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The ISAAC Project was born on May 1, 2007 as a collaborative ministry of the BGCT and Buckner International.  Since January 2010, it has become a partnership between the BGCT and Baptist University of the Américas.

Richard Muñoz, the first Executive Director of this ministry, defined ISAAC as a “tool box designed to help churches engage the immigrant community along a continuum of ministry options.”  Concern about the hard-hearted attitudes among Christians toward immigrants and the influence of certain talk-radio and television show hosts who espoused negative and hostile views about undocumented immigrants prompted ISAAC to offer unbiased information about immigration and undocumented immigrants from a Christian perspective.

ISAAC has labored hard to reach church leaders through personal visits, sermons and electronic media in order to correct the myths about immigration propagated in the media.  To this end, the ISAAC Newsletter was created.  It doubled its circulation in its first year of existence.  Our blog was launched in April of 2009.

Having sound, unbiased information regarding immigration is the first step in this continuum of ministry options.  For churches that wanted to move further along, ISAAC joined efforts with Literacy ConneXus in order to develop literacy programs in churches across the state.  Supporting service ministries such as English a Second Language, citizenship and literacy programs became another important goal for ISAAC.  Although there is much work yet to be done in this area, we are hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform which results in a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country will position ISAAC to start new programs such as these.

There has been a strong need for quality immigration counseling and service at affordable prices in Texas and all over our nation.  The Federal Government allows non-profit organizations, such as churches, to undergo a stringent application process in order to become recognized organizations.  ISAAC has provided technical application assistance and online resources to train church representatives to become “accredited” representatives and offer immigration services to their communities.

The application process take approximately one year and it takes effort, dedication and a deep sense of calling to serve immigrants to go through it, but the rewards are immense.  ISAAC helped three Texas Baptist groups become recognized, The Ruth Project in Waco, Baptist Immigration Services of Brownwood and Primera Iglesia Bautista in Plano.  The first two organizations have since closed their doors.  Primera continues to serve the community in Plano.

The new members of the ISAAC Project are Immigration Service and Aid Center in Miami, Florida, Dallas Immigration Services Center and Proyecto ELIM in San Antonio.  The first two organizations are currently preparing their recognition and accreditation applications.  Proyecto ELIM has already applied and is waiting for federal approval, hopefully soon.  They all joined ISAAC in 2010.

ISAAC provided support for Proyecto ELIM to write a $100,000 grant in order to provide citizenship education to eligible resident-aliens in South San Antonio and surrounding communities in 2010 and 2011.  We are eagerly awaiting the official response from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Although there is also much work to be done in the area of fund-raising and grant-writing, we are off to an auspicious start.

The ISAAC Project is committed to supporting immigration ministries, developing relationships and providing education to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Two opportunities to participate in interdenominational discussion panels arose recently.  On September 28, ISAAC will be present at the CBF’s Together for Hope: Rural Poverty Initiative to be hosted by Iglesia Bautista Peniel in Eagle Pass.  A friendly conversation will take place between Christians, members of the Border Patrol, the Mexican Consulate General and the U.S. Secretary of Border Affairs.  The Director of ISAAC has been asked to sit at the table and participate in the discussion as one of the panelists.

On October 3, ISAAC will participate in a panel discussion organized by Friends Congregational Church in College Station.  It is called Faithful Conversations: Christian Perspectives on Immigration.  Christians from across the political and theological spectrum will engage in dialogue that seeks to answer the hard questions about immigration in the light of Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves”.

We are truly grateful for the work that the Lord has allowed the ISAAC Project to do in its first three years of life.  There remains much to be done, but the challenges ahead of us are a source of hope.  As long as there is a stranger, a foreigner or an alien who can be loved and ministered to, ISAAC will be a voice to remind our Christian brothers and sisters that “the alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born.  Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

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Credit Unions Step Up to Offer Small Dollar Loan Alternatives

Predatory lending practices are an increasing problem in Texas and around the country. Payday and auto title lending companies across the United States offer loans to people in need of short-term financial assistance. These loans often result in heavy amounts debt and fees that add up to an interest rate equivalent of 500% APR.  In Texas, such businesses do not operate under the interest rate and fee limits contained in the Texas Finance Code. Instead, they exploit a legal loophole, register as “Credit Services Organizations,” and operate under that code which has no limits on rates and fees. (For more information about how these loans can create a debt trap see our previous article. Many advocates opposed to these lending practices have been searching for small dollar loan alternatives.

