Jesus’ simple directive to “Love God; Love your neighbor,” cannot be followed if we don’t know our neighbors. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught us that our neighbors are actually those who we consider to be outsiders.
Here in South Orange County, the Latino immigrant community is our neighbor, and our neighbor is hurting.
In downtown San Juan Capistrano more than 2,000 Latino children and their families are living below the poverty line, with circumstances that grieve the heart of God. Good neighbors allow their hearts to be grieved as well.
The beautiful thing about being a neighbor is that it goes both ways. In the same way that God is calling us to step out of our homogeneous comfort, He is also calling the Latino community to be a neighbor to us – because we are hurting too.
“Our heart’s cry is for the Church to be who God intended us to be, and we can’t do that if we are disconnected from our neighbors in areas of suffering.”
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All donations will support John and Heather Chapman’s ministry and are tax-deductible gifts to a 501(c)3 organization.
As with all donations to any non-profit, contributions are solicited and received with the understanding that the Board of Directors has complete and final discretion and control over the use of all donated funds.
Discipleship and Mission are Interconnected
Implicit in the task of discipleship is the idea that to become like the master, you must follow in his footsteps. Jesus did not go immediately to Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, where wealth, power, and prestige were concentrated. He went to Samaria; he went to the outcasts; he touched the lepers. As we go to the margin of society where Jesus spent most his time, proclaiming the kingdom in word and deed (mission), we are following Jesus and becoming more like Him (discipleship). The process of “going” out in mission is in fact part of our own discipleship. Following Jesus in his mission to reach every shadowed corner of society, every place of disconnection and disadvantage, we become more and more like him.
Why does the Church need the margin?
South Orange County churches are dynamic organizations. They pack crowds into auditoriums, put on worship services like rock concerts, and seem to have a program for every ailment. Yet the average Christian here has not yet followed Jesus to the margin of society. They have Spirit-given compassion and weep for refugees on the other side of the globe; they are outraged by the growing sex-trade industry; they write checks and sign petitions. However, the margin of our own society remains largely invisible. Jesus showed us the example of reaching out to those in need not simply because those in need would benefit, but because it is essential to our own discipleship. A real relational connection to someone living on the margin can transform us into the likeness of Jesus. It teaches us how to see what he sees. It softens our heart. It replaces our greed with gratitude. It trains us to prioritize love over our opinions and judgements.
Why does the margin need the Church?
The “margin” of society refers to a philosophical rather than physical place. It includes those for whom the dominant culture is inhospitable. They are alienated from the main workings of culture, economy and politics, whose benefit lands on those closer to the philosophical “center.” In South Orange County the margin may include the homeless, those with special needs, the elderly, the substance-addicted and minority racial groups. The particular segment of society’s margin for which Unidos was founded is the economically disadvantaged Latino community, concentrated in downtown San Juan Capistrano.
San Juan Capistrano has a rich Latino history, dating back to the founding of the mission in 1775. Downtown San Juan Capistrano is 60% Latino, and it continues to be the entrance point for new immigrants and South Orange County’s hub for Latino culture. Our target population includes the low-income and working poor, employed in low-wage/no benefits jobs at hotels, as construction laborers, janitors, landscapers, domestic workers, and in other service jobs that support south Orange County’s economy. One quarter of adults here lack a high school education and many are undocumented and thus excluded from many protections and resources. To survive in the competitive South Orange County economy, many families cohabitate with others in small apartments, work long hours and still 25% live under the poverty line. This leaves many risks present including gang activity, drug abuse, crime, teenage pregnancy, child neglect and education short-falls.
We believe this is a reality that grieves the heart of God. He is calling His people, the Church, to enact His will into these situations, revealing His heart and making His “will done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We know that the Lord “hears the cries of his people” and is uniquely in touch with suffering of all kinds. We know from scripture that God is at work, restoring all things, building his kingdom that is good news for all people – for those at the center and in a special way for those on the margin. As Jesus went to the margins he proclaimed the good news that the kingdom had come near. Each time a leper was healed or the blind given sight, it was a sign showing what God’s kingdom is like – what it looks like when Jesus is king, when his will is done.
