Tag Archives: Global

Wesleyan Accent ~ Soul Posture for the Socially Distanced

Among many angles of spiritual formation during societal and global upheaval, these reflections from church leaders examine dynamics like community disruption and anxiety; the illusion of security in leadership best practices; pastoral wisdom from the Congo; and a community guide for praying during pandemic.


Disruption, Solitude, Anxiety

How is it with your soul right now? Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church, took to social media to encourage reflection on the state of our hearts. She writes,

“The chaos of the external world means we’re all going to be staying home more in the weeks ahead. That’s perhaps a bit of a scary thing-not to mention that for many, that means loss of income and loss of essential connection with others. Is there a gift in the disruption of our rhythms? I absolutely believe there is, but it will not be easy. Thinking about those most financially fragile and finding ways to cultivate hospitality and generosity in this time will require something of us.

Not to mention that we’re likely going to be alone with our own thoughts a bit more. Solitude and silence as spiritual practices are the best teachers, but it can take a while to make friends with them. These new disruptions and the anxiety they produce tempt us into creating a hurry of a different sort.

But I’m convinced that this season of cancellations and more time on our hands-even though it’s most unwelcome-has a gift for us.”

Rev. Crawford’s insights on disruption, anxiety, community, and mindfulness are a timely call to lean into silence, or solitude, or self-awareness.

Deepening Character when Strategy Implodes

Meanwhile a gripping narrative has emerged from The Wesleyan Church, pivoting from personal quarantine to profound reflection. Rev. Ben Ward, Asia-Pacific Area Director and Director of Development and Communication for Global Partners, discusses imploding plans and emerging realization:

“On March 9, I was issued a home quarantine order from the Ministry of Health here in Singapore. This means I essentially can’t leave my bedroom for the next eight days. I was on a flight from Istanbul to Singapore on March 3. Apparently, a fellow traveler developed COVID-19 symptoms on the flight. The government began contact tracing to identify those who had close contact with the passenger, issuing quarantine orders. They tracked me down.”

Aside from the personal impact, Ward goes on to share the frustration of watching teams sent home and cancelling a major event that had taken months of resources and planning. With gracious transparency, he teases out a moment of clarity:

“Beyond the inconvenience the Coronavirus has created for me, it is also causing me to rethink what effective Christian leadership looks like.

I used to think an effective leader set a plan and then implemented that plan no matter what circumstances arose. Thinking through scenarios that could derail the plan and creating contingencies were essential leadership practices. If unforeseen events occurred and derailed the plan — well then, the leader must not have planned well enough.

But no one saw the Coronavirus coming. My best-laid plans were shipwrecked.

Ward goes on to share the keen awareness that,

“Planning is harder in the majority world than in the developed world. My Christian sisters and brothers in developing contexts have many more variables to consider that can derail their plans. I have enjoyed more stability than the majority of the world’s inhabitants. I repent of my arrogance, for thinking my hyper-planned-out approach to life is superior. I have more grace for my colleagues who keep loving, learning and leading in contexts marked by uncertainty and instability.”

He concludes with a sharp call to new perspective: “the thwarting of strategy is an invitation for God to do a deeper work of character.” (Click here to read Rev. Ward’s piece in its entirety.) What a beautiful posture toward spiritual formation when our best-laid plans go out the window.

When Lent Means Fasting from Easter 

Over the weekend I saw comments online wryly expressing that people hadn’t meant to give up quite this much for Lent. Today (March 16), tired pastors woke up to new CDC recommendations for the next eight weeks and realized that Sunday gatherings may be suspended over Easter. When I saw the comments on fasting and Lent, a memory stirred: last spring, Rev. Carolyn Moore asked me to write for her series on the Lordship of Christ, and I sent her “Jesus is Lord of the Valleys,” which expressly calls out what happens to fasting and Lent during upheaval, unpredictability, and loss. I wrote,

“Out of the corner of our eye, we have peripheral awareness of how close to being faith consumers we really are. We choose to go to a conference so we can grow spiritually. We choose to show up to Bible study so we can grow spiritually. We choose to read a book so we can cry or become more efficient or grow spiritually.

We choose.

We choose the parameters of our growth. Where we next discern/feel/think that God is leading us. What we will “give up” for Lent.  The problem is the insidious mindset that is entangled in our approach to faith: that we set the table, invite the guests, and choose the menu of our own spiritual growth. That we can choose what outcomes we want to see in our spiritual life. That we control how we want to be made Christlike. Lent changed from practices I chose to something outside my control, and I didn’t like it.

God allowed my chosen self-denial to be replaced with real desperation. I can’t guarantee you stability in this life. I can’t guarantee you won’t face tragedy. I can witness to the goodness of God, though…”

When the shape of spiritual formation is taken out of our hands – what is left? Grabbing onto Christ, proclaiming the goodness of God.


Shared Prayer Guide for the Coronavirus Season

As we see the season of Lent turned inside-out, one way to witness to the goodness of God is through the discipline of shared prayer. Early on Rev. Pete Grieg shared a prayer resource as a community guide for praying about the impact of Covid-19. At the time, the likelihood of Coronavirus disruption had barely punctured American consciousness, but Grieg is quite in touch with global developments – the 24/7 prayer movement he helped to found stretches around the world. What seemed a bit early was, in retrospect, very timely: a lesson in itself perhaps. (Checking the calendar, “a bit early” in reality was just a week and a half ago.) Here is an excerpt:

“JEHOVAH SHALOM, Lord of Peace, we remember those living in Coronavirus hotspots. May they know your presence in their isolation, your peace in their turmoil and your patience in their waiting. Prince of Peace, you are powerful and merciful; let this be their prayer – ‘May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name.’ (Ps 79:8)

JEHOVAH RAPHA, God who heals, we pray for all medical professionals dealing daily with the intense added pressures of this crisis. Grant them resilience in weariness, discernment in diagnosis, and compassion upon compassion as they care. We thank you for the army of researchers cooperating towards a cure – give them clarity, serendipity and unexpected breakthroughs we pray. Rise Sun of righteousness, above this present darkness with healing in your rays. You are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer – ‘Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.’ (Jer 32:17)

(Click here for downloadable slides for the entirety of this excellent prayer guide to use in community prayer – even if praying together occurs in virtual worship, and not in person.)

