Interview with Gus Haddad, member of the Anglican Immigrant Initiative, and chair of the Immigration Alliance.
First of all, can you tell us how you became a Christian? How did you decide to become a follower of Jesus Christ?
From the earliest memories I have, I know that I had a deep seeded regard for church and religion, and all that those understandings brought with it. I was baptized into the Antiochian Orthodox Church at St. George’s in El Paso, TX, a Syrian Orthodox Church which both my grandfathers (paternal and maternal) and my father helped found.
Around the late 1950’s, there was not a priest at the Orthodox Church, and because my parents believed that the church was where formation (and not just Christian formation) took place, we transferred to St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, which was across the street from St. George’s.
We were always involved in Church activities as well as Sunday school. I was an acolyte from the earliest age I can remember, and we were always at the church for different youth and community activities. I still have my perfect attendance pins through the 8th grade! I became involved in the Junior Episcopal Young People (JEYP’s) and then the Episcopal Young Churchman (EYC), where I was president of not only our local youth group, but also our diocesan youth group.
We skip forward to the mid 1980’s and after college, my wife, son and I came back to church. I was invited to a weekend event called Cursillo. Cursillo is a three-day intensive introductory course in Jesus’ love for us. It was at Cursillo at Holy Cross Retreat Center (Mesilla, NM) that I met and became a follower of Jesus Christ!
Praise God for Cursillo and many other movements like it.
What drew you to the Anglican Church?
As mentioned above, I was a member at St. Clement’s Episcopal in El Paso. As a precursor to our exit from the Episcopal Church (TEC), I helped our rector at the time, the Rev. Philip Jones (now Bishop Philip Jones) and another friend (David Etzold) organize several ‘Mere Anglicanism’ seminars and events for our church as a means to educate our congregation and community as to what alternatives there would be for our congregation should we decide to move away from TEC. I was very energized at the possibility of being involved with a biblical and scripturally faithful movement that would keep our Anglican heritage.
I was also very pleased to see the direction of the new denomination as a ‘Unicameral’ denomination, where the lay and the clergy played equal roles, rather than the polity of TEC. St. Clement’s left TEC in 2007. We joined what was know as a “fellowship” with other churches around the Southwest that left TEC, in a conscious effort to pray together and discern God’s call for our churches. We became recognized as the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest at the Provincial Council meeting at Nashotah House in Wisconsin in 2013.
You are the son of immigrants. How did your parents come to live in the United States and how did their journey impact the choices you made in your own life? What did you learn from them?
I think we find ourselves in a similar period of time in 2015-2016, as my forefathers did in the mid to late 1800’s. The patriarch of our family was my paternal grandfather, whose name was Abraham Haddad. During the persecution of Christians by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire during the mid to late 1800’s, our families would run to the mountains outside their village, which was known as the Jawaikhat, and hide in order to escape beatings, persecution, and lootings.
As I have been told, my grandfather made three exploratory journeys to the United States, (I call them his missionary journeys), in order to find a new home for our family. Each of these journeys he entered the US through Ellis Island, and explored the East , New York, Pennsylvania, and Detroit/Dearborn, as a place to re-settle our family in the New World.
As the family was preparing to come across the Atlantic, the US quota system for Syrian immigrants became full, and there was a waiting period for issuing new visas. Sensing the need to lead the family away from persecution, it was decided that we would travel to Mexico, and enter Mexico at the Port of Vera Cruz, and move north through Mexico and settle in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, USA) until visas for our family could be issued.
The journey was harsh, and many of our family decided to journey and immigrate to South America (where Syrian immigrants were being welcomed), or stayed in Central Mexico and made their homes there. Our grandparents felt that the journey to freedom needed to be to the United States, and remained in Ciudad Juarez, opening businesses, and settling into the culture until immigrating to the United States became a reality.
The journey for my family across the Atlantic, and through Mexico to come to the United States, is a story which impacted my life in several ways. I see many parallels in biblical teachings in my families journey to the New World. I have learned that listening and discerning God’s call on your life is my goal in life, as it is in all Christians’ lives. At times in life, I have not been able to see what God has for my future and I question Him repeatedly. It occurs to me that not only did my paternal grandfather Abraham, as well as the Abraham of the Bible, have many doubts and questions, but also that they remained true to the work and path the Lord had revealed to them.