God does not will for Josue to fail fourth grade in hopelessness because he lacks the resources to succeed. God does not will for Susan to harden her heart against the needy because she is overwhelmed. He does not will for Maria Elena to trap her future by teenage pregnancy because she’s lost her identity as the Beloved of God. He does not will for Chuck to fall captive to envy of his neighbor’s yacht for lack of perspective.
When God, and his people who partner with him, enact his will in tangible ways, it is a signpost that points people toward the kingdom by showing them what God’s will is and what his heart is like. Knowing his heart compels us (the “givers” and the “receivers” of the ministry) to follow him more closely and become more like him.
We have been invited to proclaim this kingdom – to show people the heart of the King. The theologian N.T. Wright describes humanity’s vocation as being angled mirrors. We are to reflect the praises of creation to God and reflect God’s heart into creation. We show people what King Jesus is like by acting out in real life what his will is. When we make his will done on earth as it is in heaven, (even in small ways,) we display what God’s kingdom is like. They are small signs that point to a grand future, little glimpses of the kingdom that will one day cover the whole earth.
God’s will for the marginalized Latino community in South Orange County is full of hope, promise, safety and deliverance from suffering. His will for South Orange County churches is to follow him to the margin of society where they will be wooed by him into deeper discipleship and mission, becoming more like him and bearing his image.
Unidos means “united” in Spanish. It springs from our commitment to see churches united with one another in mission to the margins and our desire to see the Church united with its neighbor – in this case, with the Latino community in the Church’s backyard.
We are embarking on a journey of community development and inviting the Church to join in. Community Development begins with a learner’s posture, discovering the assets the community already has in terms of leadership, calling and willingness to serve for the improvement of their own community. Then in a grass-roots way it empowers the community with access to outside resources and connections, in this case with connections to the Church who desires to reveal God’s heart of love toward the community.
Homework in the Garage
To begin, we have launched a homework help program for elementary aged students in the Capistrano Villas neighborhood. Many children in this neighborhood are significantly behind in their academic progress, which sets them on a risky path for their future. One quarter of adults here lack a high school diploma, and just as many are not fluent in English, so they lack the ability to help their own children succeed in school. Homework help is a need that the community itself has expressed, and one for which many community members are willing to invest time, energy and resources.
Children receive personal attention from a caring adult who is praying for them and expressing God’s love and concern. When they finish their homework, they will read stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible with their adult helper. They will return home with a collectible take-home paper that expresses, in English and in Spanish, a small and potent truth of Scripture, inspiring them to consider God’s purposes for the help they have just received and pointing them toward Jesus.
The result of this program is two-fold.
First, children are given a tangible example of what God’s love looks and feels like. They and their parents experience the truth that God cares about them and their circumstances, and that he is reaching out to them with not condemnation but forgiveness. Second, the volunteers from South Orange County churches are given an opportunity to follow Jesus in a new way – in a way that challenges their trust in him and confronts any fears or judgements hiding in their hearts. They exercise their muscle of unconditional love and in so doing, become more like Jesus.
This program is just an entry point to get to know community members and open doors to churches for partnership. The next steps of our vision include several components:
Our first program is hosted in the garage of one of the community members, but we are looking ahead toward a permanent location, renting or purchasing one of the apartments in the community. From here we will be able to open the door to increased church and ministry partnership. As leadership in the community is developed and nearby churches are engaged, Unidos will have the opportunity to facilitate programs like weekly bible studies with residents, weekly youth outreach, Christian mentorship between caring volunteers and at-risk youth, Christian child-care programs for working parents, and many others.
Neighborhood Leadership Development
We believe that the truths of scripture are not only powerful and life-changing, but also community-changing. By inviting community members to gather and dream together about the hopeful and good future that God intends for their community, we can empower the community to not simply escape their situation but to actively build into an improved future that reflects God’s heart of love into his creation. In regular committee meetings, we will open God’s word together and reflect on what it means for each of us and for the neighborhood.
Our Ministry Story
John and Heather Chapman love the Church, children and cross-cultural ministry.
PHONE // 949-326-0320
EMAIL // firstname.lastname@example.org
PO BOX 1874
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693