Spiritual Formation Lived in Shared Membership Vows

For congregations, Rev. Andy Stoddard reinforces community spiritual formation through the lens of membership vows, organizing congregational communication and resources through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, with resources linked in each. He writes,

“There’s an old hymn of the church that reminds us: “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” We all believe that, we all know that, but in a season of “social distancing” it can be really hard for us to remember what it means to be connected.  That, in many ways, is my worst fear. We need each other.  And we need the church.  The church will continue to be at work, and we each can continue to do our part, and remember vows that we made on joining the church. In this time, in this moment, we continue to need God and need each other.  I love our memberships vows, and I believe that in this time, as we keep faithful with our prayers, presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness, these vows will hold us together more and more.  I want to share some useful resources that can help you and me live into our calling in this and every season. This will be a growing list in the days to come.”

What a great way to order posture for the days to come: to remind people of who they are, what they have committed together, and who the church will continue to be.

When Prudence and Cooperation Are Spiritual Formation: Wisdom from the Congo

Often community is pictured locally; but people of faith constantly affirm the unity of the global church. We are part of a local-global connection tying us to believers around the world. We all follow Jesus: it’s that simple.

While weighing the challenges of Coronavirus-related restrictions, Rev. Beth Ann Cook reached out to a clergy friend from the Democratic Republic of Congo; he has pastored people, “in the midst of war, economic and political unrest, and a cholera epidemic.” She expressed, “I was so very grateful to be able to ask, ‘what do I do?’” He responded,

“In such a situation we ask people not to panic but to be prudent.

Help people as Christians to turn our faces to God in prayer and ask for his wisdom to face the situation.

Mobilize the community and congregation to follow instructions given by health authorities.

Develop an excellent communication network.”

The posture suggested by a pastor who has led during war, economic dives, and cholera? Be prudent rather than panic; help people turn to God in prayer and to pray for God’s wisdom; use influence in your region and congregation to follow health authorities; and invest in a strong communication network.

If energy spent in helping people to be a non-anxious, careful presence or promoting health authority protocol seems separate from spiritual formation, it’s not. Centuries ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to Christ followers on the edge of the Mediterranean, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we form and grow, Paul – and a pastor from the Congo – remind us of the value of practicing mental habits and choices that the Holy Spirit can empower and illumine: in the middle of difficult circumstances, we can take joy, let gentleness be evident to everyone, resist the nagging call of anxiety, and in every situation, present our requests to God through prayer with gratitude. These postures are both individual and communal, hammered out personally and corporately.

In Matthew 22, we read, “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Building a posture of humility includes mindfulness about Christians’ presence and witness in “the public square.” In times of outbreak, a response of simple humility might be, “of course we may have the right to do something, but we love our neighbors with the sacrificial love God has shown for all of us, and our actions must not ever be only about our own interests, real or perceived. And for the sake of our congregation and our community, we happily submit to anything that does not require us to deny Christ. We can easily worship Christ in our homes just as easily as we can in one building. We have nothing to fear by worshiping at home and serving safely wherever we can.”

The Discomfort of Spiritual Growth in an Outbreak: Wisdom from the 1500’s

About two weeks ago, Wesleyan Accent shared an adapted piece written during the Ebola outbreak, on Martin Luther’s pastoral responses to contagion in the form of the plague. People of faith don’t only have global connections during crisis; we affirm in the Creed, “we believe in the communion of saints…” The Body of Christ stretches across space and time and sometimes there is wisdom to be found from voices through the centuries.

“Even if people are accustomed to relative health and ease – or especially if they are – it is impossible to insulate any life from certain realities: illness, vulnerability, lack of control, mortality. Pastoral care during outbreaks is in part the quiet calming of deep existential fears usually ignored, avoided, or drowned out by many people in the Western world.

In addition to taking sensible precautions and exercising common sense and good cheer, we can outfit ourselves with wisdom from church history. Perspective is never so valuable as in a time of panic, warranted or unwarranted or somewhere in between. So let’s inoculate ourselves against denial, on one hand, and fear, on the other, with a visit to the Book of Common Prayer and a cantankerous German monk, Martin Luther.”

Luther gives counsel on the shape of prayer in the face of contagion; he offers frank advice on the social and ethical responsibilities of serving others if it puts you at risk; and he comments on pragmatic angles of dying well – a deeply ignored element of spiritual formation in the U.S. Despite the difference in what we now know of disease spread, a great deal of his insight translates remarkably well – and sometimes with unexpected kindness toward those who feel themselves faltering.

A Note to Tired Pastors

There are times that church leaders are tempted to grow discouraged; we know how much energy ministry can take when things are going well; will people turn toward their faith if there is no Sunday gathering, if the activity calendar suddenly goes silent? But activity and spiritual growth are two different things.

The question of whether people will grow or wilt may be thrown into clearer relief when business as usual is disrupted; but it’s not a new question, it’s an old question. And there is nothing that pastors have ever been able to do to guarantee that the people who often sit in the pews will push deeper into their faith in moments of chaos.

Fear that people will fall away from church because a time of outbreak occurs is the same fear that a person will fall away from faith because of a cancer diagnosis. We cannot inoculate believers from loss, challenge, or hardship. Some people may have casually engaged with faith communities, and they will become more invested, more active – they may even discover a call to ministry through this time. Others may have casually engaged with faith communities, and they will become less invested, less active – their belief may diminish in the face of self-preservation or trauma.

In your work to strengthen communications, encourage prudence over panic, support health initiatives, and lead into deep and regular prayer, be at peace. Do your best to support spiritual formation in the face of quarantine, and trust that while the congregation may look different when all is said and done, you will have new and more reasons to witness to the goodness of God than you can imagine right now. The well-being of your congregation and community is not all on your shoulders; so commit with boldness to stretches of rest, and let your spirit be formed.

Edgar Bazan ~ On Being Hispanic

As a Mexican, I did not know I was a Hispanic, too. The term “Hispanic” refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries and, in the United States, it is a technical demographic label or distinction used to identify people from a Spanish-speaking origin. Since in Mexico the primary language is Spanish, the term “Hispanic” is not commonly used to identify Spanish-speaking people: there is no need for it! So I often say that I was not born Hispanic but Mexican.

