I went to visit the Mexican immigrant couple after the death of the woman’s sister in childbirth. The family was still in mourning, and I wanted to see how they were doing, encourage them and provide spiritual care. After talking a while, the husband pulled me aside and showed me a ticket he got the previous day for driving without a license. This was an undocumented immigrant family who came to the United States years ago as children. They grew up here and are now starting a family of their own.
I asked the man why the police officer pulled him over. He said he did not know. He had not done anything wrong, and there was no other citation given–only a ticket for no driver’s license. It seemed like a case of profiling to me because the man was Hispanic. I took a picture of the ticket with the man’s permission and prayed about what to do. I personally knew the Chief of Police and saw him the next day at an event. I pulled him aside and told him about what happened, and he asked to see the picture of the ticket. He said he would address it. The chief called me the next day and told me that he called the officer in and made sure he understood that there would be no racial profiling. He was now giving that directive to the rest of the police force as well.
A ministry visit turned into an opportunity to advocate for a man who had no voice, and in turn, the Chief of Police reiterated a “no racial profiling” policy to the city’s police force. Those of us who have a voice and the ability to form relationships with those in power should use our own standing in society to speak on behalf of those who are vulnerable and on the margins of the power structures that govern our world.
Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” That is not a suggestion in scripture. It is a command and implies that those who can speak should speak on behalf of those who cannot. When we do this, we enter into the struggle of the poor and needy, and we lift them up with a helping, steady hand. Relationships are built through this expression of care, and injustice in society is addressed, creating a ripple effect that positively influences the whole community. The poor and vulnerable are often a barometer on our culture as to the state of justice, peace and prosperity available for all. As we partner with them and “judge fairly,” we make the community a better place to live for all of us.
I work with immigrants and refugees in both ministry and advocacy. When I care about what an immigrant family is going through in relation to their legal status or immigration situation, I have found that the door for prayer, encouragement, scripture and the gospel often opens wide. I use an acronym (S.P.E.A.K.) based on Prov. 31:8-9 to equip churches to advocate for immigrants in their communities:
- S – See the immigrants and vulnerable in your midst. It is often easy to miss people around us who are in need. Immigrants and refugees can be invisible to us because our worlds are different and perhaps do not intersect. But they are all around us, as are the poor, needy, lonely, oppressed and vulnerable. God sees them. Will we?
- P – Pray for and with them. Once we see them, we should pray for them and for God to open doors for us to build relationships with them. Through those relationships, incredible things can happen.
- E – Engage them with love, good deeds and the gospel. One of the greatest enemies in ministry to sharing the gospel is to try and make every interaction with people a chance to “share the gospel.” Things become artificial and the person becomes a project instead of being seen as a person dearly loved by God. When we seek to engage people with love and good deeds, the opportunities to speak about Jesus’s love for them will multiply naturally. They will be more receptive to hear the message of the gospel when they are experiencing the love of Christ and the power of the gospel in our own lives as we love them.
- A – Advocate on their behalf and with them. 1 John 2:1 says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus is our advocate. He is the one who comes alongside us. He prays for us and stands in the gap for us. When we become an advocate for another person or group to speak up for them and fight for them, we model the ministry of Jesus. We only do for them what he does for us. Through this advocacy, we can tell the gospel story of Jesus’s love for us, and we can help set things right.
- K – Keep going even when things get hard. You will see progress when you start again tomorrow and continue to see, pray for, engage and advocate for them.
Advocacy should not be a scary word for Christians. We can take the message of God’s love for the vulnerable from the highways of our town to the halls of Congress where we speak on behalf of those who have no voice. In doing so, we speak to the powers and rulers about the sacrificial love of God for all people and their inherent worth as those made in God’s image. Sharing the good news of Jesus with those we are suffering with and fighting for becomes natural when we take up their burdens and seek to carry their load. Christian advocacy opens the door for missions because Jesus is in it, and he reminds us that he speaks on our behalf. How can we not do the same for others?
Watch this interview for more from Restoration Institute Fellow Alan Cross: