A Conversation with Tony Campos and John Stone

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I was in Sacramento leading an Ethos Cohort, a two-year intensive training focused on reimagining the church along missional and formational priorities. We were meeting at Casa de Luz, a Hispanic NAB church pastored by Tony Campos and his wife, Fabiola. After the meeting, Tony asked the pastors there—all white men pastoring suburban churches—if we would pray for him and his church. Through tears he described what his church was experiencing in this new political climate. It was a tender and emotional moment. One pastor there, John Stone of Encounter Church in Sacramento, was deeply moved and challenged by that experience. He decided to do something about it, and some pretty cool things happened after that. I caught up with both of them about a year after that experience to have them tell their story.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and space. The full interview recording can be found at the bottom of this page.

Kent: Tony, you asked if this group of pastors would pray for you and Casa de Luz. That time became pretty emotional as you opened up to us. Can you tell us what you had asked for prayer for and what you were feeling when you were sharing with us?

Tony: We were just coming out of the results of the election and there was a constant fear and anxiety that, for a lot of our families, deportation was imminent. There was this overall sense of the whole congregation that we were in some very different times and some dangerous times for us. We’ve become very vulnerable as a community. Also, we felt we couldn’t trust anybody, that it was impossible to know who was on your side and who wasn’t. Over 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and with that we felt abandoned by our brothers and sisters, and you could not be honest with people anymore about who you were.

Kent: John, turning it over to you. As I remember that experience, I was impressed with how Tony sharing affected you. You did not present your views. Instead, I was watching you listen. So what was going on with you in that moment when that was happening?

John: I was just looking at a brother in Christ who I could see was feeling a great deal of anxiety and stress, not only for himself, but mostly as a shepherd of his people. I saw his heart was heavy with the weight of that, and as a brother in Christ, how could I not empathize with that? I was concerned about what was concerning him, and I wanted him to know that he didn’t stand alone. If his people were in need, then I wanted the people in my church to know that we have brothers and sisters that are in need and we need to have an empathy that moves us into action. My people need to understand who they are as children of the living God and who they share that relationship with, whether they share a common ethnic background or not. Our backgrounds might be different, but our journeys are the same.

Kent: What happened after that so that it wasn’t simply a thing that you felt, but something that you put feet on?

John: I went to the leaders in our church. I shared the conversation that had come up in the context of our meeting, and I tried to help them see what Tony was feeling as a pastor and what his people in his church were experiencing and struggling with. We talked to Tony and asked if we could be guests in their service. Quite honestly, it was just really great to share that time with them in their service. Then we all went to lunch together. I think beyond coming to church, just having the chance to sit down and enjoy fellowship over lunch was extremely bonding. Our experiences might not be the same as Tony or the people in his church, but we share the calling to walk as disciples together, and that was a way for us to understand and be able to express our solidarity with them.

Kent: Even as you’re sharing now, John, the emotions are coming. Where’s that coming from?

John: I think the emotions are from a variety of different personal life experiences that God has afforded me the opportunity to have. There’s emotion, I think, related to people that I care deeply about that I know that are disenfranchised, and it bums me that they are disenfranchised. I don’t know why I have the emotion I do.

Kent: So Tony, when John and his church reached out to you and to your church, how was that experience for you? What was going through your mind there?

Tony: It was one of the best things we’ve done as a church. It was a reminder that Christ is above all. After we’ve heard a narrative of rejection and of criminalization of the immigrant, seeing my brothers and sisters in Christ come and worship with us and share a meal with us really brought down the fear and the anxiety. It was a powerful moment that the Spirit of the Lord used to reassure us. It really made me regain my confidence in the American church, which at one point I had almost lost. When I shared that day at the Ethos gathering, I really didn’t know if I was able to trust my brothers, and it turned out to be a wonderful reminder that we are united by the life of Christ. It was beyond what words can express.

Kent: So why did you risk it?

Tony: There’s two reasons. God has brought me here and I live in a bicultural world. I have great friends and families in the Latino community, and God has allowed me to be also part of the larger community. So first I see myself as a bridge here. If nobody else is saying anything, it’s my responsibility to say something. I was aware that many people had believed all the things that were being said in the media, but I also knew that a lot of people were just not very aware of what was happening. The second is because over the years I have come to adopt and be adopted in the NAB family. Over the years, the NAB family has constantly reminded us and showed us that we are family. I need[ed] to say something because they showed me before that they can be a family. Thank God it was well received. Prayers were amazingly uplifting, and from that moment, I was also able to take this message to our church and they felt the same way.

Kent: So maybe expanding on that a little bit, speaking generally, what are things that we can exemplify or pursue that are encouraging to churches in your situation? And then conversely, what are the things that we do that are harmful or hurtful? In other words, teach us.

Tony: I don’t have too much to teach. Theologically, God is so concerned about the poor, the immigrant, the refugee that He commands His people so many times to be mindful of those less fortunate. I think the American church tends to forget that. What NAB has done is to show love and compassion, even without, as John said, understanding completely what we are going through. Even if you don’t understand, you love and care for people. Having said that, I think the most difficult part is to discern what to say and how to say it. I am reminded of the friends of Job when he’s going through his sufferings. They say all the right things. But compassion is not there; understanding is not there. He’s telling them that they needed to hear his story to understand what’s going on. And I think that’s probably the one thing that our churches can do—to be compassionate and kind. That to me is the one thing that we can do as NAB churches.

Kent: So John, to continue down this road with Tony, Casa de Luz, your own church, what are you learning about these days in this?

John: I find that the more time I spend with Tony, the more I can empathize and show compassion to the people who struggle with things I never had to struggle with. The more I spend time with people of different ethnic backgrounds, the more I recognize I don’t know about other people’s struggles, fears, and anxieties. I have more advantages in life than almost anybody on the face of the earth, as a white man growing up in America. I feel a great responsibility to take the privileges and the advantages that I have been given and to use those for the Kingdom of God. Spending time with Tony, in particular, has helped me understand those advantages. I am trying to have a biblical perspective instead of a social perspective.

Kent: Tony, to give you the last word here, what do you want to say to us, NAB, about yourself, your good people at Casa de Luz, about the struggles that you are facing and how we can continue to be in the struggle with you?

Tony: I’m thankful that our NAB family has responded better each time. First it was a little slow, the response, but eventually it became strong, and then it [came] from the top. In terms of what to do, there’s a lot to do—to open our arms, our homes to the transformational power of being hospitable and helping the poor and embracing the immigrant and the suffering people of the world. I think we need to make every effort to be inclusive and to invite people, alert people to the Kingdom of God.

John: Can I jump in on this?

Kent: Absolutely.

John: I believe one of the things we have to do is be willing to come alongside one another. We have to find ways to try to do things together. And when it doesn’t work, we gotta try new things together. And I’m resolved to continue to look for those things with Tony, to find ways to be on mission together. And through that, you learn about each other in the process and you learn about the mission of God together in that process

Full audio transcript: