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The Blessings of Abraham: A Model for Latino Pastoral Care

abraham-picHow can we provide pastoral care that is culture-specific and ethnic-specific but that will also work within the context of a local church? In the case of a Latino congregation or a Latino ministry within an inclusive congregation, one such model could be the Blessings of Abraham.1

This model would make the most of the work of God among generations: a concept that should prove relevant for the Latino culture. Here is the biblical, cultural, and strategic framework for this pastoral care model.

 

A BLESSING FOR CHILD AND GRANDCHILD

The Blessings of Abraham model is to be found in the context of the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their relationship as father, son, and grandson. Its biblical context is well known:

  • First, God promised his blessing to Abraham (then Abram): “I will bless you; . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3*; cf. 17:1ff). “I will surely bless you . . . and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 18:17-18).
  • Second, God extended the blessings given to Abraham to his son Isaac: “I am the God of your father Abraham . . . I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (Genesis 26:24).
  • Third, Isaac, as a “bridge person,” extended this Abrahamic blessing to his son Jacob: “May God Almighty bless you . . . May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham” (Genesis 28:3-4).

The Blessings of Abraham reached to his son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob and even to his descendants. It bound three generations and their descendants together. It was a “transgenerational” blessing that presupposed strong historical family ties and also affirmed them.

The Blessings of Abraham model, when applied to pastoral care geared to Latinos and Latinas, will maintain its transgenerational characteristic and for a good reason. Newer generations of Latinos and Latinas, although susceptible to assimilating the different values of the North American dominant culture, tend to maintain a strong sense of “familismo”, that is, “family pride and solidarity,” inherited from their Latino culture.2 In this regard, those within the Hispanic culture in need of pastoral care will most likely feel encouraged whenever they are reminded that, as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God still honors the extended family and their bridging and binding together. The Latino individual or family will be told again and again that through the binding and bridging together of the transgenerational family, God can intervene, even in historical proportions, to bless any family member that may find him or herself in physical, moral, or spiritual crisis.

A BLESSING FOR FOREIGNERS

In Genesis chapter 12, the Lord’s blessing given to Abraham is preceded by this command: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Indeed, the blessing given by God to Abraham was a blessing for a “foreigner” and his descendants (Genesis 23:4). It was a blessing for an immigrant generation and its foreign- born children and grandchildren. In this respect, The Blessings of Abraham pastoral care model will also make the most of the opportunity to minister to those who perceive themselves, or are perceived by others, as foreigners. It is a model that should serve well Latinos and Latinas within the North American context, including the immigrant generation. North America is still a land of immigrants. And from the standpoint of pastoral care, “God calls us to respect, protect, assist, evangelize, disciple, and love all the immigrants near us.”3

GO FROM YOUR COUNTRY, YOUR PEOPLE AND YOUR FATHER’S HOUSEHOLD TO THE LAND I WILL SHOW YOU.

The Church of the Nazarene in North America has a long history of serving the Latino immigrant family and their descendants since its early days in the southwestern United States. Pastoral care has been normally provided through churches planted and developed among Spanish- speaking immigrants in the barrio. As we have noted, The Blessings of Abraham model implies a continuation of God´s grace through Abraham, the foreign born from Ur of Chaldea, to Isaac the Canaan native-born son, and to Jacob, the grandson, also born in Canaan. God interacted with all three generations, although each generation by necessity must have developed its own identity as inhabitants of a new country. As a pastoral care model, it was a shifting transgenerational model.

Following that shifting transgenerational nature of our model, Latino pastoral care will by necessity be open and expectant regarding the work of God among Latino people both in the foreign-born generation and in the ever growing nativeborn second and third plus generations. In the case of United States Latino people, we are told that by 2020, second and third plus generations will be five times larger than the immigrants or first generation. 4 It is true that there are important differences among these generations in language, education, income, and intermarriage. 5 However, pastoral care providers will be of the greatest assistance to Latinos and Latinas targeted by their ministry if the larger transgenerational picture is kept in mind and extended family- related ministries continue to be strengthened.

It is only logical that each pastoral care setting will embody its own way of doing ministry. Priorities and needs may also vary from time to time and place to place. But if we keep in mind that the Blessings of Abraham model encompasses the concept of a blessing for the foreign-born generation as well as for the native-born generation, one approach for implementing this model among Latino generations in any given local church setting might include ministries like the following:6

  • A homeless shelter for immigrant women with native-born children (or not native-born) that provides an after-school program and an environment where both mothers and their children are exposed to the life-transforming power of Christ.
  • Assistance for immigrant women struggling in an abusive “macho Latino.” relationship, including shelter, hope, and encouragement through Christ, and legal assistance in their difficult and dangerous situation.
  • Equipping immigrant couples, parents, and native-born (or not native-born) children in setting priorities, improving communication, and making decisions as a family that will lead them towards financial freedom.

