Saturday, May 28, 2005

A New Beginning

Marianne and I just attended the wedding of a great friend who was in one of my LLF training groups. He has been the pastor of a vibrant church, Liberty Christian Center here in Chicago for a number of years. Three years ago, his then wife died suddenly at age 29 or so. It was devastating!

They had just had a miscarriage, and out of nowhere, a week later she went into a coma and never came out. They had a 2 year old boy at the time, and as you can imagine, it has been a hellish journey for Larry and the entire family.

Today, Larry married a beautiful woman named Yisena, and they both seem extremely happy and grateful to God for his restorative work of grace. Ysenia said some touching words to Larry's 5 year old son Caleb, to the effect that while she can never replace his mom, she wants to be there for him. (Lot's of Kleenex were being passed out)

One of the most touching and powerful moments is when Larry's former Father-inLaw, who is a pastor, came and gave the new couple his blessing...can you imagine the mixed feeling? The entire ceremony was very emotional.

I am so glad I had the chance to experience this union, as it was a vivid reminder of how God can make all things new, and how He can take tragedy and turn it into blessing. It is a lesson all mestizos come to learn and appreciate.

A Night Out on the Town

Tonight, Marianne and I spent a great evening with Ann and Wayne Gordon from Lawndale Community Church. We ate dinner at cool little restaurant called the May Street Cafe, on the Corner of May and Cermack. Mario, the owner and chef used to cook for Frontera Grill of Rick Bayless fame, and opened his own place here in Pilsen. It is a mix of every kind of gourmet Latino cuisine you can imagine. It was a fantastic dinner: Chayote and maiz soup with shrimp, chipotle and cheese quesadillas, diablo shrimp pasta, portabello mushroom with dandelion and spinach, and an awesome porkchop served on pineapple and black beans, along with tostones to get the meal started. It was amazing!

After dinner we went to a Blues Club called, Rosa's. Tony the owner and his Italian mom were both there taking care of us. One of the Gordon's leaders is the doorman (or bouncer as Wayne called him) and he really gave us the VIP treatment. The guitar player and his band were great; he even played a Santana song cuz I mentioned to our friend that I liked his music--great time. I can't believe we stayed out 'till almost midnight.

Chicago really has some great places.

Friday, May 27, 2005


According to the September 2002 Interim Report of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, ethnic Mexicans in the United States fall below every other Latino group "on almost every social and economic indicator." First-generation Mexican immigrants, who make up 54% of all legal Latin American immigrants, have significantly reduced life chances than their U.S. born Mexican American counterparts. High-school drop out rates of around 30% for U.S. born Mexican Americans are bad enough, but the rate more than doubles to 61% for new immigrants.

Although Mexican Americans do better in the field of education than their recently arrived counterparts, when their educational achievement is compared to every other Latino subgroup they lag behind. Among all Latinos over the age of 25, for example, only 10.8% of ethnic Mexicans hold a Bachelor degree or higher compared to 13.9% for Puerto Ricans and 18.1% for Cuban Americans (2002 Interim Report).Although Latinos have a high rate of participation in the labor force, over 11% of Latino workers live in poverty. About 7% of Latinos with full-time jobs were still living below the poverty line in 2001 (compared to 4.4% of African Americans and 1.7% for whites). Among all private sector employees in the U.S., 41.5% are considered blue collar, but 63.5% of all Latinos hold blue collar jobs (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 1998). In 2002, 61% of all workers in agricultural production were Latinos, the vast majority of Mexican descent. While nearly 11% of non-Hispanic whites earn more than $75,000 a year, only 2% of all Latinos earn as much. Among all high school graduates who attend graduate and professional programs, Latinos make up only 1.9% (compared to 3% Black, 3.8% Whites, and 8.8% Asian).

One could elaborate further this bleak picture of what the future holds for Latino communities. The paucity of good union jobs and the decline in public funding for cultural workers only adds to the sense of diminished opportunities. Is it any wonder, in the face of these daunting material conditions, that young Latino and Latina faces are filling the lowest ranks of the military in the lowest-tech occupations? As they do so, the pipeline of Latino and Latina teachers, doctors, and other professionals continues to dry up, a fact that will have devastating consequences for our communities for decades to come.

For more, check out the complete article at:

Latinos and War

Of the 60,000 immigrants in the U.S. military, about half are noncitizens. More than 6,000 Marines are noncitizens, with the largest group -- 1,452 -- from Mexico. At least five Mexican-born soldiers have been killed in Iraq and several more Latinos have died.

