“The system is broken.”
This was the most common phrase I heard during my week at the T.B. Maston Foundation’s Young Maston Scholars Retreat focused on immigration in San Antonio, Texas. From executive directors, professors, pastors, missionaries, volunteers and the migrants themselves, the statement remained consistently the same.
The reality is one that I never truly considered as I was raised in an environment where it was not my problem. I did not live near a United States border until my family moved from Maryland to Houston my freshman year of high school. I heard on the news all the different issues and in my head that’s all it was, a political news issue.
There have been many different legal solutions proposed since I became politically aware as a 14-year-old — such as closing all borders, opening the borders thus eliminating the borders, and the infamous building of a wall across the Mexican border during the Trump administration. The problem is that while all these issues are “debated” by the Republican and Democratic parties that run this nation, the people who are coming to this nation for a variety of reasons have been harmed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually waiting for a solution.
The encounters I had as a Maston Scholar led me to a singular revelation: The American church is failing.
To consider how I reached this conclusion, allow me to quickly review my experience as a Maston Scholar. The first evening and the majority of the second day of our retreat were spent being educated by Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest, and Daniel Carroll, professor of biblical studies and pedagogy at Wheaton College. This time was filled with discussion regarding the terminology used for immigration, the current realities of the immigration process, and the lack of understanding many American Christians have regarding how much immigration exists in their own faith story.
Immigration stories are found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Even so, many Christians are shocked to hear the realities of immigration in the world that does exist through the filter of their preferred news channel.
The afternoon of the second day was an impactful time as we met with Pastor John Garland of San Antonio Mennonite Church to hear of that church’s work in the San Antonio asylum-seeking migrant community and served the homeless meals from scratch at the Communities under the Bridge: Church Under the Bridge. This time offered an opportunity to meet two leaders of the community who are actively doing what Christians are called to do in serving “least of these” as commanded by Jesus Christ.
“The third day felt like the blinders I had been wearing to hide from the realities of immigration were ripped off and smashed.”
The third day felt like the blinders I had been wearing to hide from the realities of immigration were ripped off and smashed.
We drove down to Eagle Pass, Texas, and met with Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz, director of El Buen Samaritano Migrante. He shared stories of his work with asylum-seeking migrants on the Mexican side of the border and his story of being kidnapped by a Mexican cartel. The conversation lasted most of the day and it was truly inspiring to see how God continues to work in his ministry.
Pastor Ortiz took us to a bus transportation company he partners with a mile or so from the border that assists in taking people to San Antonio at a discounted rate after they pass through the border and leave the immigration office. It is at this place that my heart sank.
We met single individuals, couples and families who all had different stories as to why they were leaving the different countries they were from. Many had been traveling for months or years just to get to the border in search of safety or the “American dream.” Many had family kidnapped by the cartel, and some were simply looking for a job in the States to send money back to their families.
These were heartbreaking tales of desperation and determination that made me cry, laugh and pray for God to move even as conversation was taking place in two different languages. My heart broke the next day as we had our final visits for the week.
Back in San Antonio, we met with Jesus Romero, director of Educational and Legal Immigration Ministries and his team. Their work involves helping refugees and asylum-seekers in their search to stay in America. It was during this time I learned that for various reasons and legalities, many of the migrants I had met the day before would not be given asylum and be sent back across the border.
I am not naive in believing every migrant comes to America with good intentions, but surely not every migrant is looking to mooch off government resources either. That is where the government work should be focused, in proving intention. That is not where the government is focused now.
The afternoon of the final day was spent in a Q&A time with David Morgan, executive director of the T.B. Maston Foundation; Mark Wingfield, executive director of Baptist News Global; Katie Frugé, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission; and others. This time gave more information as to what steps those of us involved could take to change the environments we are in to be more geared to serve those in need in the immigration world.
My statement that “the American church is failing” is not uttered lightly. I have been raised in the church my entire life as I have gone from state to state. I was taught of the mercy and holiness of YHWH, the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the sacred interaction of humankind with the holy Trinity through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“These values do not go together and yet the majority of American Christians attempt to do just that.”
I also was raised in a post-9/11 American society that was heavily charged in the mind of national defense, American superiority and the importance of making life better for oneself at the cost of everyone else. These values do not go together and yet the majority of American Christians attempt to do just that.
This has led to decades of an ever-increasing divide within the nation and a Republican Christianity and a Democratic Christianity in which both sides point at each other and scream “nonbeliever” and “heretic.”
A Scripture I mentioned earlier was Matthew 25. If you find yourself reading this article and wondering what can be done, read Mathew 25, specifically verses 31-46. See what the Lord calls of us to do as his representatives in this world. Formulate action plans with your local church to do your part in feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty a drink, helping the sick, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoner.
Like it or not, the immigrant can fall into each of these categories at any time. Be like Jesus and serve the least of these.
Christian Vaughn serves as high school and university pastor at First Baptist Church of Plainview, Texas. He earned a bachelor of theological studies degree and master of divinity degree from Wayland Baptist University.
What I’m learning as a Maston Scholar: ‘Don’t forget!’ | Opinion by Alfa Orellana
Maston Foundation immigration retreat opened my eyes | Opinion by Madison Lewis