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What’s happening at the border?

Political narratives overlook Christians’ work


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The week I was reporting at the border (see “Border backtracking,” in this issue), I saw a lot of people spinning narratives about what’s happening there.

Republican senators traveled down to the border to raise alarm about “Biden’s border crisis” and “kids in cages.” One senator filmed himself in front of a large group of families with young children under a bridge, waiting for the Border Patrol to process them: “This is the thing that Biden doesn’t want you to see. This is absolutely an open border situation. Anyone who wants to come in from any country in the world … they come in here, and they’re all released.”

Meanwhile on the left, I saw activists blast news reports about a “surge” at the border as “militaristic language.” Many Democratic leaders have been defensive, labeling the current border crisis as an “imperialism crisis,” an “environmental crisis,” a “trade crisis,” and a “carceral crisis.”

Politics is about who weaves the most compelling, emotive narrative.

I was unmoved. Many of the same right-wing folks expressing concern for mothers and children huddled under a cold bridge didn’t shed a tear when an even worse border crisis happened during the Trump administration. The same left-wingers who sobbed about “children in cages” and excoriated Trump on social media are now blaming larger systemic problems.

But then, what’s new? Politics is about who weaves the most compelling, emotive narrative. It’s not reason and nuance that rile us human beings, but moral instincts and emotional judgment. Much of the narrative surrounding the border has been exactly that—savvy politicians using political buzzwords to serve their political ends.

I heard a very different narrative from Christians serving at the border. One of them is a Baptist missionary who served 21 years in Matamoros, one of the most dangerous border towns in Mexico. Abraham Barberi helped plant 13 churches in the Matamoros area, four in El Salvador, and one in Argentina. Many Christians in the United States financially supported his work as part of the Great Commission.

About three years ago, as more and more asylum-seekers and migrants traveled to the border, Barberi continued doing the same thing he had done for years: He shared the gospel with neighbors in need. When more than 2,000 asylum-seekers set up a ramshackle camp near his church, he visited them almost daily with firewood and other material help. He also helped raise five churches there. I was at that camp 16 months ago when I saw a group of asylum-seekers gather into a circle to sing hymns and pray out loud.

Barberi told me that since he began helping migrants, he’s lost about half his usual financial support from American Christians. That blew his mind: “Some people are so willing to spend thousands of dollars to do missions in third-world countries. But when the mission comes here to our country, suddenly they’re not OK with that. Something doesn’t match.”

When Barberi sees men, women, and children arrive at the border with little else but their Bibles and prayers, he remembers Jesus’ commandment to His followers: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Many Christians I met share that otherworldly perspective. At a time when so many people’s eyes are on the border, they see an opportunity for God’s people to boast about their merciful and gracious God by loving one another: “We can feel the presence of God.” “God’s work is so visible here.” “They’re our brothers and sisters in Christ.” That’s a narrative you won’t hear on the news. It’s simple, maybe even foolish and naïve in the eyes of the world. It’s not a political perspective. But it is a kingdom perspective—and a powerful one.

So what’s happening at the border? God is doing something among His people in His kingdom.


Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband.

@SophiaLeeHyun

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RHIL5403

Sophia Lee's articles on the border crisis are outstanding. Her lack of political bias, her clear-eyed observation, and her grasp of the heart of God for the foreigner and refugee are so refreshing. It's quite a contrast to the prevailing hardness of the conservative heart which smacks much more of the spirit of Trump than the Spirit of Christ.

Gregory P

This article informed me of an aspect of the border crisis of which I had been unaware: Christian ministry. We should all look for opportunities in this time of crisis to reach out with love. I was mystified by the clause: " when an even worse border crisis happened during the Trump administration." As far as I knew the numbers coming across now are record setting, and responsible people who have worked with border control for decades have said President Trump did the best job of any in decades to bring it under control, and some have said when faced with a growing crisis, Trump dealt with it effectively. Of course, looking for actual information on line is challenging with internet giants controlling so much of the information and discussion. So I find such a broad-brush put down as not helpful. If there was a particular time (month and year) when more illegal aliens entered across or were detained or whatever standard is being used under the Trump administration, then cite it with more specific reference even if this is a Voices opinion piece. By the way, I was unfamiliar with the term "carceral" (so was my spell checker), but an internet search did help me find the definition, so thank you for the vocabulary lesson.