The practice of recruiting noncitizens is not new.The armed forces have a long-standing tradition of recruiting soldiers of color and sending them off to the frontlines. During the Vietnam War, some 80,000 Latinos served, incurring about 19 percent of all casualties. At the time, however, Latinos made up only 4.5 percent of the total population.

Desperate economic situations in Mexico have left many young people prey to military recruiters. There rumors abound that if immigrants volunteer for U.S. military service they will get automatic eligibility for citizenship, causing eager young adults in Mexico to flood the American Embassy and consular offices with inquiries about joining the armed forces.

Latinos’ Vietnam Stories: From Fieldworkers to Warriors

Check out this article about Latinos going to fight in Vietnam as we head into the Memorial Day weekend.

Spanglish Word of the Day

Charp (Cha-rp) The car looks real charp! (Sharp) I went to speech classes for many years to be able say sharp without the hard CH.

Prayer Request

Pray for the entire UYWI team as they recover from last weekend's event. They all did a fantastic job and they need to know we appreciate their dedication and hard work. I love you Larry and Jayme and the whole team!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Mestizaje on Steroids

Tonight was an amazing night. I was invited to attend a meeting a few days ago by a guy who used to pastor a Willow type church, but now heads something called Planet Ventures. It is a very eclectic thing that seeks to bring together innovative leaders to address some our planet's most challenging issues. (something like that)

Well, at tonight's gathering, 25 folks, a mix of a few Anglos, a few Latinos, a few women, and a few folks from different Middle Eastern countries were all there to hear a young man (43) speak who has a very dynamic story, surviving domestic abuse as a young Mexican-American kid. Coming into this country and having to enter the dangerous school atmosphere where he was a minority- experiencing rejection, isolation, intimidation and humiliation because he did not fit in. He is now a successful business person who speaks to hundreds of youth in similar situations. Juan Ortiz did a fantastic job.

One of the reasons John Henderson reached out to me is their interest in expressing gratitude to the Latino community for their contributions to the USA. They are planning a Labor Day Fiesta to honor Latino workers, hoping to get businesses to invite their employees and also hoping to get some significant corporate sponsors. I'm just learning about this vision and project, but it sounds very exciting.

Also, Planet Ventures has a project going to promote bridge building between Israeli and Palestinian folks, thus the Middle eastern contingency. It was a very fascinating mix of people, (most followers of Christ) and all very interested in multi-culturalism.

At the end of our time, we had an opportunity to share a few words, and I thanked everyone for the chance to sit in, and then I shared how the theme of mestizaje has been brewing for me, and shared how it may be a different paradigm by which to address the issues of race and cultural diversity around the globe. Folks were very responsive and I pray we'll be able to keep learning from some of these new friends.

I was impressed with how easy it is to get wrapped up in our little corner of the world, and act as if all issues mestizo deal only with the needs of Latinos, where in fact, there is a desperate need for dialogue and transformation in conflicts all around our globe. Expanding the discussion of mestizaje beyond my usual framework has caused me to feel like it's mestizaje on steroids!

The mestizo world is literally coming to our doorsteps at this hour in history.

A New Generation of Mestizo Leaders Seeking Justica Para Todos

I am convinced that God is up to something as a newgen of believers seek to become instruments of justice in our world. In order to be champions of justice around the world, we must start by being authentic champions for justice in our own land.

I am praying to God, that He would continue to raise up a huge cohort of young men and women across the nation who will aggressively and passionately (for Christ and justice) engage to give witness to the presence of God's Kingdom here on earth. One very practical way to begin is to stand on the side of our undocumented young neighbors by pushing for new immigration policies like the DREAM Act, that will open amazing opportunities for youth and their families, but also for the church, as we demonstrate real and concrete compassion for our marginalized neighbors.

Last night I wrote a letter to Senator Richard Durbin (D) from Illinois telling him about the meeting we had in LA with Christian young people eager to engage in this process. Please consider how you can get involved as well, and be watching for a new website that we will have up and running soon to help fuel this movement: www.westillhave

While the DREAM act and the immigration issue is one tangible justice issue that needs to be addressed by people of faith, it is only the beginning of seeking 'Justicia Para Todos' (Justice for All).

Mestizaje as an Alternative to Assimilation

To most citizens of the USA, to be 'American' is be assimilated into the dominant Anglo culture (67% of the total US population right now, with an estimated drop to about 50% in the next 30-40 years). While everyone acknowledges that we are a nation of immigrants, with a multitude of cultural and ethnic backgrounds coming from Europe to Asia to African and from Latin America, the paradigm of 'melting pot' has lost its appeal to many immigrants who make this country their home from the 4 corners of the world.

