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Understanding and Reaching Hispanic Immigrants

Every year, thousands of Latino immigrants coming from every country of Latin America land in our cities, our churches, and our communities all across the United States and Canada. Most of them are making the journey for the first time without speaking English or having anything to their names. Amongst them, there are many running from persecution and oppression looking for an opportunity to restart a new life. Others have been in the country for years without being noticed. Nevertheless, all of this matters to God. Will these immigrants and refugees meet Jesus? Will they be able to connect to a Christian community?

You can reach out to immigrants and refugees in your daily life year round. Here are some lessons and best practices for you to do so.

Be intentional and explicit about welcoming immigrants with different religious backgrounds. This means to learn about their faith, beliefs and practices. Through latin america you’ll see many catholics. There is usually much division and misunderstanding in these topics, so, take some time to learn about the differences between catholicism and protestantism.

Create opportunities for immigrants and refugees to serve and lead from the start. Many will come seeking to connect to a church or your neighborhood. Create spaces for them by sharing work for them to take on responsibilities. For example, our church realized a gentleman from Colombia was an accountant and we had some conversations with him asking his advice regarding balancing the books of the church and doing a project for the kids room. He gladly offered to help us on generating a budget and keeping track of the expenses. He did such a wonderful job that he became our church accountant. This is to say that if we are doing everything for them they won’t have a chance to own the church for themselves.

Hospitality is paramount. To share ourselves in our daily life really communicates care and love to immigrants. They come from a family based system where their families are composed of way more members than their immediate families. They see cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and many branches of their extended family as immediate family. Consider that surely many left their extended families behind leaving a huge need for close relationships. When invited to a Latino household there will always be food offered to you even if there is not enough to go around. They will love you by serving you, giving you their time, and even gifting you with what they can offer. In contrast when they visit us, it is not enough to welcome them by just opening your house to them and showing them where the food and water are. It’s more relational to cook together, pray together, clean together, move together through the day. This might be very unfamiliar to many, but think of it as growing together with a sibling.

Always have food and music when possible. Many countries have a high value for quality food that takes time to prepare and for a variety of music that moves the Spirit. Don’t feel anxious about hitting the mark or not just provide what you think is appropriate.

Because family is such a high value, keep in mind that immigrants won’t stick around during holidays or breaks. They usually seek opportunities to spend Holidays with whatever family they can; it doesn’t matter how distant. Take time to plan events like celebrating thanksgiving the week before. You should add fun family descriptions of the holidays with family pictures and stories to communicate how important the holidays are for you. If you find immigrants that can’t afford to leave don’t hesitate to invite them over to your festivities alongside your family. They would be eager to participate with you and get to know your family. Be prepared to answer questions that explain your family situation and how it works.

Since many immigrants come with a Catholic background, think about including liturgical prayer and be intentional about helping catholics know what to expect if you have a service or large group gatherings. If you take them to church, explain ahead of time what is going to happen and why your traditions are important to you. It’s a good idea to not make immigrants visiting pray out loud the first meetings you have prayer together. When I started attending my friend’s bible studies, experiencing worship in english, doing prayer out loud in a circle, and lacking places to do confession was very challenging for me at first. After talking with my new christian friends, they realize the culture shock they were having on my faith. They incorporated liturgical prayer, we had Sharing-Fridays where we talk about our hard weeks, and we added worship songs in Spanish. All this helped me connect with the community while we pursue God together. Ever since I experienced culture shock first hand, we have been making space for our immigrant siblings to receive and give in the way they are comfortable.

If you are taking them to church or a home bible study, use language to describe the ministry as inclusive and can be easily understood. I like to think that I am using terms that my six year old niece would understand. Not to make my words dumbed down but to make them clear and simple. Describe what you will be doing at this group instead of using christian terms, language, or acronyms that you’re used to with your church family.

Whenever you meet or are introduced to an immigrant it is not foreign to ask about their faith or beliefs. In order to create relationships, keep following up with people. Exchange phone numbers, texts, or even social media contacts. If you want to invite them to a bible study or church, explain the context as they might not have the concept of different departments or programs attached to the church itself. Building trust is obviously crucial and following up is part of that. Keep contacting and reaching out to them after initiating a connection, this is a big piece in growing any relationship. Do not quit following too early. Follow up personally with every new person you meet and aim to build trust by sharing how Jesus has changed your personal life. Just telling immigrants about the Gospel is not enough to build relationships. They like to hear how Jesus changed your personal life and how He is helping you grow today. Get to hear their story, it is OK to ask. It might take several follow-up attempts to get a response, a meeting, or a relationship. Be persistent!

If you want to meet newly arrived immigrants, seek out the places where they transit through in your communities. Visit the government offices and facilities where you know they are held or have to process paperwork. Learn about the process yourself and be on the lookout for serving. Host a table with your church where you can invite immigrants to gatherings, social events, or even a meal.

As many Latino immigrants and refugees come to our communities, it’s very important that they meet us as the arms and feet of Jesus like it says in scripture. It is up to us that they will be able to connect to a Christian community.

Understanding and Reaching Hispanic Immigrants

Ubi

Currently the largest number of immigrants to North America come from Latin American countries. Many come with a Catholic background and a high value for family. Learn from Ubi how we can love these immigrants well and give them a place of belonging in our lives and churches.

Currently the largest number of immigrants to North America come from Latin American countries. Many come with a Catholic background and a high value for family. Learn from Ubi how we can love these immigrants well and give them a place of belonging in our lives and churches.

Webinar: "Perseverance, Growth, and Change in ISM Over Four Decades" June 26th at 10:30 Central

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