Jesus, in asserting his authority to extend his kingdom blessing to the “foreigner” centurion and his family in Mathew 8, suggests that his healing work on the centurion’s son is indeed a transgenerational “feast” blessing that can be enjoyed even with “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11). Here we may have a promise for us today: Latino pastoral care conducted after the Blessings of Abraham model (the bridging and binding of generations) should always carry with it Jesus’ blessings. Jesus also said that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing his day: “he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56, NIV).

A BLESSING FROM FOREIGNERS

Some Christian traditions may tend to make pastoral care an end in itself. To expect it should become an evangelistic or missional tool may make some pastors uneasy. But in the case of pastoral care in the evangelical tradition, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church development, and missionary work (at home and abroad) have always been an integral part of what we do.

Faithful to the evangelical tradition, The Blessings of Abraham model for pastoral care ministries will be interpreted as missional in nature. According to Genesis chapters 12, 17 and 18, the transgenerational blessings God promised to the Old Testament patriarchs was both for them and from them to others: “All peoples on earth will be blessed Through you;” and again, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” The tenor of the Bible message makes it clear that these Abrahamic blessings would include the saving work of men and women everywhere beyond race, ethnicity, culture, language, gender and social class (see Romans 11).

As related specifically to the Latino people, The Blessings of Abraham pastoral care model is one that will intently contribute to church development work by reaching out to others beyond their own. Considered as such, this model holds extraordinary potential for the inclusive North American church in the 21st century.

A Latino local church or a Latino ministry within an inclusive church that enjoys strong pastoral preaching, teaching, leading, and discipling in combination with strong compassionate emphasis in healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling people to one another and to God should prove to be a healthy, growing church or ministry. We expect that God´s saving and sanctifying work in the life of Latinos and Latinas will become, at some point in time, a channel of that blessing to others. The Blessings of Abraham model among Latinos and Latinas will by necessity be one that moves outwardly and inclusively without strain.

Without trying to be prescriptive and only as a way of illustration, here are some guidelines that may assist in church development in general as part of a Latino pastoral care model:

  • It will be holistic, geared to serve the whole person: body, mind, soul and spirit (remember John Wesley in 18th-century England?).
  • It will be cross-cultural and cross-linguistic, where Spanish-English, English-Spanish, and any other language usage and cultural pattern combinations prevalent in the target community are enthusiastically and strategically employed (remember Phineas F. Breese and his cross-cultural work in the city of Los Angeles towards the end of the 19th century?).
  • Ethnically, it will be a ministry by Latino/as or for Latino/as, but inclusively, it will normally be from Latino/as to non-Latino/as.

In a “racialized society”7 like ours, Latinos and Latinas as mestizo people can become a channel of saving and sanctifying blessing to those who are not of their own ethnicity and culture as they are trained to do such work in an inclusively accepting, embracing, and celebrating atmosphere.

The Blessings of Abraham pastoral care model, when placed within the context of the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will be a Latino immigrant, transgenerational, compassionate, and friendly model for all pastoral care ministries. But, above all, it will be a church development model for the new inclusive church. The 21st century must be the century of this type of church.8

Juan Vazquez-Pla is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and director of the Synergy Ministries, dedicated to promote cooperation in the advancement of Christianity (http://synergymediaservices.com).

1. I am indebted for the main ideas of this pastoral care model to Daniel A. Rodríguez in his book, A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Hispanic Congregations, 167-179.

2. Ibid, 173.

3. “The Immigrant Among Us,” by General Superintendent Jerry D. Porter, in Holiness Today, May/June 2012, inside cover.

4. “The Rise of the Second Generation: Changing Patterns in Hispanic Population Growth,” by Roberto Suro of Pew Hispanic Center and Jeffrey S. Pasel of Urban Institute, 4. http://hablamosjuntos.org/resources/pdf/phc_projections_final_%28october_2003%29.pdf. Accessed on October 25, 2012.

5. Ibid, 8-9.

6. Daniel A. Rodriguez, op. cit., 119-121, discusses these and other pastoral care ministries as being implemented by the New Life Covenant Ministries Church in Chicago, pastored by Wilfredo De Jesús, website: mynewlife.org. Bill Wiesman, editor of A Holy Purpose: Strategies for Making Christlike Disciples (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2011), highlights the Latin American First Iglesia del Nazareno of Owings Mills, Maryland, pastored by Walter Argueta, who is enthusiastic about their “many community activities,” 176-182.

7. For an explanation of the concept of a “racialized society” see the “Introduction” of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, 1ff.

8. United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race, by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 2. See also chap. 8.

*Note: All Scripture references are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

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