This month, the National Credit Union Administration launched a program that combats these unfair practices by offering similar loans at better terms for borrowers. The new rules contain many consumer protections yet also ensure that making the loans will be cost effective for credit unions. Small dollar loans offered by national credit unions will have interest rates no greater than 28%, application fees under $20, will limit the number of loans that can be made to one person, and limit the number of times the term can be extended or “rolled over.”

Earlier this summer, the Texas Credit Union Department also changed its rules to allow more flexibility in short-term lending practices.  The rules were adopted in July after a hearing in which Suzii Paynter testified in support of the changes. With new regulations (pdf) similar to those established nationally, Texans can be sure that local credit unions will not participate in predatory practices, and will instead be part of the solution.

The Christian Life Commission is excited about the progress being made to find alternatives to predatory payday and auto title lending. We will be working in the upcoming legislative session to close the CSO loophole and will continue educate Texas Baptists about how they can combat this problem with financial education in their churches.

CLC Staff Members meet US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in Poteet

On Monday, August 23, several members of the CLC staff were in Poteet, TX to greet and hear from US Secretary of Agriculture and former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack. The secretary was in town on the first day of school to eat breakfast with students at Poteet High including members of the FFA. He then spoke to a group of local and statewide advocates about the role of the USDA in helping to provide meals to school children, promote nutrition, and fight obesity. He recognized that Texas is a state with unique challenges as well as key resources. Several members of the Texas Food Policy Roundtable were in attendance and able to ask the Secretary, as well as Congressman Henry Cuellar who represents Poteet in congress, about how Texans can work with the USDA to fight hunger. Stephen Reeves and Suzii Paynter then joined Secretary Vilsac and others including Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Seuhs, Eric Cooper, of the San Antonio Food Bank and JC Dwyer of the Texas Food Bank Network, in San Antonio for a tour of their amazing food bank. This invaluable time together helped to promote greater cooperation between the USDA, TDA, HHSC, and the Food Policy Roundtable.

Christian Life Commission and Texas Hunger Initiative Meet With Leaders, USDA in Louisiana

In early 2009, the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) was born, with the vision to end hunger in Texas by 2015. Less than two years later, THI has implemented programs and set attainable goals to make that vision a reality in our state. Because of these successes, Bill Ludwig, Southwest Regional Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Services Division of USDA, invited Suzii Paynter and Jeremy Everett, THI’s executive director, to present the Texas model to community leaders in Louisiana, a crowd that included the Director of Communications for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Leaders in Louisiana were interested to hear about Texas’ plan for food security to see if it is something that could be adopted in their state. Jeremy presented the model Texas Hunger Initiative has used, including charts relaying accountability models, authoritative responsibilities, and the communication structure needed between state and community leaders to end hunger in Texas. The Texas Hunger Initiative also focuses on developing Food Planning Associations, local volunteer groups who adapt THI’s vision to their local communities.

Suzii presented on the Texas Food Policy Roundtable, and the steps organizations in Texas are taking to end hunger on a policy level. The Texas Food Policy Roundtable consists of both the CLC and THI, along with other statewide advocacy groups, all with the same goal: to end hunger in Texas. Suzii and Jeremy have a follow-up meeting in Louisiana with leaders from the state, and we look forward to sharing our knowledge and expertise with them.

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Sixty, they say, is the new….30? 40? This is certainly true for the CLC…Robust, strong, and committed to bringing conviction into action. The CLC is worth celebrating as a special ministry tool in the hand of a loving Father. Our joy is service and we are led by Jesus’ example of a transforming faith.

