For the Lord your God …loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10.17, 19)
If you had seen the long lines of young families at the Catholic Charities Respite Center, McAllen, TX, who were seeking asylum, you would grow in love for the stranger. I will never forget two of the kids. One boy, seven or eight, held his little brother on his lap. When I smiled at them, they stared vacantly back. They had the look of little kids who had experienced things kids should never experience. None of the children were playing. They were sitting and staring or clinging to their parents’ hands. What would happen to these little ones and their parents if they were forced to return to Mexico or even their home country to await their asylum hearing?
“…love the stranger, for you were strangers” is from the Law of Moses. This scripture is in response to the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” How are we called to “love the stranger” today?
The seventeen of us who recently went on an MCC South Texas-Mexico Borderlands Learning Tour heard diverse stories of compassion and care. Though lawyers legitimately critique some of the unregulated detention centers where unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are being held, we heard the commitment to the well-being and resilience of these kids by the director of the Southwest Key, a regulated shelter. The kids work through trauma through play, learning, and having their basic needs cared for. We listened to the long-term commitment of the lawyers of ProBar who specialize in offering pro bono legal representation to asylum-seekers, both adults and children. Without an attorney such migrants have a 12% chance of receiving asylum. With representation, it goes up to 79%. The nuns at the Catholic Charities Respite Center thought they would be assisting asylum-seekers for perhaps a few months at the longest. Now five years and thousands of migrants later, the handful of sisters and their volunteers are still helping migrants enroute to their sponsors get a bit of rest, a meal or two, a shower and change of clothes, a phone call to their sponsor for a bus or plane ticket, and transport to the bus station or McAllen airport. Volunteers from the Southern Texas Human Rights Center coordinate both water stations for migrants on their journeys through the desert, as well as DNA research into the remains of those who do not make it to safety.
The final powerful example of those who put feet to their love of the stranger was the Brownsville Bus Station staff. Their emergency services manager saw the huge needs of the hundreds of people dropped off at the bus station with nothing but their sponsor’s phone number in their pockets and she coordinated services with many individuals and agencies in the city, so asylum-seekers would have a safe place to land for a few hours until they were on their way again. She seemed like a modern-day Esther, someone who had been prepared vocationally for “such a time as this” to assist those most in need passing through her city.
We heard the stories of people like you and me doing what they could out of love for the stranger. What is God calling you to do?