Imagine walking miles, hundreds of miles. From time to time you may get a ride, and someone may give you food. Then, imagine a day with nothing to eat, no ride, and dwindling hope.
This is something none of us may have ever experienced, but it is the daily reality of thousands of people who have made their way to the border, hoping to gain asylum and become United States Citizens.
Something else for you to imagine. You are admitted to the United States. You are granted status and are free to head to whatever city your family is in, but what do you in the meantime until your bus or plane leaves? Where do you stay? What do you eat? What about your children? What will you do for them?
I recently met with Rubin Garcia, before I assisted Fr. Abouid feed a rag-tag collection of people their evening meal.
As I was standing behind a table, serving noodles with meat sauce, I could see hope, appreciation and a sense of wariness in the eyes of each man, woman and child. Here they were, not so much worrying about themselves, and what they would eat, as much as they were worried about each other, their children, and family members who are still south of the border, and those they were heading to join here in America.
As Father Abouid said the blessing for the meal you couldn’t help but feel that each person there, laboring to serve, was following the words of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 25:34-40:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him saying “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We need to take this wise counsel to heart and apply it, now and in the future. The reality is, regardless of what you see on Fox news, migrants are being admitted to the United States, and are being allowed to join their families.
“People are always asking me what we need,” says Garcia of Annunciation House. “You cannot receive 2,000 people a week and not have a lot of needs in terms of food, toothbrushes, pampers, and care packages. But, all of that comes in. In other words, it comes in.”
There may be a time when, according to Ruben, some of what they need may be in short supply, but it does arrive.
El Paso, Las Cruces, both are very caring communities, and more and more people are willing to give of what they must share with those who have made the long, arduous journey to get the United States.
“The greatest needs is for venues, for churches that would seriously consider receiving refugees. Even one day out of the week” says Ruben.
El Paso and Las Cruces are both communities of great faith. There are Churches of every hue and denomination with space to spare. Why not use some of that space?
We must learn to live our faith beyond the walls of the church, beyond what we are normally comfortable with. It’s easy to help, to give when it’s a member of your congregation. We know that person, their past, and are connected to them. But Jesus did call us to serve not just our family, our friends, but everyone – everyone, regardless of where they are from or what their socioeconomic status may be. We can and should help.
Why does Father Joseph Hector Abouid of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church feel it’s important that their church help?
“The importance for my Church to be involved in feeding these people is best explained in the parable Jesus Christ Himself used: the Good Samaritan,” says Father Abouid. “Serving them is understanding the message of the aforementioned Parable. Samaritans were deemed impure by the People of Israel; second-class citizens or worse. They were Jews mixed with gentiles. They were not welcomed by the Jews, and if any Jew was caught dealing with one, he himself becomes unclean.”
Father Abouid has a point. We’ve come to a point where we’ve begun to vilify people who are wanting to come into the United States. Xenophobia is on the rise, and those south of our border have become the new “Samaritans.”
“It is true, we did not ask them to come, they came here voluntarily, and there are so many needy already in our society But, when asked to help, is it okay to turn a blind eye and be dismissive?” asks Father Abouid. “Are we faithful to the message Christ conveyed to us through the parable of the Good Samaritan? We were asked to help the cause, and by serving them a meal, we are just enacting the message of the Gospel itself. Also, providing them a meal, we are helping the government itself! The government is overloaded and is reaching out to the churches to help! If we disagree with the religious aspect of this cause, are we to disregard the patriotic aspect attached to it? By helping this cause, we are helping the government itself deal with this sudden crisis.”
What can churches do to help house someone in need? According to Garcia, there is a lot.
“You can look at what space we have here at the church and see if we can put cots or air mattresses on the floor. Maybe they can receive 40-50 refugees for even one night.”
What happens, according to Garcia, is that they would arrive in the late afternoon. The next day many of them begin to leave and head for the homes of family and friends in other parts of the country. For example, if you were to take a group in on Tuesday, the next day Annunciation House would begin the process of getting them to their families.
By Thursday, Friday at the latest, they would all have moved on and begun their journey to their homes, with family and friends in different parts of the country.
“So, for a Church that helps, this isn’t like a full-time thing. We are not going to do this full time. You would receive one day out of the week,” says Ruben Garcia. “We think we can surface the volunteers from our own faith communities, people that will come and help staff and received them and provide the meals. That is, in fact, the greatest need. Everything else will come, I promise you.”
Garcia calls this a surge, the people coming here to the United States. It’s not new, and it’s happened before. This is the fourth one since 2014.
“Looking back, historically, there is going to come a time when it begins to diminish,” says Ruben Garcia speaking of this current surge.
“So, if there are any churches out there that you know, please ask them if they can help,” says Ruben.
I join him in that plea. These are human beings. These are people who have been admitted, by Border Patrol, by ICE into the United States. They are no different than you or me. They are people with hopes and dreams of chasing the American Dream. Why not give them that chance?
“I encourage everyone to at least come down and help at least once!” says Father Abouid. “Don’t just jump into conclusions based on what you see on tv about these migrants. Come and help, and then, make your own determination about whether it is a just cause or not. And remember, our civil authorities need of our help as well, and they appreciate our support; even if it is by simply serving one meal a week.”
If you can volunteer, if you can provide space or serve meals, then get in contact with Annunciation House at firstname.lastname@example.org