It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. as an immigrant that I was given this label or identity of being a Hispanic. At first, I did not think much of it since it was the norm, but after a few years, I learned the richness of the Hispanic culture in the U.S., and not just Mexican but representing all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world. I learned some of the negative implications that come from having the label too.

Regarding the richness of being Hispanic, I was gifted with being a part of a diverse demographic group of people in which we share food, music, and traditions. For example, my diet was expanded from tacos to pupusas to arroz con gandules. One of the perks of serving as a pastor in the Hispanic context is absolutely the food! In this way, by being Hispanic, I get to share my Mexican heritage with others as much as I am enriched by the heritage of those from other countries of origin.

However, not everything is positive. One of the greatest challenges for immigrants is to learn a new identity, to adapt, and to fit into the new culture, language, and social expectations of their new homeland. This is a hard practice that has mental, emotional, and spiritual implications for the individual. For example, immigrant people may feel of lesser worth or with lower capacities to perform in life because of their skin color or accent. This self-perception of inadequacy is primarily caused by the way they are treated, perceived, or seen by U.S. natives. These dynamics lead people to become isolated and limited in their opportunities to prosper (not just financially but culturally, intellectually, socially).

Of course, not all Hispanics are immigrants, but many like myself are. I came from Mexico in 2004 to Dallas to do Spanish ministry in primarily English-speaking congregations. One of the first experiences I had was when I learned I was a Hispanic. I did not think much of it, nor did it bother me until I learned the implicit biases against being a Hispanic pastor. For example, people would typically assume that I was the associate Hispanic pastor for the Hispanic people, as opposed to being the pastor of all the people.

In ministry, this presents challenges and opportunities to encourage and walk alongside Hispanic immigrants so they can live in their giftedness, empowered to celebrate who they are rather than having to come “through the back door” to church or to apologize for who they are. This biased mentality is a tragedy on many levels; for example, it teaches Hispanic children that they belong “over there, on the side, with your people.” As a pastor, I often find myself encouraging people, particularly the young ones, to believe in themselves and open their minds to the vast opportunities before them, and not to reduce their identity to the biases others may have about them but rather to proudly celebrate their heritage.

Being Hispanic often means having to navigate at least two different cultures and languages and making twice the effort to level the playing field. Edward James Olmos describes this in the movie Selena: “We have to be more American than the Americans and more Mexican than the Mexicans. It’s twice as exhausting!”

Being in ministry in a Hispanic context is both enriching and challenging. We are people of tasty food and many colors, of lively music and infectious rhythms, we love deeply and sacrifice everything for our families—including leaving our homelands to provide for our loved ones. As Hispanics, we celebrate the rich heritage we contribute to each other and to the larger community.

Michelle Bauer ~ Celebrating Advent as a Family: Las Posadas

Many families enjoy re-telling the events that happened around the time that someone was born – the mad dash to the hospital, nervous pacing in the waiting room, funny names that your parents almost gave you.

Luke begins his gospel by telling the story surrounding Jesus’ birth. Did you know that Jesus was born next to animals? That’s unusual isn’t it?! Where were you born? Jesus was born next to animals because his parents had to travel out-of-town and the extra spaces were full.

Over 400 years ago in Mexico, the tradition of celebrating Las Posadas began.  La Posada is the Spanish word for lodging or inn.  Every year in December, Mexican children reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.

This year for two nights we are going to talk about Mary and Joseph’s journey, too!

If you like, you can put a few items in a basket to accompany your family storytelling time: objects like cloth, a Mary figure, a baby Jesus figure, a Joseph figure, barnyard animals, and a candle. Families in your church or small group can take turns hosting Jesus in their homes and then pass it to the next family.

Let’s consider the realities of Jesus as a baby – a real, live, crying baby with demands to be fed and comforted.  Let’s enter into the challenges and mysteries that faced Mary and Joseph as they prepared for and welcomed their son – God’s son.

Sometime this December, enjoy a few quiet moments together with your loved ones as you invite Jesus to be born in your home, in your family and in our community.


GATHER your family around a table or other flat surface.

INVITE the children to arrange the figures and other items in the basket (and even the basket itself) into a scene.

LIGHT the candle.

READ Luke 1:26-35, 38 and Luke 2:1-7


  • What are the things that families do to get ready for a baby?
  • Any preparations Mary and Joseph made were interrupted by their need to travel. Mary might have brought along the cloths that she used to wrap Jesus; they used an animal feeding trough as his crib. Do you think Jesus’ birth happened in a way that Mary and Joseph expected? How does it feel when things don’t happen the way we expect them to?
  • God’s Son, Jesus, did not come in the way anyone expected him to. What might the people in Bethlehem have done differently if they had known it was Jesus, the Messiah, about to be born in their town?

SING a verse of a favorite Christmas carol together.


Dear Jesus,

We welcome you into our home tonight. We want to make room for you in our hearts and in our lives every day. Sometimes time goes by so quickly and there is so much to get done each day. Help us to recognize you when you show up at our door of our hearts asking if there is room. Help us to see that it is you, especially when you come in a way, or at a time, that is unexpected.


CLOSE this time by extinguishing the candle or leaving it lit throughout a meal or the evening’s activities. Leave the figurines displayed if possible.

Additional questions to ponder with older children and adults:

  • Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men were all away from home when they experienced Jesus’ birth. How can being away from home open us to encountering God in new ways? Has there been a time when you have seen God in a new way away from home? Share these stories.
  • Imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt as they found there wasn’t room for them. What kind of pressure was Joseph under? What fears might Mary have had?
  • Moms and Dads, what is it like to wait 40 weeks for a baby to be born? What are the hard parts? What are the fun parts? Think of a time when you have waited for Jesus to arrive in a situation. What was the waiting like? Are you waiting now? What comforts you in your waiting?


GATHER your family around the scene that was created the previous day.

LIGHT the candle.

READ Luke 1:26-35, 38 and Luke 2:1-7


  • Have you ever gotten to see or hold a brand new baby? What are they like? What do they need? What would it have been like to hold a brand new baby with animals nearby?
  • The Christmas carol Away in a Manger makes it sound like baby Jesus didn’t cry:“But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” But Jesus was a real baby and he did what all babies do.  What kinds of things do babies do?
  • It’s hard to describe how a mom and dad feel when their baby is finally born. It’s a mix of happy and relieved, with a little nervous thrown in. Take a few moments and share about the day the children in your family were born. What were your thoughts, how did you feel? Mary and Joseph must have felt all of those things, too. What do you think they said to Jesus and to each other as they huddled together that first night?

