Let me disclose up front that I am a member of a large, conservative, primarily mono-ethnic, evangelical church. We are undoubtedly a Bible-believing church, but I long for the day when our inclination to love our neighbor approaches our fervency for the truth.
Yet I was encouraged and thankful this weekend when we took part in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Information was communicated regarding the 200 million Christians worldwide who live under persecution. We were provided staggering statistics concerning the state of the church in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, and Somalia. We watched a heart-piercing video, responded in worship, and lifted our voices in prayer on behalf of those in the body who are suffering for the name and cause of Christ.
We care and we respond because the persecuted church is a part of the body, our body, the body of Christ. Scripture is unambiguous: although we are many members, we are one body
(1 Corinthians 12). In my conservative, evangelical church, this relationship with the persecuted church, despite the vast geographic separation, disconnected cultures, and unfamiliar languages, was unequivocally affirmed this weekend.
Then, like an unpredicted twist in the plot, the last thought communicated in this part of the service was from 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”
With that verse, my heart and mind altered its previous course and raced to the undocumented brothers and sisters in our congregation, in our local community, and in our nation – those who live amongst us, not a world away. Are they not also a part of our body? Are they not also suffering? And perhaps the biggest question to ponder: are we not also suffering with them?
As I have personally been involved in efforts to educate and mobilize the leadership of my church around the ideas of Christian comprehensive immigration reform, I have seen a significant hesitancy regarding any form of active engagement. Prior to any response in this case, there is much that should be prayerfully and biblically considered regarding the complexities of our current broken immigration system and any proposed solutions, and rightly so. Strong and opposing opinions exist, even among Christians, and as I quickly found out, even in my own congregation. Much of my previous reflection on the source of this hesitancy to action and these opposing opinions led me to believe that our (conservative evangelicals) issue was primarily one of unfamiliarity. Suffering with and advocating for the immigrant church in our country would require a significant cross-cultural understanding and the bridging of a considerable language gap. But in contemplating the persecuted church this weekend, my theory appeared to be proven errant.
In my conservative, evangelical church, we had just finished declaring our solidarity with a part of our body that is very unfamiliar, extremely cross-cultural, and separated by a multiplicity of unknown languages. Why the apparent disparity? Then I realized the very essential difference between the persecuted church and the immigrant church. Distance! The persecuted church remains at a comfortable level of remoteness while the immigrant church exists in a painful and uncomfortable proximity. To fully suffer with the immigrant church, we would not only have to be knowledgeable about and pray for their suffering, but we would have to be an active participant in it. We would have to demonstrate true compassion and suffer with them.
I pray that we eliminate the excuses and adjust our hyperopic view to also focus on the members of the body who suffer in closest proximity to us. As we do this, we will fully understand, as the Apostle Paul declared to the church in Corinth, that in fact, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker, are indispensable.”