7/15/2014 2:00:00 PM
CHICAGO (ELCA) – To learn more about the recent arrival of unaccompanied children into the United States, a group of leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will travel July 16-18 to Texas. Their time there will include visits to children shelters and facilities managed by Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas, and meetings with ELCA pastors and members to hear about their experiences and response efforts.
"The holy family was undocumented and fled to Egypt because their lives were threatened by King Herod. The children entering the United States have fled because their lives are in danger. God is their ultimate hope, and we can be a sign of that hope," said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop.
ELCA leaders and members are eager "to learn more about what is really happening on the ground and what ELCA members are learning and doing in response," said Eaton. "I'm proud of the work that we are doing as a church."
According to the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, the children arriving in the United States are leaving their home countries to seek protection from drug and sex trafficking, hunger and poverty and other risk factors rendering children vulnerable.
"For years our companion churches in Central America have been struggling with the problem of growing violence in their societies that has its roots in poverty and inequality. My appeal to United States decision-makers is to respond to this humanitarian crisis in a comprehensive way," said Malpica Padilla, a member of the ELCA group traveling to Texas.
"Our response must address both the immediate needs of newly arrived migrants here in the United States, as well as critically review our economic and security policies toward the Central American region and consider different approaches than we have in the past," he said.
"Our compassion should not stop at the border. 'If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.' We need to re-examine the sustainability of our development policies, review trade agreements for their impact on the poorest, rethink our drug policies, promote nonviolent conflict resolution activities and greater respect for human rights, and strengthen domestic child protection systems in Central America," he said, adding that "a change of direction in U.S. foreign policy is needed so that desperate families won't feel a need to run from the many risks associated with allowing their children to journey unaccompanied to this country," said Malpica Padilla.
Through Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA members are working with Lutheran church companions and strategic allies, such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, to respond to the needs of unaccompanied and migrant children. Financial contributions to Lutheran Disaster Response designated for unaccompanied and migrant children will be used 100 percent to help support efforts that provide services and "uphold the rights of children."
Based in Baltimore, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services is one of the nation's leaders in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants, working on behalf of the ELCA.
"I am haunted by this passage from the Gospel of Mark as I prepare my heart for our journey to Texas and the border," said the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission. "Jesus took a child and placed the child in the midst of his disciples. 'Whoever receives one of these children, receives me.' Today, Jesus points us to thousands of children, placed in the midst of us, apart from families."
"I expect to see Jesus in Texas. In the way of Jesus, you cannot love people from afar. We will see the embrace of Jesus that our social ministry organizations, congregations and partners along the border are giving to the children Jesus has placed among us. These children are not a 'cause,' a budget-line item, a threat. They are their own sweet selves seeking safety, welcome (and) hope. Their courage in making this dangerous journey to be among us is a gift," said Bouman. "In the way of Jesus you cannot only love Jesus from afar. Like Mary and Elizabeth and their babies in their womb, sometimes there has to be a visitation."
Lutheran Social Services of the South, an ELCA affiliate, is the largest provider of children's residential care in Texas. ELCA leaders will visit the agency's emergency shelter which serves unaccompanied children, ages 12-17. The shelter provides food and clothing, as well as education, spiritual and psychological care and medical treatment. The shelter also provides case management services and coordinates legal services to assist the child in reunifying with their family, obtaining asylum in the United States or returning to their home country. ELCA leaders will visit one of Lutheran Social Services' transitional foster care programs for unaccompanied minors, which serve young children and those with special needs.
"In this horrendous humanitarian crisis, there is an amazing opportunity for Lutheran Social Services of the South and the ELCA to serve 'the least of these.' This is what we're called to do. And, to echo comments from Pastor Stephen Bouman, 'We've been baptized for this moment.' As Christians we are called to reach out to provide help, healing, hope, spiritual care, medical care and education to those whom have been placed in our care," said Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South.
"We've been working with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the ELCA and other partners, and we all know that together we are stronger," said Senske. "We welcome this opportunity to further strengthen our relationship and partnership," including partnerships with local congregations, ELCA synods and the churchwide organization.
"This is a justice and mercy issue," said Senske. "While it is difficult to imagine the struggles of each of these children, we feel their pain as we listen to their heartbreaking stories, many who are escaping extremely dangerous situations. Our role, plain and simple, is to be the Good Samaritan."
For more information, visit http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/Unaccompanied-and-Migrant-Children.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
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