Reminding churches of the Old Testament decree in Exodus of not mistreating or oppressing “a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt,” is the aim of a new North Carolina Council of Churches webinar series.
Turning Strangers into Neighbors is a 45-minute free webinar for church leaders across the state to help them relate to and minister to new immigrant communities growing around their congregations. The next webinar is at 9 a.m. Jan. 31. Registration is required for the phone-based conference. On the call, David Fraccaro, Executive Director of Greensboro's FaithAction International House will speak about his organization's new “Stranger to Neighbor” program for congregations in that city.
“We wanted to help churches look at immigration issues. With the webinar, we wanted to train and engage in how to use the tools and how to talk to church leaders about helping the stranger,” said Chris Liu-Beers, director of the Strangers program. “There's a lot of demographics changes in neighborhoods. For some churches, it's how do we connect with new folks who are showing up to services. For others, it's more how do we do outreach into growing communities.”
Nationally, more church groups are getting involved in the fight for compassionate immigration reform. This month a national group of influential evangelical leaders launched the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable to challenge churches to spend 40 days reading Bible passages related to the stranger or immigrant and to raise public and political awareness of immigration reform.
A 2010 Public Religion Institute study on Americans' values and opinions on immigration said the majority (71percent) “say following the Golden Rule—“providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”—is a very or extremely important value.”
The foreign-born portion of North Carolina's population rose from 1.7 percent in 1990 to 5.3 percent in 2000 to 7.5 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Which is one bold reason congregations need to care, Liu-Beers said. Increasingly, across North Carolina, churches and nonprofits are involved in resettling refugees, and this training can help with that type of work, too.
“There was a case one church was dealing with where there were church members who knew some undocumented people, but the pastor wasn't excited about helping. And there are cases where pastors are engaged and sensitized to the issues, but the congregation is resistant or apathetic,” he added. ”We provide tools for helping people think about how to minister to people who are different from them.”
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