In the current federal government fiscal year of 2014 there has been a 92% increase in the number of “unaccompanied alien children” (the official government term) crossing into the U.S. from other countries. Most of these kids are from Central American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras. Countries where violence, sex-trafficking, and extreme poverty threaten the safety, health, and future of these kids. Their parents are willing to pay “coyotes” (individuals who move people across the U.S. border illegally) large sums of money in an attempt to win a better life for their kids in the United States.
The crisis is huge and growing! One official told reporters that as of June 15, 2014 “approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended along the Southwest border.” That is twice the number of children at this time last year. That does not include the 39,000 adults with children who were apprehended. That too is about twice the number of a year ago.
The agencies that are in charge of the unaccompanied minors say they have 6 times the number of kids than they have beds to house them. Children are being shipped from Texas and Arizona to other states. U.S. law requires the border patrol to turn back children from Mexico who cross the border, but no such law exists from countries that are not contiguous to the U.S. These children remain in the U.S. to go through a legal process. Some estimate that up to sixty percent of the kids coming across the border will qualify for humanitarian assistance based on both U.S. and international laws.
Images released by “whistle blowers” within the U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security show children being kept at bases and facilities around the country in conditions that are unsanitary and unsupervised. No one knows what kinds of illnesses and diseases these young minors might be carrying. Many argue that the health and safety of these kids and that of the general U.S. population are greatly at risk because of this humanitarian crisis.
In the middle of this humanitarian crisis the politics of the situation rage on. One side emphasizing the enforcement of law. Seeking the immediate deportation of all of these kids because they are here illegally. The other side emphasizing the extension of compassion. Seeking to welcome the hurting masses of desperate children because that is the loving thing to do. One side says the other does not care about the rule of law. The other side says the other does not care about needs of people.
What would Jesus do? Let me suggest a few things Jesus would do in response to this crisis?
1) Jesus would demonstrate the harmony of grace and truth.
The Apostle John summarized the life of Christ, God in human flesh, in the first chapter of his Gospel by saying that he and the other disciples witnessed first hand the reflection of God the Father in Jesus as Jesus lived out both grace and truth equally (John 1:14). This does not mean Jesus was a compromise of grace and truth. It means both strings were strummed together in perfect harmony.
Unfortunately, many followers of Christ today miss that harmony in how they live. Even more unfortunate is the reality that many followers of Christ today do not even seek that harmony. Instead, we end up with extremes of one to the detriment of the other. Some emphasize truth to the point of legalism – grace is forgotten. Others emphasize grace to the point of liberalism – truth is forsaken. Jesus never emphasized grace to the detriment of truth. Nor did He emphasize truth to the detriment of grace. John says Jesus was full of grace and truth.
Living and Loving Like Jesus
If living and loving like Jesus means reflecting both the grace and truth He lived (and I think it does), then we need to approach the crisis of the unaccompanied alien children with both – not one over the other. That is not easy in a highly politicized world. But, it is what Christ calls us to (1 John 2:6). It is what God is doing as He works all things together for good – being like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).
When Jesus dealt with social conflict, He did so in a way that he reflected compassion and holiness – grace and truth. Jesus would not allow either side of a conflict to hijack His divine love or holiness. They sure did try!
As followers of Jesus, we must understand that laws are broken when even the most well intended/innocent person crosses our sovereign borders. That is a problem. From the perspective of truth it must be addressed. We must as a nation enforce our borders to uphold our laws and to administer the justice of that standard and how it protects the rights, the health, and the financial stability of the United States and its citizens. We can understand that lawlessness leads to social decay. I can understand why towns push back to receive these kids from the perspective of law and justice and their communities. Enforcing our existing laws is a must. Jesus would emphasize this because He is full of truth.
As followers of Jesus, we must also feel the deep pain and ache of the kids that are coming across our borders and of the parents who send them here. I have been in the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica where thousands of Nicaraguan refugees live. The conditions are horrific. Girls as young as eight years of age are prostituted out by their own parents just to put food on the family table. The stories of the journey many of these kids from Central America take to get here are equally horrific. The U.S. government estimates that one third of the girls under eighteen who come across the border were raped on the trek from their home country.
These kids have come from brokenness, travelled and wallowed in it. They are hurting, sick, tired, scared, lonely, vulnerable. My heart aches for them. Jesus loves them. He died for them too. While on the one hand, we must support the just enforcement of laws, we must on the other hand be moved to extend the just compassion of Christ for these fragile lives. Followers of Jesus Christ must be full of grace and truth!