The Christian Life Commission is blessed with many friends and relationships that reach out across a wide network. Please join us to celebrate the past and future of the CLC! Our anniversary luncheon is a fundraiser for the Phil Strickland Fund for Christian Ethics and we are using this anniversary occasion to ask for gifts to provide extra measures of ministry and support. By purchasing tickets or donating at the Friend, Supporter and Champion levels, you will enable the CLC to expand hunger and development ministries, promote Christian Ethics, and bring justice to the least of these in Texas and beyond. The Phil Strickland Fund is our only source of donor designated funding.

Sixty is the new……
Happy Birthday CLC! The CLC is sixty and just in time for its birthday we are receiving congratulations, accolades and gratitude.  Join the celebration! (pdf)

Just this month the CLC was celebrated: The US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack recognized the CLC leadership to fight hunger in Texas.  Literacy Texas (statewide coalition of Literacy Councils) honored the CLC with a Texas Champions award for effectively leading the State of Texas on behalf of adult learners and the CLC was recognized by the Baptist World Alliance for hunger ministries around the world. In all these celebrations the CLC was cited as “relevant  to the Kingdom-work  of God in the world today.“

Sixty and going strong. The CLC is blessed with champions from generations past and a host of new friends and colleagues who are serious about their kingdom mission.

When did you become aware of the CLC? A while ago the CLC Commissioners brainstormed about the six decades of work – we asked of each decade:  What was happening in the world at large? What was changing in the religious landscape? What was the work of the CLC?

1950’s – in a time of secular scientific expansion and nuclear threat, a major religious emphasis was on media and event evangelism (a million more in ’54). The CLC was championing religious expression and liberty, bringing an emphasis to faith in the workplace, and opening the dialogue on race relations in Texas. The CLC is formed and speaks with a prophetic voice.

1960’s – this decade saw the upheaval of many traditions and values in the streets, in culture and in the context of war. Rising rates of divorce, “just war” dialogue, civil rights legislation, even the “God is dead” announcements prompted study and action by the CLC in the areas of family life, war and peace and racial reconciliation.

1970’s – life was shaped by the US migration from the rust belt to the sunbelt, the defining women’s movement, Watergate and political cynicism. Religious factions began, the Jesus revolution and para-church organizations grew and the CLC was active in building the strength of the laity, clarifying the role of religion in schools, building bridges of trust for Baptists to other denominations and  other faiths, and bringing leaders in ethics to Texas Baptists.

1980’s – saw the rise of the Moral Majority, the fall of the Berlin wall, the beginning of the desktop computer and mobile phones,. Mega churches emerged and fractious Baptist disputes strained the fabric of unity in Texas. The CLC responded with dialogue and action to clarify Baptist principles, sustain historic institutions and mobilize leaders on the ethics front to resolve violence in families, lead the opposition to gambling in Texas.

1990’s – a decade characterize by consumerism and economic boom. At home the growth of celebrity culture and the strength of fundamentalism were contrasted with the fall of communism abroad. Missions felt the strains of conflict and support from the CLC Hunger Offering sustained worldwide missions and projects. The CLC lead Texas in advocating for children, supported substance abuse ministries and engaged a robust ethical conversation about bio-ethics and the environment.

2000’s – Global concerns exploded:  terrorism, climate change, worldwide poverty. Technology and digital expansion changed the channels for conversation, communication and networking. Clergy scandals and religious pluralism stretched the fabric of faithful leadership. The CLC grew too, expanding its scope to international issues, adding an Austin office for public policy, beginning immigration ministries, advocacy to reform the criminal justice system, and a policy focus on hunger and poverty.

Our joy is service and we are led by Jesus’ example of  a transforming faith. This mission is aptly authored by Joe Haag in the opening paragraph of the CLC brochure, so I’ll brag about his work:

“To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives.  Against our lust for power, he endures the cross.  Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet.  Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor.  Against our self absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes.  Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers.  Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers.  Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies.  Against our self righteousness, he welcomes sinners.  Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan.  Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God.  Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free.  How can we be transformed into the image of Christ?  One answer is that as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us.”

Happy Birthday!

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Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.

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