Eric Costanzo on How God Blessed His Church With Migrants

Jill Curry / South Tulsa Baptist Church

Editor’s note: Last Thursday, Politico reported that Trump administration advisers had proposed dropping the US refugee cap to zero next year, to the dismay of advocates like the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian arm World Relief.

The Trump administration already cut the number of refugees the US will accept by more than half of the typical 75,000–95,000 range. Another reduction, advocates say, will prevent family reunifications and leave thousands in peril. Some warn that this move would actually increase the number of asylum seekers at the US southern border.

Faced with the threat of blocking nearly all refugees, many leaders have ready testimony of how their congregations have been blessed and strengthened by migrants who fled to the US.

Eric Costanzo leads a church in suburban Tulsa, Oklahoma. Over the past decade, the government has resettled increasing numbers of refugees in their city, the largest group being evangelical Christians from Myanmar . Many have found an unlikely home at South Tulsa Baptist Church , a congregation of around 1,200 people which now has more than 150 immigrants and refugees from 30 countries involved in its programs. These refugees and immigrants serve in ministries like sewing classes, a Chinese school for all ages including families who have adopted from China, and international potlucks.

Costanzo’s church recently opened a refugee resource center where some of the refugees themselves volunteer. Other refugees and immigrants have connected the church to mission trips, partnerships, and church planting opportunities.

The Oklahoma pastor shared with CT about one leader in his church who has demonstrated the potential among refugees when given the opportunity to thrive in a safe and stable country—knowing there are thousands of others who are serving their congregations and communities with a unique sense of gratitude and compassion.

I first met Cesar Quintero in early 2018 through our church’s multifaceted ESL program. He and his wife Elena, who holds dual citizenship, had only recently arrived in the US, having made the difficult decision to remain here rather than returning to the scarcity and danger of their homeland of Venezuela. Their friends and neighbors had fully expected them to return. They left all their possessions behind. Cesar had to ask a friend to retrieve and mail their most important documents to their new home in Tulsa.

Like everyone who meets Cesar, I was immediately taken with him. He is incredibly engaging. He is also an idea factory and one of the most entrepreneurial people I’ve ever met. (I fully expect to see him on Shark Tank someday.)

Cesar was eager to get involved in the work we are doing, and it took almost no time for him to put down roots in our church. “One of my main goals in life is to make people laugh,” said Cesar, “and I have experienced more laughter and joy with my teachers and friends at our church than I ever could have imagined.”

Image: Jill Curry / South Tulsa Baptist Church
For the last year and a half, Cesar has been working with our church’s international and refugee ministry toward two main goals: help fellow immigrants become better connected in the community and help people in Tulsa and wherever else God places him to better understand who immigrants are and how much they have to contribute.
Cesar has a background in TV and radio, which makes him an excellent communicator. It is powerful to watch the walls of fear and misunderstanding that many people have built up regarding immigrants come down quickly as he speaks. Each time he addresses a group of Christians, he concludes with Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Cesar spent most of his career in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, when there were still ample opportunities to find success. He worked in the entertainment industry, ran a radio program, and even became a top salesman. (He won a trip to Hawaii after a particularly great year. Providentially, the travel visa for that vacation would later enable him to begin the legal immigration process of obtaining a green card.)
But things changed.

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Source: Christianity Today