Few things have captured as many national and local headlines as the issue of illegal immigration. Any solution has the potential to impact millions of people, their families and employers. Finding a satisfactory answer will demand the wisdom of Solomon and the political savvy and tenacity of a Churchill and Roosevelt.
The influx of illegals coming from south of our borders are Spanish speakers. Their reasons for coming to America are no different than those of foreigners who enter legally. They seek a better way of life for themselves and their families. As with immigrants throughout our history, the first generation works in hard, dirty jobs long since passed over by American citizens. But the next generations will become successful business leaders, educators, doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc.
The Hispanic population in America has skyrocketed over the last 25 years, and Oklahoma is at the forefront of this growth. Numerous articles and stories addressing the exploding population fill the papers and airwaves. Hispanics are found not only in the metro locales, but also in our rural areas. The Oklahoma Panhandle has experienced a dramatic increase in the Spanish speaking population.
What will be the response of Oklahoma Baptists to this growing people group in our state? Actually, we have been responding for years, and our efforts are intensifying. We see this problem that faces our politicians as a divine assignment from God. He has sent these people among us, and we have the awesome privilege of sharing the Good News of Jesus with them.
One of our first decisions was to bring Hispanic leaders to our state staff to help us evangelize and congregationalize Spanish speaking peoples of our state. We now have four Spanish speakers as a part of the staff of the BGCO. By downsizing in other areas, and with the help of the North American Mission Board, a new worker will soon join us. His focus will be on evangelism among Hispanics. My statement to him was simple: “I don’t want any Hispanic boy or girl to grow up in Oklahoma without hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their heart language.”
We have and are starting churches. Nearly 26 percent of the new church starts in our state over the last five years were Hispanic. Our associations have done a tremendous job in partnering with the state and local Anglo congregations to plant and nurture these new churches. Nothing provides greater opportunity to evangelize these wonderful people than to plant a church that proclaims the Gospel.
We are training both lay and clergy for leadership in our Hispanic churches. The Haskins School of Leadership provides practical tools for church ministry and basic training in church polity, doctrine and Bible knowledge. Through Golden Gate Seminary, we have the ability to provide a higher level of training designed especially for pastors.
Our responsibility is to reach the world with the Gospel. God has brought the world to us. We do not need a passport or an airline ticket. They live next door, down the street and across town. They are in the grocery store and the discount super store. They attend school with our children. Our goal is to ensure that these precious people will have the privilege of hearing the Gospel and participating in a Bible believing Baptist church. We are well on our way.