By Rev. Leonard Busch
Braving the heat of an Oklahoma July, more than 40 volunteers from 8 Tulsa area LCMS congregations and 2 ethnic specific outreach groups collaborated to bring a week-long Vacation Bible School program to an apartment community which had become home to a large number of Burmese, Hispanic, Hmong, and African immigrants.
More and more communities reflect demographics similar to Tulsa, where the school age population is 40% Anglo, 25% Hispanic, 20% African American, 10% Asian and “other” immigrant, and 5% Native American. In 2011, for the first time, the majority of births in the United States were to “minority” populations – a trend that is bound to accelerate in the future due to the aging of the Anglo population.
How rapidly this new demographic reality has emerged, transforming horizons even in our own neighborhoods and revealing new features to be navigated! We are surprised to discover literally millions of people adrift in these once familiar waters. Their faces, voices, and customs may look and sound alien. Indeed, many are “foreigners and aliens” to our churches (Ephesians 2:19). But didn’t Jesus bid His people to “welcome the stranger” (Matthew 25:37-40)?
And this summer’s trailblazing VBS effort is only the beginning. Next steps include distributing school supplies and resources in the various languages. In order to strengthen relationships and to help with immigration-related concerns, a loose coalition named Lutheran Immigration Volunteer Network of Oklahoma (LIVN-OK) was formed. It is hoped that as contacts are strengthened and deepened, potential leaders will emerge from the Burmese community.