SING a verse from a favorite Christmas carol together.


Dear Jesus,

Thank you for being our guest. You are always welcome in our home. Like Mary and Joseph, we feel all sorts of things when you come into our lives. But most of all we are grateful. Teach us to look for your arrival, help us to wait with anticipation and show us what it means to make room for you.


CLOSE this time by extinguishing the candle or leaving it lit throughout a meal or the evening’s activities.

INVITE the children to pack the figurines and other items back into the basket and offer a prayer for the next family who will host them.

Additional questions to talk about with older children and adults:

  • Read Philippians 2:5-11. Verse 8 tells us that Jesus “humbled himself”. What did Jesus give up when he became not only a human but a baby? What do we learn from this example about what humility looks like?
  • Tonight we asked the question, “What kinds of things do babies do?” I’m sure the list included some pretty “earthy” things.  For every stage of Jesus’ life we could make a similar list. He got tired, hurt, sick, and sad.  What is your gut reaction to this list? In what ways does it fit or not fit with your ideas about who Jesus is?
  • Moms and dads, take a moment to remember bringing your first child home. What was that first night like? Re-orienting a babies’ days and nights can take us to the limits of what’s humanly possible! What do you think Mary and Joseph’s first days and nights with Jesus were like?

Edgar Bazan ~ Prayer: A Source of New Life

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea and visit some of largest churches in the world: Kwanglim Methodist Church with 85,000 members and Yoido Full Gospel Church with 900,000 members. We met with their senior pastors and leaders and learned about their leadership. We were, so to speak, drinking from a fire hydrant all week.

The food was great. The people were amazing. And some of the cultural differences were shocking, and I noticed some contrasting differences between Westerners and Asians.

One observation in particular is that Koreans, in general, are not individualists; they have a culture of collectivism. They are compliant with each other, and their main concern is the greater good. This cultural context influences the ways in which they practice their Christian faith, including how they read the Bible and pray.

Here in America, a question that we typically ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” But this is not a question that is common in Korea. A more common question for Korean Christians would be, “What is God’s will?” Period. The difference between these questions is that the latter focuses on God, on pursuing God’s kingdom, and not on ourselves.

To us, this may not be a big deal since we have been taught about the value of individualism. But for many Koreans, this is not typical. They don’t ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” They seek God’s will collectively by studying the Bible and praying. Their main concern is not asking for God’s will but aligning themselves with the teachings of Jesus. In general, the concept of having a tailored plan for oneself is an alien one to them.

In essence, Korean Christians fulfill God’s will for their lives not by waiting for a specific answer from God about a plan for them but by pursuing what they already know God is doing. Their prayer life is more about joining God than asking God.

This experience led me to reflect deeper on my own practice of prayer. A Scripture that spoke to me in very significant ways is in Matthew 20:20-23,

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'”

This Scripture of Matthew is the story of a mother who wanted only the best for her sons. She came to Jesus with a bold request. She asked that when Jesus comes into his Kingdom, he would have her sons seated on his right and the other on his left. She was doing what any mother would do. I don’t think we can blame her for coming to Jesus and asking what she thought was the best for them.

If we read the other gospels, it’s clear that this was a shared controversy among the disciples all the way until the night before Jesus was crucified. No matter what we may think about James and John (and their mother), the other disciples wanted those seats as well.

The basic problem is that James and John didn’t ask for work in the coming Kingdom but for a place of honor. Through their request, they were not pursuing the purposes of the kingdom but the benefits of the kingdom.

To this request, Jesus provides an answer. He says, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they replied, “Yes, we can.” And Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the mother or her sons. There was no problem with asking. However, Jesus does tell them that they don’t know what they are asking. And, at that moment, Jesus then asks them if they can drink the cup he is about to drink. With commendable bravery, they replied, “We can.”

Here is a critical moment for all of us as we look to learn more about the power of prayer.

The concept of the “cup” in the Bible speaks of intense personal experience. It is the same image Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that the cup he was about to drink might be taken from him. Luke 22:42 says of this, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

That “cup” for Jesus particularly meant to him the burden of bearing the sins of the world, of having to face death on a cross. His drinking of the cup was his willingness to accomplish the will of God no matter the cost to him. And he did, because he trusted that the Father’s desire would result in the greatest good for the greatest glory and joy possible for all the saints. And so, even while sweating blood in tortuous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

What then is our cup? When Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” he is telling us that just as his cup represented his submission to the will of God and the purposes of God’s kingdom, so it means to us how we too submit to God. In this context, the cup is something taken voluntarily when our goal is not personal gain but accomplishing God’s will. Drinking the cup is the ultimate act of obedience and trust to God.

What does this have to do with prayer? When we pray, are we only asking for a seat, or are we drinking the cup, submitted wholly to God? When we pray, are our main concerns our individual comforts, or are we pursuing the kingdom of God?

Of course, Jesus does invite us to ask for whatever we may think we need. The point is not to stop that, but to go beyond that. Jesus spoke of this when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

If we look closely, all this time Jesus has been telling us that prayer is not a means for personal gain (a “seat of honor”) but a source of life. Prayer is the cup that leads us beyond brokenness into new living.

When we tell God, “all these are my wants, but let it be your will and not mine,” we are basically saying, “I want that seat, but that is not the most important thing; above everything else, I want to please you.”

This is the cup Jesus was talking about; this is the meaning of the cup to us. And here,is where the power of God is unleashed in and through us. When we drink this cup we are taken to new heights in our spiritual life.

The secret to a powerful prayer life is drinking the cup: humility and submission to God’s teachings. It is not about not asking what you want or pretending that you really don’t want it by forcing artificial piety; but it is about not losing sight of what matters most even as you struggle with your own priorities. There is nothing wrong with asking and talking with God about our wants and desires. In fact, God welcomes that very much. However (in my Korean experience), prayer is not only about asking “what’s in it for me?” but a pursuit to learn to align our lives with God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus.

