Bio: Youth pastor and organizer with Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona
1. How have you seen Arizona's new state immigration law (SB1070) affect families?
The courts ruled most of SB1070 to be -- at least temporarily -- unconstitutional. Still, parts of the law that were not struck down would effectively criminalize our mission in the distressed communities of Phoenix, where we have been working for nearly three decades. Taking kids to the swimming pool during our vacation Bible school program or people to Bible studies at Hope House, a discipleship home for young women and moms, turns into transporting, harboring, or even smuggling unauthorized aliens.
SB1070 will not keep us from living out the gospel that compels us deeper into the life of our neighborhood. Risking jail for the sake of the gospel is an easy decision for those serving at Neighborhood Ministries. We refuse to ask people for their documents to come hear about Jesus.
Sadly, families are already going to jail. A friend was arrested at work by the local sheriff, who is currently doing much of what we are concerned about in SB1070. I talked with my friend on the phone as the deputies raided his workplace; hearing the fear in this proud man’s voice forever changed me. His four kids and wife were left behind, with their future uncertain. Their family has lived in Phoenix nearly 10 years, working hard, paying taxes, participating in our community and church life.
2. How has Neighborhood Ministries been affected by the fire that destroyed your thrift store warehouse in June?
The saddest part for me was everyone’s initial suspicion of arson. Neighborhood Ministries’ position -- for a pragmatic, biblically based solution to our broken immigration system, a solution that respects laws but also hard work and families -- is so controversial, people see us as a likely target. Truthfully, we will probably never know what caused the fire.
God’s provision has been visible in the wake of the fire. We lost donations that were keeping our community thrift store open, but we received even more in the fire’s wake. A few feet from the warehouse, a building that housed our t-shirt company, OpportuniTees -- with expensive equipment and important jobs for people in the community -- wasn't touched by the flames. The mayor of Phoenix visited us; the media has been diligent in getting our story out. Neighborhood Ministries has felt loved by our community in an amazing way.
3. What is one thing you've learned that really surprised you?
Entering into the pain of our community, grieving with youth over friends taken by gang violence, or looking at a bright future denied to undocumented youth who work hard toward education and opportunity amid great obstacles -- all of these things are enormously painful and have changed me. I didn’t know that the incarnational act of entering into suffering would be so transformative. And choosing to do it once doesn’t cut it; I have to re-enter the pain of others over and over again.
4. What do you imagine the church in Arizona being like in 20 years?
The acute demographic change in Arizona over the last 10 to 15 years has created a climate of fear and division. The church must be the place that begins to heal these divides. I am prayerful and hopeful that our churches will continue to engage this work of reconciliation, so that in 20 years we will truly be together as a city and state.
-- Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg