Migration, Immigration, and Evangelization
One of the most heartbreaking traffic signs in America stands near the INS checkpoint located about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. Its only word is “Caution,” and contains an image of a man, a woman, and a pigtailed child, all holding hands, all in desperate flight.
The “coyotes” (people smugglers), knowing they will be discovered if caught with their human cargo, drop off their passengers a mile or so before getting to the checkpoint. The bewildered illegal is told, “Just cross the highway, walk north along the beach, and we will be waiting for you on the other side of la migra, the Border Patrol.” The problem is they must cross several lanes of Interstate 5 traffic where the average speed of the oncoming cars is over 70 mph. Trying to cross, many have been killed or gravely injured.
That is just one of the many risks and obstacles that these people have to face in order to realize a dream they have treasured in their hearts for years. Hundreds of thousands continue to come north along this stretch each year. Southern California is known by some as “Mexamerica.”
So it comes as no surprise that this is one of the greatest issues in our country today. It affects politicians, preachers, and the public in general. The Census Bureau suggests that, in the year 2000, the illegal immigration population was about 8 million and is growing at a rate of a half a million a year. This means, if their projections are accurate, that presently over 11 million illegal immigrants live in the US, with the large percentage residing in the Pacific Southwest.
The two “magnets” which attract illegal aliens are jobs and family connections. The typical Mexican worker earns one-tenth the wage of his American counterpart. Numerous American businesses are willing to hire this cheap, yet often competent labor force. This influx, however, has created overcrowding in many of the schools and neighborhoods.
Migration isn’t only coming from south of our borders. This area is a multicultural mosaic made up of Americas, Mexicans, African-Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Jews, Italians, and Irish, to mention only a few of more than 100 cultural and ethnic backgrounds that co-exist. Southern California is one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world.
Both our Spanish and English assemblies reflect our multicultural environment. The two Spanish assemblies in this area consist of believers from several countries ranging from Southern Chile to Northern Mexico. Families from Korea, Japan, Italy, Central and South America, Mexico, and beyond are part of the English assemblies. Many of these are bilingual.
Southern California is notorious for its dense population. Greater Los Angeles covers an area of over 34,000 square miles with a population of over 15 million. The only thing that stops it from merging with San Diego is Camp Pendelton, the Marine training base. Due to the high cost of living, many are moving east just on the other side of the mountains of Camp Pendelton. That area, just a few years ago, was mostly desert; now housing subdivisions are mushrooming all along Interstate 15 from Fontana, where we have an outreach work, to south of San Diego, where our son Kenny has an outreach work. Like a rolling fog, the communities of San Diego, Riverside, and LA counties are amalgamating.
This eastward movement means that some are commuting an hour or two each way to work everyday. This impacts the assemblies, as many of the believers commute 80 to 100 miles to meetings.
For many, gangs have become a way of life in the inner-cities. So-called “drive-by shootings,” illegal drugs, and youth violence ravage our young people. Gang members drive down the streets in what are, in effect, mobile gun platforms. The head of the LA District Attorney’s Hardcore Drug Unit told the LA Times, “This is Vietnam here.” Such violent acts are a by-product of the spiritual void that sin has made.
The chief target of the devil is our young people. Due to both a thirst for more things and the high cost of living, both parents are working and many children find themselves either in the custody of their school teachers and their after-school programs, or in day care centers.
We might say these are the families that are trying. The young people from other families are on the streets. There they find – through the veteranos (gang leaders), sadly – what they don’t find at home: attention and love. The gangs provide protection and a feeling of self-worth – along with the many thrills and adventures that accompany the gang’s lifestyle.
In conjunction with the assemblies, several outreach works continue weekly throughout southern California. These works are in English or Spanish. Some are bilingual. An important priority is to reach the young people with the gospel through people who are willing to be mentors, exhibiting the virtues and values of a godly life-style.
There are no borders when it comes to culture and language. Large communities of different ethnic groups in this region have never been touched with the gospel of God’s grace, as far as we know.
Much of our work has been among the gangs and Spanish-speaking communities. These opportunities are not exclusive to southern California, but in recent years have proliferated to every state in the Union and into Canada. Among the Spanish, new works and assemblies have commenced with positive results. Personally, we have moved among most of the 13 established Spanish assemblies in the United States, helping them and assisting in their outreach works. God is apparently moving in a mighty way among these people. We need to reach them with the gospel while their hearts are open to the message. May God give us missionary hearts to reach them.