How have the Korean churches have been so successful in reaching out to the unchurched and making disciples of them? I came across Matthew 20 and realized that their power to minister comes from their unwavering commitment to please God and accomplish the purposes of God’s kingdom.

What are we to make of all this? We learned from Matthew about not being shy about asking but also about making sure we don’t miss what matters most. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking for a seat; drink the cup after that. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking God for what you want or need. Once we ask, then let’s consider also praying like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Luke 22:42 paraphrased)

Prayer is ultimately a source of new life, not a means for personal gain. Take your prayer life to the next level. Ask everything you want, but then pursue the kingdom of God and offer yourself in complete obedience to what God is accomplishing around you. Say, “here I am, Lord, let me serve you in any way you want me to.”

Let’s not stop asking, but let’s also never stop pursuing the kingdom of God and offer ourselves in complete obedience to what God is doing around us today and every day.


Note from the Editor: the featured image is “Prayer” by painter Kazimir Malevich, 1907.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Narrative of Evil

Note from the Editor: At the time of original publication, Wesleyan Accent suspended its usual posting of a weekend sermon to reflect on the 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France.

Where haute couture fashion houses dominate and the Mona Lisa smiles, where the Notre Dame cathedral towers with long-held cultural memories of a famed hunchback and the Eiffel Tower beckons to retainer-wearing junior high tourists, where Rick and Ilsa looked out as the Nazis rolled in.

What is the true narrative of Paris, a very old city with a colorful history, the grand dame of Europe whose eyes twinkle as she alludes to youthful scandal?

What is the true narrative of Paris, where St. Thomas Aquinas studied, wrote and taught? The same Paris that boiled with blood during the French Revolution? The same Paris overtaken by the Third Reich? The same Paris scourged by the Black Plague? The same Paris now in a state of emergency with enforced curfew marooned in a nation whose borders have had to clang shut.

The true narrative of Paris is the narrative of any individual – at moments glorious, fallible, heartbroken, and exquisite.

Like the true narrative of Baghdad.

Or Damascus.

Recently Canon Andrew White, “the vicar of Baghdad,” alluded to his chiaroscuro life. 

They were coming for him and his people. Friends were being killed or fleeing for their lives. So Andrew White did what he always does when faced with an enemy. “I invited the leaders of Isis [Islamic State] for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.”

This extraordinarily self-confident priest is best known as the vicar of Baghdad, leader of a church in the chaos outside the protected Green Zone. He made his offer last year as the terrorist forces threatened to take the city. Did he get a reply? 

“Isis said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.’ So I didn’t invite them again!” 

And he roars with laughter, despite believing that Islamic State has put a huge price on his head, apparently willing to pay $157m (£100m) to anyone who can kill this harmless-looking eccentric. Canon White was a doctor before he became a priest and could be one still, in his colourful bow-tie and double-breasted blazer with a pocket square spilling silk. But appearances are deceptive. 

For the last two decades, he has worked as a mediator in some of the deadliest disputes on Earth, in Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Nigeria. He has sat down to eat with terrorists, extremists, warlords and the sons of Saddam Hussein, with presidents and prime ministers. 

White has been shot at and kidnapped, and was once held captive in a room littered with other people’s severed fingers and toes, until he talked his way out of it. He is an Anglican priest but was raised a Pentecostal and has that church’s gift of the gab.

Canon Andrew has served as a voice from a region that we skim over in the headlines because it troubles us. But something that troubles you will eventually force its way into your consciousness, like a lump you want to ignore or the scrabbling of a mouse across the floor in the night.

Damascus, Baghdad, Paris.

What next? Miami, Atlanta, Boston? How might the narrative of more cities morph under the influence of evil? Paris is closer to the Western world than Damascus or Baghdad are in many ways. The American Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. French thinkers and writers have influenced intellectual development over the past few centuries. Our language is dotted with vocabulary we don’t think twice about because we don’t pronounce it in proper nasal fashion, but chaperone, restaurant, coup de grace – all these illustrate the invisible ties that stretch like cords across Atlantic waves. And so we sit up and take notice when Paris is beaten up and left bloodied on the roadside more than we do when Damascus and Baghdad are kidnapped and held for ransom.

Canon Andrew does not underestimate the strength of the evil that has been brutalizing Iraqis, Syrians, and now Parisians.

So what is to be done? “We must try and continue to keep the door open. We have to show that there is a willingness to engage. There are good Sunni leaders; they are not all evil like Isis.”

But surely there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn? He sighs, and answers slowly. “You are asking me how we can deal radically with Isis. The only answer is to radically destroy them. I don’t think we can do it by dropping bombs. We have got to bring about real change. It is a terrible thing to say as a priest. 

“You’re probably thinking, ‘So you’re telling me there should be war?’ Yes!” 

I am shocked by his answer, because this is a man who has risked his life many times to bring peace.

“It really hurts. I have tried so hard. I will do anything to save life and bring about tranquillity, and here I am forced by death and destruction to say there should be war.”

White had to be ordered to leave Baghdad at Christmas by his close friend the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

Evil is not the narrative of terror: terror is the narrative of evil. That which destroys for destruction’s sake; that which desecrates for desecration’s sake; that which relishes in inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake; that which forces death unannounced for death’s sake – this is the nature of evil.

And destroying for destruction’s sake, desecrating for desecration’s sake, inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake, forcing death for death’s sake – this leaves paralyzing fear in its wake, the kind of dry-mouthed, helpless terror that watches in vivid slow motion. This leaves night terror in its wake, thrashing in blankets from flashbacks. This leaves fear in its wake, the kind that bars windows and triple-checks locks, the kind that huddles in groups and squints in suspicion.

David wrote of this anguish in Psalm 22, and while it’s often read through the lens of the crucifixion of Christ, it also stands on its own, as his own distress:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me.

There is no shame in feeling fear, or sorrow, or terror. There is no shame in shaking with grief, and loss, and shock. There is no shame in finding your mind paralyzed, your heart numb, your eyes glazed. No, there is no shame in bolting awake in the dark night with your heart pounding.

But in the midst of fear, grief, paralysis, and panic, there remains a quiet, immovable promise – the kind of promise that doesn’t erase suffering, but buys it out and remodels it. This hushed promise of granite-like solidity transcends laughter, happiness, and joy. It includes hope but exists outside of your ability to hope. Truth exists outside of your ability to feel happiness.

