Look on the Field: O Say, Can You See?

The Exodus and some Numbers

We hear the controversy surrounding them on talk radio. Who are they? They are real people in search of a better life for their families. Like the Italians, Germans, and Irish before them, Mexicans, Guatemalans, and El Salvadorans are leaving their mark on the changing face of America. The US economy has become increasingly dependent on its immigrant work force. By 2020 the population of Mexican origin will represent 20 percent of the total population of the US. We have come to expect this in southern cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix. It does not surprise us to hear of these numbers in New Mexico and Texas – but in Iowa?! Until the recent past the response would have been, “Impossible, the winters are too cold, the distance from Mexico too great, and the lack of Latino culture too pronounced.” However there are already more than 40 million Latinos living in the US. Waiters, gardeners, baby-sitters, and farm hands in Anytown, USA, are establishing a cultural conquest; Spanish is their language, tortillas are their staple diet, and, of greater significance, the Virgin of Guadalupe their religious idol. What should our response be as Christians? The issue discussed here is not a political one. More important than a political response is our moral responsibility to this community.

The Genesis and some Hebrews

How can we as assemblies get through the fence that surrounds this unharvested harvest field? Diverse cultures, different languages, and divergent socioeconomics all contribute to the building of a barricade around this fertile field. Add to these their apprehension stemming from the possible illegality of their status and the probable racism they have experienced and the result is a barricade that seems formidable.

There are two barrier breakers that have proven to be effective in this daunting task and both include work. One of these is Sunday school work and the other is simply – good works. The genesis of the work in Hampton, Iowa, was a Sunday school work that local brethren had been working hard to build up. Many who attended the Sunday School were Latino children who quickly learned English. However, these brethren were exercised to reach the parents but were unable to because of the language barrier. In the spring of 2003, I stopped in Hampton for a few weeks of Spanish gospel meetings on my return to Mexico from a conference. This was the first sustained effort to reach Latinos in the town. Our initial contacts were the parents of Sunday school children. The Christians had already opened this door and gained the confidence of the parents. Many parents attended that first series and God blessed. Subsequently Craig and Corina Saword and their family relocated here for a year and God continued to bless. In 2004 they returned to El Salvador and Heather and I relocated to Hampton the same year. One remarkable testimony to Sunday school work is a sister named Cecilia. She has a sister named Georgina who was saved and living in Florida and had prayed for years that God would bring the gospel to her sister Cecilia. Georgina’s response to hearing of Cecilia’s trusting Christ as Savior was, “I never thought that God would use Carlos (Cecilia’s 10-year-old son) to reach her.” Sunday school work, WORKS! Today in Hampton there is a completely bilingual assembly with Latinos comprising about 40% of those in fellowship.

The history of the work in Postville is an example of how good works are an effective evangelism tool. Brother Ron Wahls is an overseer in the Garnavillo assembly and a guidance counselor in the public school in Postville. Ron has witnessed the arrival of Latinos into Postville for a decade. He has lived Titus 2:10 – “adorning the doctrine” – that is, making Christianity attractive – not by watering down the message, but by balancing sound doctrine with good works. He would arrange medical appointments, visit them in their homes to enroll the children in school, help them find apartments, and secure employment. Latinos in Postville know if they have a problem they can count on Ron to help. Remember – Ron speaks very little Spanish – a testimony that good works know no language barrier. As a result he has become a household name in Postville. Various Spanish-speaking preachers have helped out in Postville over the years and all of them would have heard the following as they knocked on doors inviting people to meeting, “If Meester Boss (their attempt at pronouncing Mr. Wahls) is going to be there, I will come.” What a testimony to the effectiveness of good works!

The Hebrews – Our challenge in Postville is that the majority of the Christians work in a kosher killing meat packing plant. Their work week ends Friday at sundown and begins late Saturday night after the Sabbath has been observed. The Christians are dispersed among several shifts making it impossible to find a time to meet on Sunday. Currently we have a Bible study on Tuesday and a gospel meeting on Friday night after the start of the Sabbath, as the plant has shut down. There are 25-30 believers in the town. Many professed during the last two summers’ tent efforts with Tom Baker and Harry Rodriguez. Some Christians travel down to Garnavillo on Sunday and the assembly in Garnavillo was pleased to receive a brother from Postville, originally from Guatemala, into the fellowship last year. This summer we plan to erect a building as our rental buildings are constantly changing. Please pray for a resolution to our Sunday work schedule and for the establishing of an assembly here soon.

The “Job” and some Lamentations

God is able to repeat this in many towns across our country. There are very few assemblies that could not be involved in an outreach to Latinos. The face of America has so changed that those who have not been able to go to the mission field, have had the mission field brought to them. People are willing to learn a language to go abroad and preach. What about learning a language to stay at home? Admittedly, it is not as romantic as the foreign field with its palm trees, ethnic foods, and exotic cultures. Yes, we might be viewed as the “B-team” of mission workers, but the assemblies in the US are in dire need of such a team. Whether to “full-timers” or to those who stay at their 9 to 5s, sleep in their own beds, eat their familiar food, shop at their favorite stores, and are willing to effectively witness to the Latino community – the door is wide open!