2) Jesus would meet the needs of people in front of Him now.
We could spend a lot of time debating just how the harmony of truth and grace would play out over time in the current humanitarian crisis of the unaccompanied alien children. But, there is no time for theoretical debate or argument. There are at least 150 unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border in the Southwest every day. Yes, the border needs tightened. Yes, the kids need love.
Our church staff is currently involved in a project to have each of us spend 24 hours this summer reading in the four Gospels of the New Testament. As I have prayed about the humanitarian crisis emerging at our borders, something has jumped out at me in my reading of the Gospel writers’ accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. While others tried to draw Jesus into the theoretical debates of culture, politics, and theology, Jesus never fell for their trap. He often responded to their questions attempting to trip him up with questions that revealed their selfish motives. He didn’t selfishly engage in theoretical debates. Instead, He selflessly engaged in sharing God’s truth and extending God’s love.
Jesus Met Needs in the Now
Interestingly, Jesus seemed not so concerned with what might happen, with what others would think, with justice for Himself, but with the needs of others. He met the needs of those in front of him in the moment – in the present. Too many Christians spend way too much time debating cultural, social, and theological nuances of life. We need to know God’s truth and reflect His glory in it as we demonstrate His grace and compassion.
The Lord has been nudging me on this very thing in regard to the thousands of children who have crossed our borders in recent days. They are here now. As a matter of fact, five hundred of them are being housed about 25 miles from where I live and work. Yep, several hundred of these kids were moved from Texas to the U.S. Navy Base in Oxnard, CA. What would Jesus do knowing those hurting, frightened kids are there now? He would find a way to love them – to show them His Heavenly Father!
I’ve Seen Some of These Kids
On July 4th, our family spent the late afternoon and evening at a friends house on the Oxnard beach celebrating Independence Day. As we were leaving, we passed right by the base. I glance over and saw some of the 500 unaccompanied alien children behind the barbed wire fence. An inflatable bouncy house had been brought in to the base for them. Blankets were laid out on the rough lawn of the barracks area of the base. Those kids were going to have front row seats for the harbor fireworks that night.
Wow! All kinds of thoughts raced through my head. That bouncy house might be the only fun some of those kids have had in a long time (or ever). They will get a taste of independence as they watch our celebration of freedom via fireworks – even though they will watch through barbed wire. Then, I the Lord prompted my heart to think about their relationship to Him not a nation.
The hope these kids truly need is the hope of new life in Christ! He can bring healing to the deepest emotional wounds they have! He can bring peace to their deepest pockets of fear. He can give them love that never leaves them. As a citizen of Heaven, my heart yearns for these kids to know the love of Jesus Christ. I want them to know and experience something that has no boundaries or borders – the hope found in Christ and Christ alone!
Let’s Be Proactive in the Now
So, I began to connect with our local outreach team at Calvary Community Church and with the leadership of Awana Clubs International. I shared my heart for these kids. Both our team and the team at Awana quickly agreed with me that we could do something now to help these kids. We found a local pastor in Oxnard with whom we have partnered in the past who had a opportunity to help the kids on the base. He said the kids here are being physically well cared for. That is great news.
But, he told us they could use children’s Bibles and story books in Spanish. So, we are working with Awana to secure these resources for the kids. We are also investigating any other ways the church can mobilize to love on these kids in Jesus’ name! I know there are limits and restrictions in terms of access to these kids for their own safety and health, but let’s do what we can. Let’s be proactive!
Jesus would not wait for the debate to be settled to act. Jesus would not use these kids as pawns in a political argument for one perspective or another. He would love them now. What is going to happen to these kids? I have no idea. But, I think the body of Christ should be the first to offer our government assistance with caring for these kids physically, educationally, and spiritually. Some large para-church organizations have offered extensive help. Let’s do what we can!
Maybe some of these children and teens will stay in the U.S. and grow up here. Let’s make sure they saw and heard the hope of Jesus in the early days of there time in our great land. Some may be sent home. Let’s make sure that what they remember about their time in the U.S. is that someone told them about and demonstrated the love of Christ to them in practical ways. That is what Jesus would do!
Resources for information and stats used in this posting:
Article from July 8, 2014 – Vox Conversations: “13 facts that help explain America’s child-migrant crisis”
Article from June 14, 2014 – LA Times: “In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, a seemingly endless surge of immigrants”
Article from July 6, 2014 – NBC News Online: “Is Trek of Undocumented Immigrant Children Safer Than Staying Home?”
Article from June 27, 2014 FactCheck.org: “Misassigning Blame for Immigration Crisis”