David finishes his song like this:

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

No one can obliterate the future. No one can obliterate your life so completely that it is irredeemable. This is the truth that was not burned up in the furnaces of death camps. It cannot be buried in a mass grave.  It can’t be executed at a concert or detonated at a soccer game.

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Oh, the promise that trumps the narrative of evil. Oh, the promise that takes our sweaty palms in its hands.

We are not at the mercy of terrorists. They are at our mercy as we live in flesh and blood and bone the loving mercy of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel-God-With-Us, who was and is and is to come. As the orange-suited martyrs cried to Jesus on their sandy beach deathbeds, evil crumpled. They have no power over Jesus Christ, they have no power over the world to come, they have no power over your soul. 

And so today we do not pray first and foremost for safety – as if it could be achieved in this life anyway. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for boldness and courage. We pray for peace, for healing, for comfort, for hope. We pray for faithfulness, for wisdom, for vision. We pray for Spirit-led choices, for grace, for redemption. And we pray for those who blow themselves up, kill other people, threaten and bully, remembering the Apostle Paul, who, before he met Christ, harassed believers and breathed murderous threats against them.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

And root out the sneaking parts of my own soul that wish harm on others, flare up in anger, or belittle my valuable fellow humans. For we all stand in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Georgia, England, Costa Rica: World Methodist Evangelism Gatherings

World Methodist Evangelism has been hard at work preparing to meet you on the road during 2018. Our events in the upcoming year promise to be times of connection, equipping, and transformation. Take a look at our upcoming gatherings and see if there’s one for you.

Our annual invitational faith sharing conference for North American clergy and clergy spouses of multiple denominations is gathering at St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, a historic Wesley location tucked on the Atlantic under towering oaks and rustling Spanish moss. The Order of the Flame evangelism conference welcomes leaders from denominations like the United Methodist Church, the AME Zion church, the Church of the Nazarene, the CME church, the Wesleyan Church, the AME church, the Free Methodist Church, and more.

If you have attended this conference in the past, we welcome you to reconnect with this vibrant community in a time of worship, connection, learning, and vision casting. Denominational leaders are still welcome to nominate clergy members to participate here.

In June, young and emerging leaders in the global Methodist family of faith will gather in beautiful Costa Rica for our Metanoia conference, formally named ICYCE. This gathering of young people from around the world has convened every several years for over 30 years and longstanding relationships have grown and flourished from it. Registrations have already begun to pour in from multiple continents, and we are excited to foster relationships among young Methodists of many denominations from across the globe.


The complex dynamics of living missionally in a postmodern, post-Christendom context will be probed and dissected in the beautiful, historic setting of the University of Durham this August in a brand-new gathering called Convergence. Leading thinkers and practitioners will discuss compelling issues like the relationship between science and faith, the monastic and the missional, globalization and migration, and more. This is an open event for clergy and church leaders. Following a time of equipping in Durham, participants are also welcome to engage in a Wesley heritage tour including stops in Epworth, Bristol, and London.

Registration for Convergence is now open and we invite you to learn more here.

Keep up with more World Methodist Evangelism events by following our Facebook page (check your newsfeed settings to make sure you continue to see regular updates from your favorite organizations following recent changes in Facebook algorithms) or our Twitter account.

Edgar Bazan ~ Shalom and the Character of the Kingdom of God

Read more from Rev. Edgar Bazan on transformative mission and the Kingdom of God here and here.

If there is one aspect of Jesus’ life that can help us gain insight into his mission, it is when he said: “My peace I [give] to you.” (Jn. 14:27) After his resurrection, this was a very particular way in which Jesus greeted the disciples: by saying “peace be with you.” Note John 20:21, when Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” This is a significant statement that helps us realize the nature of the mission of God here on earth.

This concept of peace has profound missional implications for learning what it means to witness the salvation brought by Jesus Christ and to bring life through his teachings—the essence of our Christian faith.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. This is the word we translate as peace in our language, but the meaning of this word is totally unlike our concept of peace. Our concept of peace is basically the absence of trouble, whereas Shalom means everything which contributes to the wellness of people’s lives. When the word Shalom is used as greeting it does not simply mean that you wish a person the absence of bad things, but it also means you wish them all possible good things.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” The end goal of God’s Shalom is to bring order to our lives and to align us not only with what we consider spiritual wellness but with everything that contributes to our well-being in every area of our lives to experience the fullness of life. Such is the power and aim of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and manifested in powerful ways. Every healing, every forgiven sin, every act of reconciliation, and every act of justice against evil oppressors is an act of Shalom, of leaving his peace with us.

The presence of God – Jesus’ bringing of his kingdom – brings forth actions of peace, healing, and salvation. This is how we know that God is active in our lives and ministries: if we are peacemakers in this way. (And this is not the same as pacifism that avoids conflict or struggle; rather, it happens as people seek justice through acts of redemption in the way Jesus did.) Opposition and persecution are to be expected when dealing with opposing forces against the kingdom of God, for the evil in this world abhors God’s Shalom.

The mission of God that the church has been entrusted to steward and carry on is for the “healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). This is an idea that is rooted in the Shalom of God. This is the hope the church ought to proclaim. In the midst of and in spite of the opposing evils of this world, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus and the manifestation of God’s kingdom is the light overpowering darkness, the healing overpowering death, and the Shalom overpowering condemnation.



Note from the Editor: The featured image is a work entitled, “Love and Peace,” by David Burliuk, an early 20th century Ukrainian/Russian artist.

Janine Roberts ~ Connecting Local Congregations to Global Missions

When I was in middle school, I developed a deep desire to go anywhere in Africa.  At the time I had no idea why.  I just knew I wanted to go there someday.  As I entered high school and then college, this desire only increased, until I finally heard of a United Methodist mission team traveling to Zimbabwe for three weeks.  I quickly checked a map, verified that Zimbabwe was in fact in Africa, and began the process of begging my parents to go.  They finally relented a few years later when I was over the age of 18 and were no longer legally allowed to stop me.   

