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On Earth as It is in Heaven: Convention 2021 Speaker Champions Biblical “Justicia”

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention

By Carl Stagner

Two miles. That’s how close Noel Castellanos was to the border between the United States and Mexico when he was born in Texas. With family on both sides and immigrants in his family line, Noel saw firsthand the struggle about which politicians and pundits generally only talk. Exposure to life along the border and the pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment was just the beginning of a man shaped by God to proclaim the Christ’s kingdom—not only in some future place called heaven, but as a very real, transformative, present reality. An understanding of biblical justicia—a Spanish word that translates as both justice and righteousness in English—not only propels his mission to proclaim the gospel holistically, but also to wholeheartedly embrace and address the theme of Convention 2021 & General Assembly.

Jim Lyon, general director of Church of God Ministries, is glad Noel Castellanos, who has also resourced the Chapter 4 Institute with inspiration and insight, accepted the invitation to speak in Denver this June. “He’s one of the most influential Latino evangelical voices of the last decade,” Jim notes. “He’s been a church planter, the president of one of the nation’s largest urban missions, and now leads the Camino Alliance, networking believers in the United States, Canada, and Latin America, addressing broken places on both sides of the Mexican border.” Pointing out Noel’s voice of expertise on biblical justicia, Jim adds that Noel recognizes justice as a “compelling thread woven throughout Scripture and manifest in Christ.”

Noel Castellanos

Indeed, Noel Castellanos is the founder and president of Camino Alliance. After Noel became a believer, God first placed a burden on his heart to work in Latino communities. Of course, his family background was a significant factor, but his experiences living in such communities in major cities, like California’s San Francisco and San Jose, only further stirred the embers in Noel’s heart for the focused ministry. With almost four decades of addressing immigration issues in the United States from a Christian perspective, Noel has served the Lord as a youth worker, church-planter, and community developer to address the holistic needs of immigrants struggling to be integrated into American society. In view of current crises at the border, the need to hear from a trusted voice like Noel’s is all the more urgent.

“As I’ve been going down to Latin America the past few years, I notice again how it’s such a beautiful place,” Noel explains. “The mountains, the landscape, the culture, the food, the people—all beautiful. But if you can’t keep your children safe or put food on the table, what do you do?” Noel pauses to cite the ongoing crisis in Venezuela as a present example. “This is very tragic,” Noel continues, “because the road immigrant travel is very costly, sometimes even costing life. It’s dangerous, a lot of children are impacted, sex trafficking is a part of it, and kidnapping by cartels takes place in order to extort money from families. The strategy I’ve taken is to do three things: First, identify leaders and organizations in Latin American doing a good job of addressing the root causes that can then stabilize communities; second, to listen to those leaders and find out how can we help them do the work more effectively; and third, invest, raise money, create partnerships, and find linkages to institutions or other churches trying to figure out if we can reignite this vital ministry.”

If joining in on Noel’s personal prayer time with God were possible, listeners would hear the heartfelt concern and fervent tone in his voice. “My prayers are informed by the priorities of Jesus as described in the Bible,” he explains. “As I’ve gotten to know Jesus, for example, through his first sermon featuring Isaiah 61, it shows in my own prayers. Lord, I know your priority of loving the marginalized and the most rejected and needy. Thank you for having that heart, and help me to have that same heart. I pray for families who are struggling. I want the same care and provision for other families that I want for, and experience in, my own family. And, when I think about the 1,000-mile trek so many are making to our border, be with them, Lord, especially those children who travel without their parents. Help me to tell the story of what’s going on there and invite others to learn and respond with your compassion.”

Chapter 4 gathering, Noel speaking. Credit: Natalie Royer.

Why wouldn’t the body of Christ actively respond with compassion in view of such great need? Unfortunately, the help is minimal. Other current events, headlines, and obsessions blur the focus. Noel wants to see more Christians involved, organizations, and the government each making this issue a priority. For too long, politicians and pastors have agreed something needs to be done, but little action has been taken. Noel notes the church must re-engage with justice—not from a human or societal perspective, but from a biblical perspective. Noel explains that even the word justice in Hebrew can translate as both justice and righteousness. “It’s about a more holistic approach—if people need water or food, you give it. If they need to hear God’s love and forgiveness, you give it. I think people oftentimes mistakenly see justice as an add-on to the core of the gospel, that the gospel is just about getting people to heaven. I think it’s about getting heaven to people to reflect kingdom living and values.”

Convention 2021 & General Assembly is June 26–29 in Denver, Colorado, with both in-person and virtual options. For more information, and to register, visit www.chogconvention.org.

Feature (top) photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash.

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