A Day at the Border

“”In its fullness, justice is about right relationships-relationships that work. Injustice is about relationships that don’t. Justice for those whom philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff terms “”the quartet of the vulnerable.””-the orphan, widow, immigrant (including the refugee), and poor-is especially important to God. Injustice occurs when these people are left out, oppressed, or exploited. Justice occurs when they are included.”(Seeking Refuge, on the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis).

Two young kids. Two young parents. Take a good look into their eyes in the picture below. Their eyes were the first eyes that mine locked with when I arrived at the border. They had just spent their last day at the nearby detention center and finally were on their way to their sponsor family in another location in the US. They are here because they had no other choice. A criminal gang had taken over their land in Mexico. If they stayed, they would be killed. As many of them said, “”We would rather die on the journey trying, then go back and definitely die.”

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The next two young men I met are from Cuba. They fled to Mexico, where they put their lives at risk for 83 days. They easily could have been kidnapped as cartels know those coming from Cuba have connections that they can demand ransom from. They finally were sent to the detention center here at the border where they waited an additional 104 days in deplorable conditions. It’s not because Homeland Security doesn’t care, it’s that they are overwhelmed and underfunded by the federal government. Today was the first day they were greeted in the name of Jesus, prayed with, given bibles, pick out their own clothes, eat a good meal, and take a private shower.

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At the end of their time here at the respite center (the only church of about 200 willing to use their church for this purpose), I had the honor of praying with them, for them and over them. I prayed over the next part of the journey not only on earth but the eternity God is preparing for those who trust in Him. The same God has watched over their journey thus far despite all its challenges and danger. He is the God who sees, especially  the most vulnerable, in their distress.

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Later that evening we crossed the US/Mexican border into Mexico. 2,000 people are living there just waiting in tents. There are no showers and only two port-a-potties. They were recently separated from their families and deported. They stay here however because in their own words, “It’s not the best, but it is the safest place for us.” They stay holding out hope of policy changing or their case heard. They have no idea where their next meal will come from as they are completely dependent on people bringing them food at of kindness and compassion. The church I was with serves a meal to about 500 people a week, but it is not nearly enough.

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One young man I met had to flee his home because guerilla soldiers threatened to kill him and his family. His wife made it across and is in Maryland legally. His case however is not going to be heard until December! Please pray for my friend that he can be reunited with his family.

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This was my first time at the US/Mexico border. I went because I had to see it for myself. The political rhetoric and media coverage surrounding this issue has been so polarized and confusing, I wanted to see for myself and meet real immigrants to hear their stories, not just statistics and political talking points. While I have been concerned about our attitude and actions towards immigrants (especially among a majority of American Evangelical Christians), I wanted to put real faces to the crisis.

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The pastor I met up with is right where God wants him to be for such a time as this. He was an illegal immigrant to this country many years ago from Guatemala. He is a US citizen now, but because of his background, he can connect immediately with those in whose shoes he once walked. He is not proud of it but he can relate to them because of it.

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They serve about 250 immigrants a week, or 40-50 per day on average at their church that has been turned into a respite center (not counting across the border, in Latin America and even in Middle East countries!). Since April of this year, they have served 3,500 people at their church. While he meets their physical needs, he is laser-focused on meeting the greatest need of all, salvation and the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Of those 3,500 people, the 2,000th person just came to faith in Christ because of his church’s ministry towards them! Revival is here, happening among immigrants and even through immigrants, but many of us are just missing it!

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The guard who transports these people to his church told me he tells those he brings here that they are “”going to the house of God. This is ‘God’s house!”” I don’t believe he identifies as a Christian, but how refreshing that there are still people and places in the US who don’t just “”talk about God”” but show the reality of God’s love in a way others notice.

Contrary to much of the fearful rhetoric that goes around, these are not criminals. These are the victims of crime, gangs, corruption, and violence! To tell them to go back is to say to them to go die. While they wait here in the open, vulnerable to the elements, with nowhere to call home, another 300 more desperate people are deported for trying to cross the border just at this location illegally per day! While I am not advocating for “open borders” I am advocating for the church of Jesus Christ to be the hands and feet of Jesus in serving those in need and recognizing their plight and challenges.

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The main reason (within Latin America countries) is violence. People are fleeing because of gangs, crime, violence, corruption, and threats to their lives. Others are coming because of economic hardship. The pastor I was with said of the 250 people they serve a week, about 2-3 of them (1%) are from African, Asian, Middle East countries. But they all come at high risk to their own lives. Children are vulnerable to human trafficking. Others are vulnerable to being kidnapped and held at ransom. Women and young girls are in danger of rape. Their journeys are long and not always promising or welcoming. But there is one who has walked this journey before and His name is Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ himself who was also a refugee.

This current refugee crisis has reached historic proportions. It’s the biggest global crisis in the world. And there is far too much misinformation, fear and political games being played around real people, among the most vulnerable in the world. I have written about this before on this blog site. Others however, have written much better about it than I in trying to tackle misunderstanding with facts, rumors with truth, heated rhetoric with God’s heart and combating fear with God’s love. I won’t get into all that in this post. It is interesting however to note that the three most often repeated commands in Scripture are calls to worship the Lord, not be afraid, and take care of the foreigner living among you.

My goal in this article is to bring some humanity to this crisis. These are real people, some of the most vulnerable in the world, that need to be shown God’s love by God’s people, not dehumanized or reduced to political talking points.

Let me close with what I perceived to be a modern day parable of the American Evangelical Church as a whole when it comes to this issue. A few blocks on the US side from where we went across the border into Mexico was a beautiful church. The name of the church on the perfectly lit sign out front conveyed God’s love. However, the pastor shared with me that neither that church nor the other 200 churches around are really involved in serving immigrants. It’s too messy. It’s too dirty. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too politically charged. That strikes me as a picture and parable of the US church in general. Beautiful external buildings. Conveying the right things about God. But often failing to put those words into human action and get our hands dirty like our Savior. I believe we can and must do better.

The needs, ways and opportunities are many. Not to reduce this to monetary giving, but there is at least $1,000 a week needed just for feeding about 500 people. That’s 10 people giving $100 a week. There is also an urgent need for light jackets/sweaters/hoodies and crocs as winter approaches. If you live in Colorado Springs area we will be collecting and shipping some to here.

One of the biggest and bigger needs is to build a real room with private showers, bathroom and bedroom in the outside section of the church which is serving as a respite center for the church. This would cost about $25,000. Take a look at the picture below to see why this is needed according to the current condition. And the list could go on and on…

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***If you would like to get involved with serving refugees, the mission organization I lead called ServeNow is one of many that is working to meet a variety of needs here and around the world.