From the time I stepped off the plane in July 1998, I was smitten.  My love for Zimbabwe was cemented that first day and has only grown each year since.  I lived there for many years at a Children’s Home, and I still go back each year to visit people who are now as close as my biological family.  They are a part of who I am.  My life is richer and fuller because was able to see a new piece of who Jesus is by experiencing another culture. 

Now I serve as Mission’s Director at Chapelwood UMC in Houston, TX.  We are still wading through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and trying to figure out how we can assist other states and islands that were devastated by the hurricanes and storms that followed.  With so many disasters occurring around the U.S. this past year, it is natural to ask, Why should we help people in a different part of the world when there are so many in need throughout our own country?”  As with many issues, the answer is not always either/or, but requires a both/and mentality.  Either/or signifies a limited capacity and in turn can limit God’s ability to work fully in our lives as individuals, families, and churches.   

Similar to when we are told to put on our own oxygen mask in an airplane before we help others, we do need to make sure that our own well-being and that of our family and community are met first so that we have a stable base from which to serve.  When I was in the middle of weathering Hurricane Harvey, I had no capacity outside of trying to do my job and figuring out how to move around a city where most of the streets were still blocked with water.  But – before long the streets and businesses opened back up, and most people were able to find a safe place to stay even if it will be a long time before they can achieve a new “normal.”   

We have churches, organizations, and government programs all working together to provide immediate assistance, and they will stick around for the next few years to make sure the city is back up and running. Unlike many other parts of the world, the structures we have in place throughout the U.S. make it much easier to respond quickly in disaster situations. In many cases, our resources far surpass the services available in other areas around the world.

Yet after we have experienced devastating disasters, our desire and ability to practice generosity to those outside our small bubble may fade even though the needs of our family around the world has not decreased.  We need to remember especially during these times why it is so important to continue serving and building relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world 

We serve because God calls us through his Word to participate in his mission of reaching out and loving people from every nation and culture.  We have the opportunity to form genuine relationships as a means of building up and unifying God’s kingdom, to learn from each other, and to see new ways that Jesus is at work. We grow in our faith when we observe how God has moved in the lives of people in so many different and difficult circumstances.  The faith that I saw exhibited by my Zimbabwean family throughout the years shaped and changed how I responded when going through traumatic events, including Hurricane Harvey.  

My experience is unique to me, but God has a unique experience ready for each of us who are willing to listen and respond in faith daily.  Go where God asks you to go and do what he asks you to do, whether it is as a missionary in your own community, or in a place that starts out entirely foreign to you.  The main reason I believe that we are to serve both at home and around the world is because when so many have looked into the eyes of Jesus and sat still enough to listen, that is what he told them to do.    

So find out which partnerships your church has formed in different parts of the world and how you can participate in growing these relationships.  Research an organization in your town that welcomes refugees and international students and invite someone to dinner.  Check out the work supported through World Methodist Evangelism or other connectional mission organizations.  Choose a country that God has set on your heart and educate yourself and your family so that you can actively pray for individuals and situations in a place you may never physically be able to visit.   

Or go.   

Whatever you feel led to do, you are guaranteed to discover a richer and fuller love for Jesus and the life he has given you. 


Janine Roberts ~ Notes from Houston: Giving and Receiving

I am writing from an air mattress at my coworkers’ house late at night. I just ate some fabulous fajitas around a table filled with laughter and shared stories after watching the sun set slowly from someone else’s backyard.  

I drove home from work last Thursday night jovially saying goodnight to everyone, knowing we would probably be “hunkered down” for the next few days to ride out Hurricane Harvey and his aftermath. It felt a little exciting at first, like anticipating a snow day when I was younger and growing up in West Virginia. But over the next days, which has now turned into a week, the excitement drained away with every tornado warning, every flood warning, every flash of tragedy that unfolded from the news reports and social media.  

I am back in the place of being the recipient of others’ generosity and overwhelming support. This is a familiar place for me, after living many years in Zimbabwe as a missionary and knowing that both my programs and personal finances depended on the kindness of others. When I could no longer renew my work visa and had to leave Zimbabwe, I somehow ended up at Chapelwood UMC, a large church community in Houston, Texas, as a Missions Director.  

All of a sudden, the tables were turned and I was now in charge, along with my committee, of dispensing funds to hopeful missionaries and programs around the world who were just as eager as I had once been to be good stewards of what they were given. When disasters happened around the world and closer to home, Chapelwood generously donated funds and manpower in whatever way was most needed.  

Over the last three years working here in Houston, I have been privileged to have other staff and members become my family. My family has also grown to include people from Haiti and Kenya and other parts of Texas. My family now includes people from Estonia and Louisiana and Costa Rica. When our family in Haiti was suffering from Hurricane Matthew, we were there. When flooding devastated Louisiana, we were there. When Kenya experienced famine from drought we were there.  

Now we are the ones who are in devastation. We look out our windows and see swimming pools where parking lots should be and boats where cars used to drive.  

And the emails and phone calls and social media posts pour in: from Stanley in Kenya, from Meeli in Estonia, Pastor Carlos in Weslaco, Texas and Paul in Haiti. And all over the U.S. they assure us: We are praying for you. We are sending support. We are coming.  

I had to evacuate my home this morning, to join the tens of thousands of others who are now displaced. But we will be okay again one day soon because of your prayers and your presence and your gifts, service, and witness.  

And because of the beautiful, compassionate, resilient people of Houston who have rallied around each other. We represent every tribe, tongue and nation here in Houston. Although we are in the midst of deep waters this week, we have also experienced a hint of heaven. 

Wesleyan Accent ~ How Your Local Church Can Engage Immigrants: An Interview with Rev. Zach Szmara

Recently Wesleyan Accent Editor Elizabeth Glass Turner chatted with Rev. Zach Szmara, the founder of one of the first immigration legal clinics within a church building, about sanctuary, immigration law, and cross-cultural ministry at home. Rev. Szmara is the Lead Pastor of The Bridge in Logansport, Indiana, a congregation within The Wesleyan Church. He is the National Director of Immigrant Connection – a growing network of over 14 church-based legal sites  – and has provided immigration legal services experience to over 150 church leaders from a variety of denominations.

Wesleyan Accent: What are some of the most common questions you encounter from clergymembers who are uncertain about whether or how – or whether – to integrate immigration-related ministries in their congregation?

