For five days and nights last summer, the Rev. Edwin Mieses saw the kingdom of God on the playgrounds of this hilltop mining town. The occasion was the array of basketball games, clown shows and worship services that go by the title “Rock the Block.”
Mr. Mieses concocted the event with another local pastor as a way for that minister’s mostly white congregation and Mr. Mieses’s largely Hispanic flock to carry the Gospel together as Pentecostal Christians. And as Mr. Mieses heard the childish glee in response to his puppetry, as he watched a local drug dealer lurch tearfully toward the altar to accept Jesus, he believed he was doing what the Almighty had asked of him.
“To see the body of Christ working as one gives you a glimpse of what will be when the Lord returns,” Mr. Mieses recalled in an interview. “It’s what we’re called to do. It’s why we do this work. To bring forth a positive message with no racial lines, no color lines.”
By the time “Rock the Block” returned this summer, however, Mr. Mieses’s priorities had changed and his spiritual mandate had expanded in an unexpectedly political direction.
As Hazleton has become a national center for opposition to illegal immigrants, as members of Mr. Mieses’s congregation have experienced suspicion merely for being Hispanic, he has begun attending rancorous public meetings and sharing bulletins from his pulpit. In addition to staples like youth ministry and Bible study, his church has begun holding citizenship and English classes for adults.