By Stan Friedman
SAN DIEGO, CA (July 15, 2014) — Several San Diego Covenant churches are working with a local nonprofit to provide personal care items for hundreds of mothers and children who had been flown into the area from Texas by the U.S. Border Patrol.
The people transported were among the tens of thousands of people from Central America who have flooded into the Rio Grande Valley in recent months. Most of those who have crossed into the United States have been unaccompanied children.
Other Covenant ministries and individuals also are exploring how to help what is now frequently referred to in the media as “the humanitarian crisis.”
The San Diego churches are working with the local Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, which has asked the faith community to provide unused clothing and personal items. The center is coordinating the collection of those items and is assisting in identifying temporary housing for people while they await their immigration hearings, said Jorge Garcia, pastor of Gracia y Paz Covenant Church in Chula Vista.
“The detention centers don’t have the personal items to care for the people,” he said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service had flown several hundred undocumented immigrants to San Diego from Texas, but recently stopped the practice after activists complained. Border Patrol officials have said that decision could change, however.
Covenant World Relief is considering how to respond to the crisis, said director Dave Husby. Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice, has been conferencing with other organizations to determine a possible coordinated assistance plan. “We are in the process of exploring options and opportunities for Covenant churches to engage in a response,” she said.
So far, no specific requests have been submitted to CWR, Husby said.
Spanish-speaking California Covenant pastors from Simi Valley south to Chula Vista discussed the crisis and possible responses during their regularly scheduled meeting. Margarita Monsalve, pastor of Jesus Ministries, introduced the other ministers to a woman and child who were part of the exodus.
The pastors decided to encourage their congregations to contribute to the ongoing needs.
Michael Carrion, pastor of Promised Land Covenant Church in Bronx, New York, serves on the Executive Board of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) and is serving as a liaison with the denomination.
In addition to helping churches coordinate a response to the crisis, Carrion says he hopes Covenant families “would be willing to house and support these children while their distant families on the U.S. side are located—if any are to be located here.”
President of NaLEC Gabe Salguero explained that over a period of 18 months, starting in August, churches and camps will likely receive thousands of children—the majority of whom are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—while they are waiting to be placed with their parents who are already in the United States or family members in their home countries.
Several denominations and organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals, will hold a worship service at the border next week and visit overcrowded detention centers, Salguero said.
Not everyone is happy with their participation, Carrion added. “I’m asking the entire Covenant to pray for NaLEC because many of the leaders are receiving hate mail and some have received death threats because they are embracing these children coming into the United States fleeing for their lives.”
Rodney Sawyer, former field director of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska who now lives in Texas, says several families in Covenant churches have taken in some of the individuals who have crossed the border. Other Covenanters are helping in different ways.
Sawyer said he had talked to a physician with ties to the Covenant who is treating some of the children. The physician can’t comment publicly but told Sawyer, “There are many, especially the children, who come into our country with scabies and lice, which we are able to treat.”
The physician added that many of the children may have HIV and have suffered sexual assault during their journey to the border.
A border patrol agent who lives near Sawyer told him the situation is heartbreaking, saying they wished they could do more. The agent also lamented that helping the children is drawing law enforcement away from stopping drug traffickers who are taking advantage of the crisis.