My wife and I had the opportunity to travel across the George Washington Bridge in New York City recently.
As we drove over the bridge, I was fascinated not only by the stunning view of the Hudson River, but also by the bridge itself. It is impressive.
It is an imposing double-decked bridge with 14 lanes extending almost 1.5 miles over the Hudson River to connect New York City to Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Since 1931, the bridge has rendered an extraordinary service helping to connect the millions of people traversing over it.
Every year, more than 106 million vehicles travel through it, making it the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world.
A bridge’s purpose is to span over a gap to make a physical connection between two things. The times and culture we live in require our commitment to be bridge-builders to share God’s love.
We need followers of Jesus who are intentional about making real and meaningful connections with people from different languages, beliefs, values, behaviors, customs and attitudes.
In this season of Advent and Christmas, we focus on the fact that God is the master bridge-builder. Because of his unfailing love and grace, God sent his son to bridge the gap separating us from him (see John 3:16).
Emulating his father, Jesus was a master bridge-builder. He invested lots of time building relationships.
He overcame ethnic, social, gender, cultural, political and religious barriers separating us from each other and from God (see Galatians 3:28). He connected to and transformed the lives of the unwanted of his time: lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors.
Followers of Jesus are called to emulate him by building bridges across divides that we encounter.
To share God’s love with people from Spanish-speaking cultures, and even with those from other cultures, building real and meaningful relationships will help you overcome the following obstacles:
1. Language: “No hablo EspaÃ±ol.”
How could I share the gospel if we don’t speak the same language? This is the most common obstacle, but you can overcome it by learning Spanish.
Learn a few basic Spanish phrases to connect with Spanish speakers. You could even start a basic English as a Second Language class in your congregation and as you teach English ask them to teach you Spanish.
2. Cultural: “What could we have in common, besides enjoying some good ethnic or Mexican food?”
We are drawn to those who demonstrate genuine love, respect and interest in us.
At times people from other cultures face discrimination and feel alone. You can make a difference in their lives by learning about their culture. Always be sincere. Ask questions about their countries, their hopes and challenges.
Your interest will make them feel welcomed, accepted and cared for. This may be the bridge the Lord uses for you to share the gospel.
3. Socioeconomic: “They won’t feel comfortable in our church.”
Hispanic immigrants are hard-working people. Most left their countries because they long for a better tomorrow. Some may not speak English or have the same education you do, but they want to be respected.
When you invite them to your church, treat them with dignity and introduce them to your pastor and others in the church. Offer them the hospitality you would offer to Jesus.
4. Legal: “What if the authorities find out?”
First, remember not all Hispanics are undocumented. Second, knowing someone’s legal status should not be your primary concern. Establishing a true and sincere relationship, a bridge, to share God’s love should be your goal.
No matter your views about the immigration issue, remember all human beings are created in God’s image. Thus, we all must be treated with dignity and respect. Jesus died on the cross for you and them.
I realize building relationships is a time-consuming, messy and risky process. And often we neither want to invest the time nor do we want to go through the perplexing and unpredictable process of relating to people who are different from us.
But the more we become like Jesus, the closer we move to God’s heart and the closer we will move to other people, particularly those unlike us.
Relationships are the bridge God will use for you to share his love not only with Hispanics, but also with everyone you encounter.
Juan AragÃ³n is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A version of this article first appeared in the December 2015-January 2016 edition of The West Virginia Baptist newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.
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