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.
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