I believe the overall lesson I have learned is to seek and listen to the Lord in an effort to be true to the calling of Jesus Christ, as well as to try and be a vessel that the Lord can use. I truly try to accomplish that in my Life, and know that I fall and fail daily.
What led you to become involved in helping immigrants in your local community?
This is a great question and one that has led me to some surprising revelations in my own life. As the Anglican Church in North America set up the Anglican Immigrant Initiative Task Force in 2013-2014, Bishop Win Mott asked me to participate. It seemed to me that I would attend a few meetings and see what it was all about, really in an effort to help Bishop Mott. I was then requested to become the ACNA representative to The Immigration Alliance, which was in its formative stages, and I agreed.
It was however, in a eulogy by Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, at his father Mario’s funeral (also a Governor of New York), where I believe I found my passion for being involved in trying to assist in the immigration arena. Andrew Cuomo stated that his dad was the son of an immigrant, and always an outsider looking through a window to the outside, and that was what shaped his life. Those words resonated through my consciousness, as this is exactly the life I have lived, always looking, and trying to help.
In 2014, I hosted the local Christian Television station telethon (KSCE Television). My featured guest that year was Elias Malki, a very successful Egyptian Christian missionary, with a large network throughout the Arab world. He related to me that his grandfather, a Christian, was also persecuted, and eventually killed by the Turks several years prior to my forefathers being persecuted.
These events certainly spoke to me about becoming more of an active participant in trying to help immigrants.
What do you see are some of the major challenges facing immigrants today?
Obviously, the first and foremost challenge to immigrants from any country is the fear of the unknown.—and not just the fear of the unknown for the immigrant who is seeking a new life, but how do I provide food and shelter for my family? How do I insure their safety? Will I live in the shadows, be deported or try to find a legal status? What persecutions will our family face along the way?
Then there is the fear of the unknown for the governments and peoples of countries where these immigrants seek to go. What are the backgrounds of these people? Why are they seeking to leave the country where they are currently located? As we have learned from the Paris attacks, we wonder, are these people terrorists? The turmoil that followed the Paris attacks has become commonplace (especially for Syrian Christians), as a result of a doctored Syrian passport held by one of the Paris attackers.
The Immigration Alliance is a cross denominational coalition of which the Anglican Immigrant Initiative is a part, and you serve as the Chairman of the Board. Can you tell us about the mission and work of the Immigration Alliance?
The Immigration Alliance is a national, collaborative effort that equips churches across the country to provide critical immigration legal services to under-resourced immigrants. We do this through cultivating relationships among immigrants and churches in order that the Church might become an epicenter of multi-national welcome and community.
Currently we are 17 denominations and church-based organizations, 30,000 churches and 33 sites strong. Part and parcel to the mission and vision of The Immigration Alliance, is ‘Welcoming the Stranger among us’ with Christian Love and Charity.
The Immigration Alliance firmly accepts and reaffirms these five biblical truths:
- Our God reigns sovereign over all things;
- God oversees the movement of all people;
- God generally establishes governments for the protection of all people;
- God specifically commands his church to provide for all people;
- Our God steers shelters, services and showers immigrants and refugees with His Grace and Truth.
Why do you believe churches should be involved in reaching out to their local immigrant communities? How can churches make a difference?
Through our work, we are hopeful that cultivating relationships among immigrants, churches and their congregations will continue to prove that the Church is at the center of multi-national welcome and community. We seek for our churches to continue to become the center of community and welcoming within this broken world. Our lives are inextricably woven to the life of our Savior. Following the example of Jesus Christ, we should continue to assume the mantle of hospitality, help, and welcoming.
Immigration is a hot button topic right now, but what do you see is the biblical foundation for extending hospitality and compassion to newcomers in the United States? Why should Christians care?
The most daring and desperate call is to remember the story of God that begins with baby Moses being floated down a river in the middle of Pharaoh’s genocide and climaxes with God’s Son entering the world as a homeless refugee in the middle of Herod’s bloodshed. This is the consummate story of immigrants and strangers.
- Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt (Ex 22:21);
- The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146:9); and
- You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 24:22).
What examples have you seen of how individuals and churches are reaching out to immigrants in their communities? What are they learning?
