.  But my brother remembers packing up his toys and sending them to me in Mexico, but I didn’t know he even existed.”

Sacrifice is not limited to any one culture.  The trials many of these youth and their parents have gone through often put whatever difficulties we’ve had in life to shame.  Jessie and Amy Beth challenged the youth to listen to their parents’ hearts and struggles.  “After all I’ve done for you….”  For any with ears, let’s listen to what the Spirit is saying through the stories of our immigrant neighbors and friends.

Servants among Friends: Imagining today’s Hispanic Leader

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Servants among Friends: Reaffirming Dignity

DIGNITY – what do you hear when this word comes to mind?  For us, it takes on renewed meaning each summer when LUCHA Ministries refocuses our efforts on Latino youth outreach through PROJECT 3-D.   Latino youth, many from immigrant parents and/or who are immigrants themselves, hear repeatedly that they are “different from” (implying “not as good as”) their peers and the surrounding culture.  Through summer youth activities, we seek to lead youth to a renewed sense of pride in themselves and their identity.  We stress the value of each young person by affirming her or his:

Personal Dignity.  No matter the cruel remarks heard in the media or the unending, illogical attacks against measures like the DREAM Act (which would allow eligible, undocumented youth who complete college or serve 2 years in the military a chance at citizenship), we lead Latino youth to reaffirm their personal dignity before God, because each one is made in God’s image and of infinite worth in God’s sight.  No law and no opinion can take that away.  Spending time with Latino youth, encouraging “difficult” teenagers to attend activities and camps, and listening one-on-one are just a few ways we try to show youth we care about them as individuals.

Cultural Dignity.  Like all young people, Latino youth are tempted to conform to their peer’s standards, but for Latinos, this can also mean the temptation to deny their cultural and linguistic heritage.  We want youth to realize that their heritage – from Mexico or Guatemala or Colombia or any Latin American country or (yes!) even the USA – is a rich and wonderful gift from God, something to be treasured and enjoyed.  Lock-ins where youth are taught pride in their culture and activities that welcome the use of Spanish as well as English signal a little of how we elevate the goodness of each person’s cultural background.

Spiritual Dignity.  God is real in the lives of these youth, even when they may not recognize it themselves.  We want them to pursue and deepen their faith in God as they come to know Jesus as a trustworthy Friend and his Spirit as their constant Companion.  We want them to know that God will never leave or forsake them, no matter what their surrounding environment has to say.  Bible studies, worship events, and Passport mission camp have been avenues in past summers leading to spiritual enrichment and wholeness.

This summer, Amy Beth and Jessie will work with us as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Student.Go personnel.  Pray for them as they arrive June 2 and serve as fresh eyes, ears, hands, feet and hearts for our youth ministry.  And pray God will use LUCHA Ministries and PROJECT 3-D this summer to continue to reaffirm the dignity and worth of these youth as children of the living God.


God’s Gift

Sue and I began LUCHA Ministries in 2004 with United Methodist colleagues Victor and Heather Gomez to address social, spiritual, family and community-development needs we observed in the Latino community in the greater Fredericksburg, Virginia area.  In partnership with area agencies, churches and others, we’ve offered ministries of transportation, translation, food, spiritual outreach, summer youth activities, training, and others.  Such offerings remain a priority for our ministry.

But lately we have felt God tugging us to lend our voices to the seemingly irresolvable issue of comprehensive immigration reform, if for no other reason than to stand up and be counted.  As far as I can tell, while the federal government fiddles, the country burns with heated rhetoric and inflamed passions that do little to solve the issue.  We recommend’s DVD, Gospel without Borders as an excellent tool for initiating a dialogue with those who seek insight in light of current realities.

Standing with the immigrant is a matter of justice, for God commands us to welcome the alien with compassion.  But for the church, standing with the immigrant is also a matter of relevancy and honesty.  I am particularly struck by what Dr. Lamin Sanneh of Yale University – who has written much on the translatability of the gospel in all cultures – writes in his book Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity: “No culture is so advanced and so superior that it can claim exclusive access or advantage to the truth of God, and none so marginal and remote that it can be excluded.  All have merit; none is indispensable.”

We stand with the immigrant because justice demands it.  But we must also do so because our immigrant sister and brother – with her understanding of and relationship to God, with his unique gifts and resources, with their sufferings and victories, their energy and passion – have much to teach us about the fullness of our God and of his Christ.  Simply put, we need our immigrant brothers and sisters, and the cultures they bring, to lead us to God.  I don’t think we can adequately stand with our immigrant friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters until we see them as God’s gift to us.  Thank you, God, for your indescribable gift!