God At the Border? Children, the Immigration Crisis, and the Church

America is facing a crisis at the border. Tens of thousands of children have come from Central America looking for asylum, protection, and a chance at a future that they will not find in their home countries. Drug Wars have ravaged their nations. Also, confusion from Washington and our politicians on what the immigration situation actually is has created the misperception that if the children come and turn themselves in to border guards, they will be allowed to stay. The political problems are vast, solutions are hard to find, and America is divided. The Church is also divided on the issue of what to do with the children coming to us looking for help.
Let me say a few things up front:
  1. I believe in secure borders and that every nation has the right and responsibility to secure its own borders. I have traveled all over the world and if I don’t have the proper passport/visa, then I fully expect to be detained and jailed if I am trying to enter a country illegally. I am not debating that.
  2. The current immigration situation and political debate is important, but it is not the main thing right now when it comes to these children. Why have they come? What is President Obama’s responsibility? What happens if they stay? All of these questions are secondary. In some of my training on development work, I have learned that you have to differentiate between disaster response and development work. Disaster response is what you do when the hurricane or earthquake has hit. You help everyone you can and provide aid, food, shelter, and comfort. You don’t ask questions. You just help. Development work is what you do when there is an ongoing problem. You look for long-term solutions and you are careful not to create dependency. There is a completely different metric at work. The situation with the children at the border is “disaster” not “development.” The long term immigration problem is “development.” So, different problems lead to different solutions.
  3. We have to differentiate between the political debate in Washington over immigration and the actual children in need right now. News erupted today in Alabama that immigrant children were headed to Maxwell AFB in my city of Montgomery. The report proved to be premature, but response from many in Alabama was that we do not want them here. Our own Congresswoman Martha Roby released a statement saying that the children were not wanted under any circumstances at Maxwell. The question that I have for Congresswoman Roby is, “does caring for children in need temporarily pose a national security threat to America? Does it make our nation weaker or stronger?” She is representing the view of many of her constituents in Alabama who have made their voice heard today saying, “Send the children away! They are not our problem!”
  4. I am not suggesting that the children should stay in America or that they should never be sent home. Rep. Roby says that we should “send them home with care.” What does that mean? If Lackland AFB in Texas, where many of the children are, is overwhelmed (as are other facilities), then is it not caring for the children to put them in good environments for a time until we can figure out what to do with them? I do not think that they should just be unleashed upon America with no families or support structure, but should they not be compassionately cared for now, until we can find permanent solutions?
With all of that said, here is my position: The lives and well-being of children who come to our border looking for help trumps every other concern. If you are a Christian, you place the priority of the children first and you show them love and concern. Then, from that place, you try and solve the bigger problems. Just saying that you don’t want to fool with them and send them out of your sight does not solve any bigger problems. It simply sacrifices the children in need to your own convenience and belief that you have solved a problem by getting rid of kids in need. You haven’t solved anything. You are just forcing someone else to deal with it.
Alabama can be part of the short-term solution and would then have the moral authority to speak to the long-term solution. If, as Christians, we don’t know that we should help those in need, then we need to reread our Bibles. But, when we do help others, we are able to speak to bigger issues. Alabama cuts off its own voice and declares that it is has nothing to offer the situation if we just say that these children are not welcome under any circumstances. Rep. Roby has no ideas or solutions to this problem. So, it is easier for her to just say, “Send them away.” That isn’t leadership. That is surrender.
America is undergoing a moral collapse. Christians across the country are either siding with the collapse and joining it or they are wringing their hands over it and bemoaning the fact. Many are taking a third option, though, and are praying and engaging and are asking God to speak to our country and visit us one again. Here is a question: What if God is answering our prayers and is speaking to us through a visitation of 50-60,000 homeless, starving, sick, diseased, and abused children on our Southern border? What if God is giving us a chance to rise up and show compassion and to extend care to the least of these? What if THIS is how God answers prayers for revival – by allowing waves of needy children to come to us to test us as to where our hearts are and to give us an opportunity to love and live sacrificially so that He can prove Himself strong?
Jesus lays this scenario out for us in Matthew 25:31-41 when he says,

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his
right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The least of these are at our borders and Jesus says to us that what we do for them is what we do for Him. American Evangelicals have had a difficult year or two where the country has declared to us that we are not wanted and our religion is irrelevant. What if Jesus is giving us a chance to show that worshiping Christ changes us and causes us to not just think about our own “way of life,” but to also look after the interests of others? What if we are being given a chance to do “for one of the least of these” to demonstrate our love for Christ in a tangible way? Will we recognize the day of our visitation?

What if we are in an Isaiah 1:16-17 moment where God says to the people:

Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

What if we are being given an opportunity to suffer alongside the widow and the orphan and the least of these and to actually give up some of our prosperity to help those in need? Again, I am not talking about the long-term solutions right now. I am just talking about how you respond to the needy in your midst.

I am glad to hear that many Christians are stepping up and are offering themselves to serve these children. I am glad to hear that many pastors and churches in Alabama responded today positively. I pray that their number grows and that we would embrace the possible visitation of God in our land by caring for the poor and needy among us – and that this would not be limited to immigrant children but to others who are already here – and that we would then see God work by releasing His joy in our hearts.

Then, may the words of Isaiah 58:6-12 ring true:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Perhaps the way that we share Christ with the world is through loving those who are least among us, even when it costs us something?

Again, I am speaking about the immediate situation of caring for the man in the ditch, to reference Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable. The long term issues
still need to be worked out. But, in the immediate situation of disaster, may the church be found serving Christ.

What would Jesus say about our attitude toward children in need? That is what matters.

Edit: I wanted to add one last thing here from a comment that I left on Facebook discussing this:

I was reading last night how Hispanic Evangelical churches are at work at this very moment in Central America getting the word out to parents to NOT send their kids north. This is a HUGE coalition of Hispanic Christians from North and Central America who recognize that what has happened here is wrong, dangerous, and is devastating for the children. They have taken this project on themselves. It is a GREAT initiative and one that we can build on while we care for the kids here right now. THEN, we work with then nations to return them. Perhaps it is a huge movement and many American Christians get involved. But, we can’t come up with any solutions if we don’t engage the problem. And, once we engage the problem, then we have the moral capital to offer solutions.

4 Responses to God At the Border? Children, the Immigration Crisis, and the Church

  1. Very well stated, Alan. Thank you for taking a public stand on this and giving us all language to voice what many of us believe to be a Kingdom response.

  2. ALAN, I could have written this post myself, it resonates so much with me.
    God Bless you for telling the truth . . . from the comments so far on SBCvoices, it was much needed. I would have commented there but it is not permitted.
    One additional thought:
    Our Lord Himself was a child refugee in his infancy, as the Holy Family was granted sanctuary in Egypt at the time of Herod who massacred the male infants of Nazareth.

  3. Concerning William’s ‘Rome’ comment, I would have commented this on SBCvoices, given the opportunity to do so:
    “I think he means you sound like Catholic Christiane does sometimes when she hopes for people to care for those that are on the margins and who are outcasts . . . you have crossed the boundaries of ‘denomination’ and entered into the Kingdom of Our Lord and His provinces when you call for people to love those in need as He loved them, ALAN.
    You are not ‘Catholic’, no . . . but you are ‘catholic’ in your pursuit of the advancement of the Kingdom of Our Lord and I thought myself that what William might have meant as a criticism was actually a sign of his recognition that you are not limited by his boundaries . . . perhaps that was the greatest compliment he could unknowingly give you, ALAN”