While accepting the reality that English is our official language, and that the American (I hate using American with qualifying it with 'north', because the USA is only a small part of the Americas) way of doing business has been the norm, many of our mestizo citizens of the USA are now raising a new paradigm to describe our multi-cultural, multi-demensional, pluralistic nation: the paradigm of tapestry, where particular strands of cloth and material are interwoven to create a vibrant piece of art. In the same way, while united as a nation, we are enriched by the myriad of multi-colored strands that are woven together, each distinct in its make up, but unmistakably part of the same tapestry.

Mestizaje is the process of creation. The interdependence. The learning to embrace and appreciate every culture and class. The pain of making mistakes. The sorrow of being misunderstood before reaching common ground. The possibility of losing ultimate power for the sake of justice. Mestizaje is raw.

Yet, with all of the challenges that mestizaje brings, it also represents hope that every citizen will be fully embraced as a full-fledged, mestizo North American who loves his or her adopted country in all its diverse splendor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Frontera Faith

The frontera (border) is a dangerous place. Literally and figuratively. The frontera is where one encounters opportunity and great risk. I remember years ago watching the movie, El Norte, that chronicled the crossing into the USA of a woman and her son from across the border.

The frontera is a vulnerable place, where the difference between agony and ecstasy is razor thin. To make the journey across the border is one thing; to live constantly in that reality is flat out exhausting. That is the constant state for millions of what Juan Hernandez calls VIP's (very important paisanos). They are very important to the majority of North Americans that take it for granted that they have people to serve their meals, cut their lawns, and take care of their kids. (How could such a vital segment of our society be so invisible at the same time?)

In La Villita, a thousand miles from the frontera, on Avenida Mexico (26th Street) you would swear the border was right here in the heart of Chicago. Though only a 20 hour bus ride away on el conejo (the bus line) life here is just as vulnerable, just as risky, just as brutal for many men, women, and children having to survive without a greencard.

La frontera is a constant reminder that although we are 'here', a part of us is from 'over there'. It is a reminder that life must be lived between two realities. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we too know the struggle of 'Frontera Faith': having crossed over into new life in Christ, there is still so much in us and around us that reminds us of life on the other side, where we knew there had to be a better way.

Frontera Faith keeps us dependent on Christ everyday (while our true citizenship is not in this place, we do have a heavenly citizenship to look forward to). Frontera Faith makes us grateful for our loved ones (rather than for more things). Frontera Faith teaches us to risk and to embrace suffering as the passage way to abundant life (anyone who wants to be my disciple must pick up your cross daily and follow me).

Mestizo sojourners survive with Frontera Faith as part of our reality.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Noel Luis, ready for Boston! Posted by Hello

Heading to Boston

My oldest son, Noel Luis is heading to Boston this August to give one year to CityYear, an Americorp program that has sites throughout the country. He will most likely serve at a school or afterschool program. While we are very excited about this opportunity, we are also having to trust God to let our 18 year old son get out on his own (they grow up so fast).

Noel will need to secure his own housing in Boston, will get a public transportation pass each month to get around, and will have to select a roommate (potentially another CityYear participant, but not necessarily), all before August.

If anyone has any leads or contacts that might be helpful, please get in touch with me.

We Still Have a Dream! Posted by Hello

Cristo Para Todos! Posted by Hello

The Castellanos' and the Acosta's: I thank God for our good friends Larry and Jayme. It is a a blast to do ministry together. (Picture was taken in front of the Alamo in March 2005) Posted by Hello

Mestizaje and Young Life

While at Azusa, I was asked to pinch hit for a Young Life staff gathering because their scheduled speaker on Friday night could not make it. Because of my ties historically with YL, I was eager to do it. Because it was last minute, and because I was teaching a class all day before I spoke, I had no time to prepare anything new or specific for this gathering. Instead I would have to share on the theme of mestizaje (which I have been thinking alot about), and how it related to YL's desire to experience unity in the midst of their diversity.

While I thought my talk was fine, it seemed to touch a nerve with many of the staff. I left right after my talk, but was later informed that the meeting continued for over an hour, with many of the staff reacting to some of the ideas that were shared. In essence, I shared that if we want a diverse future, mestizaje is the process that will most authentically get us there. Which means that everyone has to change. Assimilation allows for the dominate culture to remain the same while everyone else adjusts, while true mestizaje, while equally painful and agonizing, results in the emergence of an entirely distinct reality--where the dominant culture and minority cultures mix and give birth to something totally new.

Like most evangelical organizations begun in the 1950's, YL has historically struggled with figuring out how to fully integrate people of color into their reality. A quick review of the key leadership and boards of almost all of these groups would reveal a mostly white and male dominated group. While this was more understandable in the 50's it is now becoming an extreme liability in 2005- because our world and our nation is so different and so diverse; so mestizo.