The following is an excerpt from an article about the Anglican Immigration Initiative, and authored by Rev. Heather Ghormley, which I believe answers directly this question.
In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, Jesus says to those on his right side, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Have you ever experienced what it’s like to be welcomed as a stranger? Early in our marriage, my husband and I had such an experience when we spent six months living and working in China as Christian professionals. We couldn’t speak or even read Chinese. We had no idea how to get from place to place. In fact, when we first arrived we just stayed in our apartment because we were afraid that if we left we might never find our way back! A few kind Chinese friends helped us get oriented, introduced us to others who made us feel welcome, and gave us the confidence we needed to thrive in China. After that experience we were resolute: when we got home we would be people who heeded Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger.
Three-and-a-half years ago the Holy Spirit led us to plant a church called “Tree of Life” in our multi-ethnic neighborhood in South Bend, Indiana. For the last 20 years, our neighborhood has been the refugee resettlement area in South Bend. Our neighbors originate from Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and Latin America. Many come from Muslim backgrounds. As we prayed about this reality, the Lord showed us that our call was not simply to evangelize an American neighborhood, but to extend the welcome of Christ to the immigrants and refugees among us.
We started by simply inviting all these different peoples into our fellowship at Tree of Life. We had several Liberian refugees join our church and were thrilled to have a few Muslim women attend an Alpha Course we held in an apartment complex. As we walked with these dear people, we began to learn about the many heartaches and obstacles they were facing.
One young Liberian man in our church revealed that one of his sisters had been left behind, and without citizenship his family was unable to successfully petition for her to join them. So began a long process of reading government documents and making phone calls to a strange, but surprisingly friendly organization called USCIS. Finally, our brother became a US citizen, and was able to petition for his sister to unite with her family in America.
About 18 months into our ministry, I received an email from the Anglican Church in North America saying that the Anglican Immigrant Initiative wanted to start a series of immigration legal aid clinics around the US and Canada as a way of showing the welcome of Christ to the many strangers among us, and building congregations for the over 40 million immigrants living in our country. As I read those words and considered both God’s call on my life and the neighborhood where God called us, I wanted to know more.
So began our church’s journey to opening the first ever church-based immigration legal aid clinic in the Anglican Church in North America (several more are now underway). As it turns out, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the US Government has a program that authorizes equipped churches and non-profits to administer immigration legal aid to low-income clients.
As anyone who watches the news is aware, immigration ministry is in dire need throughout the world. As politicians seek a solution, the main victims are often well-meaning immigrants and refugees who wish to live, work, and be united with their families legally, but cannot understand the complexities of our immigration system or afford the representation they need. Opening a low-cost immigration legal aid center is an amazing way not only to give a cup of cold water to the strangers among us, but also to build deep and lasting relationships with immigrants.
Since opening in March of this year, we have helped over 40 people from more than a dozen countries. Each person comes with a unique story and set of circumstances, but all of them share a common desire: to belong. When they encounter the warmth and enthusiasm at our church, many are often quite taken aback. One woman actually said to me, “Up until now, I thought most Americans just wished I wasn’t here, what makes you so different?” The answer: “When we were strangers, Jesus welcomed us. Now we welcome you.”
Several of our clients from African Christian backgrounds have visited our church, and a few clients from other religions have come to ask for prayer and pastoral counseling. We are thrilled to see how the Holy Spirit continues to use this practical ministry to make a way for immigrants not only as American residents, but also members of the Kingdom of God.
How can we pray for your work and the work of the Immigrant Alliance?
Thank you, we would welcome and covet your prayers for wisdom and discernment for our leaders, both politically as well as denominationally, throughout the world. As we remember Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, as well as to create His Church, that we would remember that we are all sons and daughters of our Lord, and one through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We covet your prayers for the work of the Alliance, as well as the Anglican Immigration Initiative, but most importantly that we will remember that our God is the creator of all things, and that He longs for a relationship with each and every one of us. We seek the loving and protective arms of our Savior.
To learn more about starting an immigration legal aid clinic, please feel free to contact Gus Haddad at St. Clements Anglican in El Paso, Texas or visit the Anglican Immigrant Initiative’s website: http://www.anglicanimmigrantinitiative.com or The Immigration Alliance at http://www.theimmigrationalliance.org.