Latino Trends: The 21st Century Good Samaritans
Who is my neighbor? This query introduced in the Parable of The Good Samaritan exemplifies the very debate in the heart of the Ethnic Church and the primary challenge to the Evangelical body at large. As we continue to thread the Hispanic American Evangelical Narrative, we find ourselves negotiating a historical juxtaposition between the preservation of our cultures and the building of His Kingdom. After 100 years of exponential growth in the Latino Church, Hispanic Pastors and leaders find ourselves struggling to define a new missiological baseline. Here is the primary question in the Latino Church, do we exist to preserve an ethnocentric ideology or do we focus on intentional building of the Big K which is the Kingdom of God? Hence, the Latino Church is strategically and prophetically situated to provide leadership to the collective Evangelical church in America by both incorporating the tenants of the Good Samaritan Parable and nullifying the MYSPACE.COM version of Christianity.
The Latino, African- American, Anglo and other ethnic segments of the church must go beyond the myspace.com mindset. Pastor Nick Garza, an Assemblies of God Pastor in Sacramento, Ca. sees the functional structure of this web site as the anti-thesis to successful biblical outreach. "MySpace.com is a world wide internet phenomenon because it enables the subscriber to determine who has access to his/her profile, pictures, stories and information. In other words, unless you have been given access, you can't come in. Only my friends, who share my interests are granted access. All granted of course if you initially become a Friend of Tom (Tom being one of the co-founders of this virtual social networking site). Accordingly, the Church has operated under a Myspace.com model. As long as Christ is our default friend, we are somehow allowed to build our own space with limited access to include only those who we know or permit.
Moreover, Garza added "Although I believe a need exists for ethnic churches to serve the various constituencies in our communities, we must never see the preservation of the ethnicity, language or culture as the primary purpose of the local congregation. We must be readily accessible to all our neighbors. Recently, I heard a Hispanic denominational leader warn Pastors and leaders to be careful in starting English speaking services because it may result in the loss of our heritage and culture. This sort of statement exemplifies the limited thinking that hinders cross threading of the collective narrative and fosters an atmosphere of segregation and competitiveness."
According to Dr. Albert Reyes, National Hispanic Baptist Leader, the Latino Church personifies the 21st century Good Samaritan. "Samaritans were a mixed breed. Just as Latinos are mixes of European, Indian and Afro American cultures. Samaritans were rejected because of their make up. We see our diversity as strength. We can reach out to Anglo, Asian, Black, and other ethnicities because racially and culturally, our fabric reflects the various threads. Latino Evangelicals have a prophetic calling to build bridges between the various communities and facilitate a fruitful ministry of reconciliation."
The Good Samaritan parable not only challenges leaders to ask "Who is my neighbor?", but embedded in the parable is the question" How much am I willing to invest"? The Good Samaritan provided his oil, wine, donkey, silver and even a commitment for future expenses to be reimbursed. "As a Latina Pastor, I got tired of limiting my ministry to one class, group or segment of our community. The current trend in the Latino church is to provide ministry, services and even starting satellite churches where there are no or very few Latinos. We want to reach out to all. Our desire to reach out must be accompanied by the allocation of all resources including financial, time and manpower", stated Rev. Reina Olmeda, Senior Pastor of Third Day Worship Center in Allentown, Pa. Olmeda added that the Church has a biblical mandate to walk the path of transformational ministry and identify the needs regardless of the size. "It is important to note that the Samaritans were rejected because of their ethnic makeup. What made the Samaritan Good was not what he had or who he was but rather how he responded to the needs of others. Today, we have great facilities, strategic programs and various resources, now it's time to pour it out and bandage the wounds of our neighbors.
Historically, in response to the original question, "Who is my neighbor", the Latino church responded by identifying those in the Latino community. That erroneous response limited the outreach and created walls of segregation between the Hispanic Church and others. Today, we must ask this question by bringing clarity to its original intent. "Who is my neighbor?" in essence asks, who is my brother, sister, customer, market, potential partner, collaborator, target, and mission? In reality, this question reverberates on a constant base within the confines of our Christian walk and really asks, who do I want to heal, restore, love and embrace? Before, the Latino Evangelical Church, particularly the Latino Pentecostal church, focused exclusively on personal piety, Holiness and Escapism. For the first time, the Latino Church is providing a viable response to the question raised in Luke Chapter 10. Who is neighbor? My neighbor is the poor and the rich, the black and the white, the urban and suburban, the city and the rural. Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is the children of Darfur and those suffering with Aids in Africa. Who is my neighbor? My neighbors are the victims of Katrina and the Sunnis and Shiites of the Middle East.
Our response as Christian leaders to this query speaks more about who we are than who will reach out to. In essence, "who is my neighbor?" is actually questioning, not who are those around me, but rather who am I in the midst of a lost and dying world.