For nearly 30 years, I have served in Mennonite churches across the U.S. Ten years ago, when I began ministering in Phoenix, I found myself in over my head in a whole new way. So many needs, so many people, so many ethnic groups, and so many unexpected requests and cries for help! I learned quickly that each day when I wake up, I’d better put on both the armor of God and the clothes of those holy, chosen, and loved (Col. 3:12-15), because the challenges are great.
Ten years later, I still feel in over my head at times. The church, even the earliest church that we love to glorify, has always been a work in progress. Here in Phoenix, we know this is true of us. It’s easy to talk about being “missional”, but the reality is harder: those who use our building often mess it up, kids scrape our nice yellow safety lines skate-boarding off the front steps, and people use broken glass to carve our front glass doors with gang symbols.
Yet we live here, and these are our neighbors. We have several thousand people who live directly across the street from our church, plus the men, women and their children who stay at the homeless shelter on our campus. We must ask every day, “How do we incorporate into our faith community those who are desperately looking for love, but couldn’t care less about strange terms like ‘Anabaptism’?” This is part one of our reality.
A second part of our reality is immigration, which is part of the air we breathe in Phoenix. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not a taste you acquire—either you like his approach or you don’t. Yet he does represent one face of the struggle surrounding immigration. In my pews sit people who represent a complete cross-section of opinions and perspectives on the “immigration issue”.
As I’ve watched reactions across the U.S. toward events in Arizona, it has been puzzling to me. I’ve felt great anger coming at us. We who live here as “citizens of God’s kingdom” are not the enemy. In fact, I believe “the enemy” can’t be identified by pointing a finger at any one person, even Sheriff Joe. Fear is a powerful force that can grip every one of us.
As children of God’s kingdom, I am hoping that those who will come to Phoenix can come and engage the mindsets that are meant to set Christians apart from a world that disagrees and hates. We must also recognize that none of us sees the whole picture as clearly as we may be tempted to think we do. Can we talk with, and even love, those we might consider “rulers, authorities, and powers” of this dark world? Can we learn to really listen, understanding that true engagement is only possible when “the enemy” too feels heard?
When we do mediation around the world, we as Mennonites understand the need to show a third way: a way of listening before lecturing and learning before correcting. Can Mennonite Church USA come to Phoenix and listen with those of us who live here? Can Mennonite Church USA help us have a large enough presence that we might even be considered a reasonable voice worth listening to? I hope so.
I don’t expect Mennonite Church USA to change everything about immigration in a single week. I am hoping we can model love as a better way than anger and fear. Will you come and help those of us in Phoenix love in the name of Jesus?
I think that is part of the Sermon on the Mount—“Bless those who curse you. Pray for them.”