I love YL, and I owe so much to this movement that taught me how to love Jesus and how to share my faith with others as a young man. My prayer is that it will continue to embrace the struggle of becoming an authentic mestizo community, becoming better prepared to minister in the new multicultural reality that is the 21st century.

I suppose it is good that there was a little bit of a stir and reaction, otherwise I may never be asked to pinch hit again.

Passing the Leadership Torch

On Saturday of this past week at UYWI, I grabbed a minute with Larry Acosta (who did an amazing job along with his entire team of providing the UYWI as a catalytic event where young leaders can gather, learn and be encouraged) and I told him that I was excited to see the leadership torch passed on from some of us veteranos, who have been doing urban youth ministry for many years, to a new generation of young bucks with amazing passion and skills.

Listening to Jeremy and Efraim speak was so exciting, because they, along with the key leaders who spoke at the general sessions and led workshops (like Phil Jackson) represent the future of the church in North America. Praise God for His faithfulness in continuing to raise up these gifted and called leaders.

I also thank the Lord for my brother Larry Acosta for his Kingdom vision, and for his passion to build into the lives of other ahead of making a name for himself. Thank you all for taking urban youth ministry to a new level of effectiveness!

The First Americanos

Today there is meeting in New Mexico with Native American leaders that CCDA is attending. Ted Travis, a board member from Denver will be there to listen to these leaders and share a bit about the ministry of CCDA. Paul Phillips and Kit Danley from Phoenix are our key connections for this exciting connection, which I pray opens up the door for some much needed inclusion of the Native American community to the movement of CCDA.

Our mestizo association we call CCDA will only be enriched, and maybe, we will all move a bit closer to experiencing God's new Kingdom reality.

Spanglish Word of the Day

Empoderar (Em-po-der- ar) To empower. In the DR, leaders used this word to communicate the concept of empowerment.

Fox Faux Pas

"There's no doubt that that Mexican men and women--full of dignity, willpower, and a capacity for work - are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the United States."

I know this old news by now, but very relevant news for our nation, as we move closer to becoming a Mestizo Nation. When Mexican president, Vicente Fox made this statement, he struck a deep cord of fear, concern, and hurt in our African-American brothers and sisters, and it is important to understand why?

Who exactly is at the bottom of the ethnic pecking order in our nation? Depending on who you ask, you will get passionate and emphatic answers. It's almost like being in a room with urban ministers who begin to talk talk about how bad their communities are. "My neighborhood in the poorest and most violent..." (which we begin to wear as a badge of honor) only to be out done by an even more dramatic statistic and quote of another community's even more desperate status.

It seems there is plenty of room on the bottom for all of us, regardless of the shade of our skin, unless we begin to realize that our future is dependent on our beginning to work together, not simply to keep our own piece of the pie, but to begin working towards 'Justice for All'.

Fox has begun the spin to retract and restate his statement so as to satisfy the negative reaction he has received. This may be the perfect opportunity for the Latino and African American church to begin a serious dialogue as to our common future in the 21st century, that will only continue to become more complex and mixed, both culturally and racially.

This weekend at UWYI, we saw a small picture of what the future could hold-- Latino and African American leaders working side by side for the advancement of God's Kingdom, not a brown kingdom or a black kingdom, but a mestizo kingdom, forged together by the our multi-cultural savior, Jesus of Nazareth.

As a follower of Christ, who also happens to be Mexican-American, I want to express my regret for President Fox's statement that sought to advocate for the desperation of one oppressed people, by talking down another. Like Dr. King said, 'Our futures are intertwined like a tapestry', Latino, Asian, Native American, African American, Anglo, along with everyone else created in the image of God!

Instead of being reactive, it is time that we began to be proactive, in our efforts to articulate a vision for a mestizo future, in the church and in our nation.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

We Still Have A Dream

On Saturday afternoon, I helped to lead a workshop on immigration entitled, 'A Day Without a Mexican'. I had a sense it would meet a need for many youthworkers, but I wasn't ready flood of deep emotion that it stirred in me, and in our entire class (about 50 people).

Andy Bales is a good friend who has been working with undocumented day laborers in Pasadena and Ava Steaffens is the director of Kidworks in Santa Ana. Andy presented a Biblical overview of God's love and concern for the alien or foreigner. Ava, having a background in immigration law, gave us a good overview of some the legal issues that our undocumented neighbors face.

