Danny Carroll had just returned from several weeks in Israel, Jordan, England, Bolivia and Guatemala when we sat down together in his office at Denver Seminary. He claims America and Guatemala as home, having grown up bilingual and bicultural.

This varied experience permeates his academic, theological and biblical work, including his most recent book, Christians at the Border.

Immigration—forced and unforced, historic and contemporary—is an unavoidable part of American life. In centuries past, ministries were able to ignore this phenomenon; but immigration and immigrants no longer are isolated, segregated or subjugated in the way they were during the founding centuries of our nation. The world is everywhere around us. Our neighborhoods, our churches, our schools and even our families are more diverse than ever before. It is this phenomenon (read: this beautiful, humble and creative kingdom opportunity) that should lead youth ministers to stand up and take notice of the work of scholars and practitioners like Danny Carroll.

“It’s important to be aware of U.S. immigration because everyone in this country is a son, daughter or grandchild of an immigrant,” says Carroll. It should be obvious to us that Northern Europeans weren’t the first to inhabit the New World. There are those who would choose to freeze the American identity in North Atlantic Protestantism, but Carroll says, “National identity is not a snapshot; it’s a motion picture.” It’s moving. It’s dynamic. The American identity is ever changing.

Identity and Sub-Cultures

The question of identity is prevalent in Carroll’s Christians at the Border. Repeatedly, it came up in our conversation. There are tens of millions of Hispanics in America now, and with them, as Carroll says, “There is a Christian Hispanic subculture that Anglos aren’t even aware of.” There are Spanish-language youth ministry magazines and conferences (check out www.xtremoweb.com and www.convencionliderazgo.com). Youth ministers in America need to know this. “Majority culture youth leaders need to prepare their youth for a country with a growing Hispanic culture that’s all around them. It’s too easy to just focus on the Anglo suburbanite.”

One-half of the population of Latin America is under 20 years old. (Think about it. If half of your church were under 20, you’d have job security … albeit maybe no budget.)

Things are different in the global south. Carroll says, “America is aging.” Boomers are retiring, and the economic prospects facing today’s young families don’t indicate another birth boom in the near future. Therefore, we must consider youth culture if we are going to have an informed and relevant discussion about immigration. We must talk about immigration if youth ministry in America is on the table. These two issues go hand-in-hand.

Within this Hispanic youth subculture, young people are asking themselves identity-forming questions. Who are we? What do I do here? Carroll discusses this feature of the immigrant psyche, which he calls “negotiation” in Christians at the Border. I asked him to explain.

“The negotiation piece is about dress,” he said. “It’s about food. It’s interesting for me. Do we follow the Broncos or the Rapids? Do we follow American football? Do we go to a Hispanic church, or do we put our youth into an Anglo suburban church so they can get inculturated?”