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Noel Castellanos_Justice Conference_130301 article

By Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)

“Many of us here consider ourselves as empowered, wealthy, educated, as folks that … have the right heritage, the right color of skin,” said Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association to attendees of the 2013 Justice Conference in Philadelphia. Because of this, American Christians “need a shift of paradigm,” he said, bemoaning a perspective that views reaching the poor and oppressed as “the target of our mission.” This approach is wrong, Castellanos claimed, exhorting Christians to instead “embrace the poor as the launching pad and the center of God’s mission for justice in the world.”

Castellanos observed “[Jesus] doesn’t just come into the world as a human being, but He says ‘I am going to come into the world and incarnate myself as a Galilean Jew as a marginalized person … so that people will understand what the center of my mission is all about.’” He continued: “We are here to be participants with the poor to transform the world … they’re not the paternalistic subjects of our good works, but they are actually the key to bring transformation to a world that’s suffering … Who is more equipped to enter into the pain of the poorest regions of the world than the poor themselves?”

Further, Castellanos said “For a Mexican American who is seeking to follow the God of the Bible … it is very important for me to identify the message of Jesus … from a perspective that resonates with who I am.” In this context, he declared “It is impossible to talk about reconciliation in the Latino community without hearing the cries and the pain of 11 million people who are in our country today, and they’re here without proper documentation.” He continued: “It is impossible to have the message of God’s love make any penetration in my heart, in my life as a Mexican American that is embedded in this community if we don’t see a connection between trying to do justice by changing the current immigration system that we have, and really treating people with love.”

Leroy Barber, president of Mission Year spoke after Castellanos, explaining “The heart of this conference requests that we go deeper into what justice means … that we challenge the systems that are oppressing within our day.” Those who don’t seek justice for the oppressed may only be “moderate” followers of Jesus, he said, warning that “Scriptures tell us perhaps you aren’t a follower at all. Jesus challenges us deeply, deeply to care for the poor.”

“I pray the spirit of Jesus and the spirit of justice combine in your hearts … and you dive deeper into this conversation,” Barber said. “We live justly because it brings the Kingdom,” he concluded, asserting: “Justice challenges systems and any system that is not diverse is one that we must challenge because it hinders the presence of Christ in our world.”

The session with Castellanos and Barber was originally scheduled to include Richard Twiss, who passed away just two weeks before the conference after suffering a major heart attack. Before beginning the session, the two speakers spoke for a few minutes about Twiss, who was a Native American writer and activist vocal about reconciliation between Native Americans and mainstream American Christians.

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