Jaime Johnson, from Mariner's Church also gave us an update of the DREAM act, that is proposed legislation for granting undocumented youth who have graduated from HS, the opportunity to attend college, receive financial aid, work, and ultimately receive their legal residency in the USA.

The most impactful part of our time was hearing directly from a some men and women who are here in this country, wanting to become legal residents and citizens, with very little hope of seeing that happen. We heard their honest and compelling stories and had a Spirit led prayer time for them, and for all of the families and youth in our country that are in the same situation.

Finally, we all decided that as a result of that meeting (with many young leaders present) we would begin an effort to mobilize the Church in our nation to get engaged in this issue with clear moral and Biblical implications for people of faith.

That night, I registered the web domain, 'we still have a dream' to begin the process of establishing a website to post information, resources, and opportunities that would help us to address the plight of thousands of young people who have lived in this country for years, who desire to stay and become productive members of society, but have no opportunity to do so. Like Dr. King, who stirred a nation to action for the civil rights of African Americans, we too, 'still have a dream' to see justice flow like a river (Amos 5) for our undocumented neighbors, in a land that has flourished because of our legacy to take in the tired and the oppressed.

My vision is that we will be able to stir up the church to action on behalf of the poor and the undocumented in our nation, especially the children and youth.

A City of Refuge

This past weekend my entire family was in Southern California at the CCDA Institute and the UYWI at Azusa Pacific University. It was an amazing time to see so many young mestizo leaders nurturing and preparing themselves for following Christ and serving the Kingdom.

A huge highlight for me was to see my two boys, Noel Luis and Stefan serving on the volunteer team at the conference. I am so grateful to Job and Ken for investing in my boys. While they worked real hard, they also got to meet some great people and experience the excitement of UYWI.

Armando from Honduras

One of the most amazing leaders I met in the DR was pastor Armando. He is in his 50's and at first sight, seemed like a very mild mannered brother. It turn out that he has a fantastic ministry in Honduras with street kids and gang members (which is a huge problem in Latin America). He shared how in order to get to know the guys, he would hang out with them on their turf. On one occasion, the boys were smoking marijuana the entire time he was hanging out talking to them. As he staggered home, he was so high from the second hand dope, that when he finally arrived at his front door, he collapsed at the feet of his wife. Because he had battled heart problems, she was certain he had had a heart attack. It was not until the doctor came out of the emergency room from treating him, that his wife (and many of his church leaders) got the news that in fact he was high on drugs.

Because of his health problems and this incident, Armando was discouraged from continuing his work with these gang youths. Instead, he became even more convinced that God was calling him to establish a ministry focused on these kids that the traditional church was not reaching.

Today, Armando and his team minister to hundreds of kids all over Honduras providing shelter, mentors, education, and spiritual direction. It is a great reminder to me that God's ways are not our ways. There is no 'typical or prototype' servant in the Kingdom. God chooses people who seem unqualified to do His most amazing work--knowing that He will get the glory.

El Efecto Mariposa

El Efecto Mariposa (the Butterfly Effect): The Church in the Midst of Crisis, was the theme of the conference I attended in the DR. 300 hundred pastors and church leaders from the DR and from around Central America met at a Catholic retreat center to learn more about mision integral (wholistic ministry). We were given the scientific example of how a mass of butterflies in Brazil fluttering their wings, can cause such a change in the wind patterns that it can either initiate or help redirect a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico off the shores of Texas.

All week, we we're challenged to think and pray about how to change the direction of the winds of social and spiritual oppression that the church is facing in Latin America. We dialogued about how to take action (although it may seem insignificant) in cooperation with the larger body of Christ, in such a way that society would be transformed by the power of God.

Jim Wallis makes the observation in his new book, God's Politics (not for the faint of heart) that politicians normally wet their finger and put it up in the air to see what direction the wind is blowing as their preferred method for determining policy and direction. In contrast, the church must set its sights on the mandates of Scripture and then prophetically point believers and society to embrace justice for all, in every sphere of life.

I was so impressed by the passionate commitment of the leaders I met in the DR to be more concerned about being signposts that point to the presence of the God's Kingdom, than about church growth and individual prosperity for the individual believer (how God can and should bless us if we are right with Him).

Instead of seeking the secrets to ministry success, I sensed these men and women were asking a totally different question: What do we need to do together as the body of Christ to change the winds of suffering, poverty, oppression, corruption, and spiritual darkness that confront our part of the world.

I was very humbled to be given the opportunity to address the group, and to share some of reflections about mestizaje and the Galilean Jesus that identifies fully with the poor and the oppressed. It was an amazing time with some amazing people, and I am convinced that what happened in the DR will impact my work and ministry throughout the USA...El efecto mariopsa!