Salty1

Yes, the “worse Trump crisis” was instigated by the left and the social justice crowd. Who was giving all the money to cause the trains of people to start the journey? Who were the groups giving out water and other supplies creating the crisis? Those are the larger questions that need to be answered.

Trump wisely responded by shutting down the border preventing the people from entering and once the word got out the people stopped coming. That was the most just response preventing all kinds of injustice. The drug cartels get paid about 8 grand per person they deliver across the border. Not only that but they use the people as shields so they can deliver drugs to America. Millions of people are harmed by these drugs and many die due to overdose like George Floyd did. If he didn’t have the drugs in his system it is unlikely he would have died for the drug suppresses the breathing. Gang members also cross over the border bringing crime, killing, torture and rape. Illegal immigration comes with all kinds of injustice!

Does God not hold governments and leaders accountable in some fashion for this injustice if the borders are not controlled? Did Nehemiah not build a wall to protect the people? If border walls were so bad, why would God allow this? If Nehemiah was wise as the social justice crowd, he certainly wouldn’t be such a racist and would allow Sanballat and all the other local people in - eliminating the wall. But he didn’t because he understood the political dimension that was involved. Pretending that all the political response is some sleazy charade propagated by evil Republicans is a pure lie! Many Christians who support Republicans see the injustice that comes with the illegal immigration and care about it enough to respond in a political fashion to stop it. We also see the SJ Christians putting forward their own half true narrative, which expects us to not question the belief that compassion requires us to let in an unregulated number of people. They would have us to not look at the issue of justice focused on the American citizen, which God charges our government to predominantly focus on.

The SJ Christians aren’t protecting the Christian cause in America by ignoring the political dimension. Democrats are out to destroy the Christian vestiges in our culture and the SJ are oblivious to this fact. The attempt at loosening the voting laws has everything to do about stealing elections. The rapid change in the stance on immigration has everything to do about amassing political power like they did in California where the state used to be in play for Republicans. SJ Christians seem to think that the left will embrace them if they just get rid of the Republican Party and the conservative mindset, but they operate in an imaginary world where the “woke” crowd view the Christian church as an oppressive organization against homosexuals, transgender, and the PC mindset. Actually, Christianity is antithetical to the “woke” crowd that is intolerant, racist, and bigoted against anyone who doesn’t accept their ideology. They are fascists who don’t believe in freedom of speech and are pushing this country forward threatening our Christian life in America. Rather than defend the Christian cause the SJ are happy to go along with the destruction of Christianity in America.

Cyborg3

There is nothing wrong about working with the immigrants living in Mexico and is a legitimate Christian effort that should be done. Working however to allow these immigrants into the United States illegally is wrong. The role of government is completely different from the church, where governments first concern should be about protecting it's citizens and allowing the most possible justice- for the same citizens first.  For example, allowing in illegal immigrants with pandemic is not justice. Allowing in drug and human smuggling cartels into the country is not just. Inciting an influx of minors by saying you will let them all in doesn't promote justice since little kids will be killed, raped and sold into slavery in some cases. You need to discern the role of the church and the role of government, which are completely different when it comes to immigration.

SMOR6326Cyborg3

This missionary is ministering to people who have already come to the border. It sounds like you’re saying he should go elsewhere to work because he is encouraging drug cartels to come into the US. Am I misunderstanding?

Salty1SMOR6326

I think you misunderstood CYBORG3 where he is distinguishing between the role of the church and the role of government. He says, “ There is nothing wrong about working with the immigrants living in Mexico and is a legitimate Christian effort that should be done. ” This is the role of the church where individual Christians can do this work. The focus of government however should be to protect the citizens, so the objective is to control who is allowed in. Allowing in gangs who unjustly hurt people physically, through drugs or by another means doesn’t promote justice. Allowing in hoards of people who just want the economic benefit and don’t really care for the nation isn’t just. Hurting the poor citizens by letting in hoards of low skilled workers who will suppress the wages is unjust. The church and government have different roles to play.

Tim MillerCyborg3

Hugh Hewitt offered a grand compromise this morning: Build the wall within 3 years and let every nonviolent non citizen in the country stay. Both sides get what they want.

I would add to that serious reform to our intake process so we can accept more legal immigrants, but it would be a package I would support.