It is a photo that breaks your heart.
Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez died with his twenty-three-month-old daughter, Valeria, as they tried to cross from Mexico to the US. The New York Times describes them: “The father and daughter lie face down in the muddy water along the banks of the Rio Grande, her tiny head tucked inside his T-shirt, an arm draped over his neck.”
Their family had reportedly fled from oppressive poverty in El Salvador and had been waiting for two months in a migrant camp in Matamoros for an appointment to receive political asylum in the US. According to Óscar’s wife, Tania, the family decided to cross the Rio Grande out of desperation.
According to the journalist who later took their picture, Óscar crossed the Rio Grande with his daughter, then turned to get his wife. Valeria saw him swimming away and jumped after him. He clung to her, but a strong current drowned them.
Explaining the border crisis
The border crisis continues to dominate the news today.
The House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package this week, mostly along party lines. However, Republicans argued that it contains inadequate funding and too many restrictions on the power of immigration agencies. The Senate then adopted a $4.5 billion bipartisan aid package yesterday after voting down the House version.
Given the political divisiveness and vitriol associated with the border crisis, I looked for a respected authority whose reporting on this issue can be trusted as objective and biblical. And so, I turned to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), headed by the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the president of World Vision US, among others. It is supported by prominent pastors including Matt Chandler, Tony Evans, Jack Graham, Max Lucado, and Southern Baptist Convention president J. D. Greear.
The EIT website has posted a very informative paper by Christin Wright-Taylor titled, “Border Crisis 101: Answering Your Biggest Questions about the Immigration Crisis at the Border.” I’ll summarize it here but encourage you to read it in its entirety.
According to Wright-Taylor, the current mass migration is coming primarily from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. These families travel through Mexico to several key cities along the US border.
Many from Guatemala seek to escape crushing poverty and lack of opportunities. However, most from El Salvador and Honduras are fleeing gang violence. Many gangs in these countries are more powerful than the police or politicians. They begin recruiting children around the ages of nine to twelve, forcing young boys to be drug dealers and young girls to be girlfriends. If the children and their families refuse, they are targeted and killed.
These gangs are well coordinated across cities and countries. Many of those fleeing are not safe unless they escape Central America and Mexico altogether.
Responding to the border crisis
There is not space in today’s Daily Article to debate the divisive issue of illegal immigration. (For a larger discussion of this subject, please see chapter six in my 7 Critical Issues: The State of Our Nation.)
Rather, my purpose is to invite us to respond practically and personally to this crisis.
Wright-Taylor writes: “Perhaps the single biggest takeaway from our border encounter has been that the Church is the hope for this immigration crisis. More than the government, more than policies, more than economy, the Church is the answer to the great need not only driving people from their homes, but greeting people at the borders.”
She notes that churches and pastors in Central America are “faithfully ministering to their communities to help bring transformation” but “often feel invisible to the US American church and are hungry for our partnership and our prayers.”
She then observes that churches along the borders are “rising to meet the migrant families, tending to their physical needs, praying with them, loving them, and treating them with care.”
What can we do to help?
Wright-Taylor: “We can send money, yes, but we can also send e-mails, make phone calls, and pray. We can let them know that we see them, we hear them, and we are standing in solidarity with them as they carry forth the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth by ministering to the vulnerable families caught in this immigration crisis.”
Ways every Christian and church can help
The EIT website lists “ways to support ministry to migrants along the U.S.–Mexico border.” Denison Ministries will be making a significant financial commitment to one such ministry; I encourage you to consult their list or identify another ministry God would lead you to support.
In addition, we can look for ways to minister to children at risk where we live. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 21 percent of all children in the US live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. Churches can become involved directly and intentionally in ministry to immigrants and to other at-risk children in their communities.
And we can all pray. The One who laid his hands on children and prayed for them (Matthew 19:13–15) now considers us his hands. He calls us to pray passionately for their welfare and future. And he invites us to follow the Spirit’s guidance in answering our prayers with our compassion (cf. Matthew 9:35–10:4).
What Chuck Swindoll said to parents is true of us all: “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
What deposits will you make today?