Zach Szmara: People wonder if it’s legal or not to serve immigrants.  The reality is that we’re providing immigration legal services – which means we’re using the immigration law as it is currently written to help people navigate through the process if there is a pathway for them.  Many times there is a pathway, but it is complex and confusing.  So in the same way many people utilize a professional tax preparer because tax law is complicated and they want to make sure they pay whatever taxes they are legally supposed to (not more, not less), we do the same thing for immigrants – we help them navigate a complicated legal pathway.

Furthermore, I remind people that some of the church’s best moments have been when we’ve advocated for, learned from, and stood with marginalized people who were caught up within unjust systems – so while it’s not illegal to serve immigrants, even if it were I believe we should still do it (think of the church and the Underground Railroad).

If starting a full legal office doesn’t make sense within the church’s context, some great first steps are to preach on immigrants and immigration, to lead a small group study (we have materials we recommend), or to start a citizenship class.

WA: You’re not a lawyer. How can you have a legal clinic?

ZS: The short answer is that the Department of Justice opened a pathway in the 1980’s so that through a nonprofit an individual can receive training (education) and shadowing (experience) in immigration law. Then she or he can apply to the Department of Justice, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the legal site receives recognition while the individual receives accreditation to practice immigration legal services.

The training (education) part can be done two ways.  Most choose to attend a 40-hour training event, so it literally takes one week onsite.  Then the individual can do several other webinars on their own.  The second way is an online course which usually takes place over a few months.  I recommend the 40-hour training personally.  The shadowing (experience) part can be done by volunteering a number of hours at an existing site over several months or doing one of our Immigrant Connection Shadowing Experiences – which gain is one full week (40 hours) of intensive experiential learning.

So if someone does 40-hour training and 40-hour shadowing, they can be ready to go within weeks, and then it usually takes about a month to put together the application packet and they can apply for recognition and accreditation.  It usually takes about three months for all three governmental offices to review the application and approve it.

We’ve had local churches decide to launch a site and go through the process in as quick as five to six months from start to approval.

So we cannot do everything an attorney can do, but within the area of immigration law, we can legally provide legal services. I’m not a full-fledged attorney – I cannot do family law or criminal defense or any other area of law – just immigration.

WA: What are two or three facts that pastors should know about sanctuary, immigration law, and local engagement?

ZS: Many times pastors don’t realize that it’s illegal to practice law without a license, so they aren’t able to help immigrants with any paperwork or forms unless they take courses and get accredited by the Department of Justice.  It’s best for them to find and partner with a recognized site – you can find them here (https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/legaldirectory/ or download the Immigo app).

When it comes to sanctuary, there is no form to fill out to become a sanctuary site. ICE has said that they will refrain from engaging in enforcement operations at schools, medical and health care facilities, places of worship, and during public demonstrations such as marches and rallies.  In other words, all local churches are safe places and sanctuaries for immigrants.

The sanctuary movement is different and historically focused on garnering media and community attention for an individual or family who would be deported if a church didn’t step in to try to get the story of the individual or family heard, helping the community to rally behind them in the hopes an immigration judge may grant discretionary relief.

Finally, I remind all pastors that they don’t know what they don’t know; many people have ideas about immigrants and immigration that are unfounded. It’s important to realize that many of the key phrases utilized (“wait in line like my family did” or “illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes and steal our jobs”) are inaccurate.  The “line” is radically different than when many peoples’ families immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Even if there is a “line” (and many times there isn’t) the wait is over 10-20 years long.

WA: What’s the cost of starting an immigration law clinic in a church?

ZS: It depends on the network, denomination, and organization that the church partners with.  The Wesleyan Church is unique in that we launch Immigrant Connection sites for $5,000-$7,000 – but we are definitely at the lowest end of the spectrum.  We focus on churches doing this as a ministry and start by staffing sites with focused volunteers.  If a site needs to pay overhead costs and staff salaries – the starting cost raises substantially.

WA: What’s an example of some of the impact you’ve had?

ZS: There is no short example: our legal sites have impacted over 80 different countries. We reunite families, we help students have the ability to attend college, we help immigrants who were victims of crime find redemption of the very worst thing that occurred to them and receive a legal pathway forward, we help refugees become legal permanent residents, we help legal permanent residents become citizens, we help international pastors receive R visas to pastor churches and plant churches in the U.S., we have front-row seats to watch God transform lives and bring hope and a future into areas that are filled with animosity, confusion, and hopelessness.

WA: Many churches have separate worship services based on language. Why don’t you? Isn’t that awkward? How does it work logistically? What’s the benefit?

ZS: I’m glad in heaven there will only be one worship service even though it will be made up of people from different cultures, ethnicities, and languages.  While it may work to break up ethnicities, cultures, and languages in certain contexts, I feel my community has diversity in our schools, hospitals, banks, gyms, shopping centers – why not in church too?

When we segregate services based on languages, we break up immigrant and refugee families in which one generation leans into one language but the next generation leans into another language.  We also separate the majority population from learning from the minority population – and there is so much that white, English-speaking Christians need to learn from the immigrant, non-English speaking population.

It is awkward and it is hard and it is complicated and it is uncomfortable – but our goal is that it’s just as uncomfortable for a white English speaker as it is for a Spanish-speaking Latino. For too long we’ve had the wrong goal when it comes to multi-ethnic churches: what we’ve created is “multi-colored” white churches. In other words, these churches are very mono-cultural; it’s easy to attend as a white person because everything is still your worship style, your cultural way of doing things. You’re not uncomfortable in the least and you feel good because people of other ethnicities have assimilated to your way of doing things, so you can pat yourself on the back because there are different colors present in your worship.

But the goal for us is not assimilation but to be truly multi-cultural, which means everyone will be uncomfortable and confused at different times, everyone will have to give up a part of their preferences to be a part of our church.

The benefit for me is that I believe I’m called to build for Jesus’ kingdom – that I’m called to create signposts that point to Jesus, to his hope and his future – and I believe his kingdom coming means diversity. There will be multiple languages and cultural differences and multiple ethnicities in heaven (at least there were in John’s revelation of eternity) and so I don’t want to create some monocultural unity or sameness. I want to create a rich, diverse togetherness that is unity, but is not uniformity.