Crisis at the southern border

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 4th of July, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today: compassion at the southern border.

Remember that heartbreaking photo of a man and his daughter having drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande? 

That was Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and daughter Valeria. The photo of their lifeless bodies lying on the river bank highlighted the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. 

It also helped break a congressional deadlock over an emergency aid bill. It brought together Republicans and Democrats and they worked very quickly.

REICHARD: But humanitarian aid groups say more changes are needed to alleviate migrants’ suffering. And Christian organizations say the church should lead the way with practical solutions to this problem. 

Joining us now to talk about this is Scott Arbeiter. He’s president of the Christian humanitarian organization World Relief.

Good morning, Scott.

ARBEITER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: Well, World Relief launched a campaign last week urging American Christians to stay engaged with the crisis at the southern border. What do you think causes people to disengage with this issue?

ARBEITER: Well, there’s probably a couple of factors. One is that we’re all trying to run very busy lives. It’s hard to stay abreast of it all.

I think there’s a bit of a psychic numbing that can happen to any of us when there’s just such an avalanche of difficult news. It kind of feels like the world’s on fire and every time you pay attention to one, another one flares up.

And all this comes crashing in on us and there’s a desire to kind of recoil back from it. I know, I feel it on occasion. I have to fight it. I suspect I’m not alone.

REICHARD: No, I don’t think you are. I would be in the same boat. What do you think it would take to get past those particular obstacles? How can Christians step out of their busy lives, out of the political realm, and just think of this in humanitarian terms?

ARBEITER: Well, I think you’ve put your finger on one of the critical things: is that we live in such a polarized time and it’s really easy just to think from the wrong starting point. And I think as followers of Jesus, our starting point needs to be, does God have something to say about this? 

So, I think the first thing is to try to get a sense for God’s heart. And if we can start with the scriptures, we know that that sets our thinking in the right way. 

REICHARD: Well, we’ve seen some influential evangelical leaders recently call on Christians to show compassion toward immigrants. Russell Moore with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is one of them. Do you think those calls are moving people to act or no? 

ARBEITER: I think what Russell’s trying to do as the rest of us are trying to do is just drop some pebbles in the pond and maybe interrupt our thinking a little bit. Because one of the risks that we have is that we tend to think in very binary terms. 

So if we think about an immigrant or refugee, we tend to think good or bad, right or wrong, compassion or security—compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. We really are capable of both honoring national borders and protecting them, but also expressing compassion to people that are some of the most desperately needy in the world. 

One quick stat that I was just, just came across a few days ago that kind of shocked me. If you look at the UN statistics that have just been released, there are 71.8 million people that are displaced right now. And when you look at that number and then you add all the other people that are on the move from migration, it would form a nation that would be the sixth-most populous nation in the world.

And so the question is, what does the call of Christ mean for us to be able to look at each of these individuals and say they too were made in the image of God. 

By the grace of God, I was born in a nation where I am not fleeing violence, terror, oppression, grinding poverty, corruption, gang wars, drugs, etc. So what is my response as a follower of Jesus to hold both compassion and security together? And I think what we’re all trying to do is say, can we have a better dialogue.

REICHARD: OK, can you talk about some of the practical things churches and World Relief are doing to help? 

ARBEITER: So there’s a variety of things that can be done. One is again, the immediate need. When asylum seekers are being released back. In most cases they have nowhere to go. They don’t have any reliable food or water source, shelter. Children may be sick. 

And so the churches are trying to find a way to step into that. I was with one church where they have taken all the pews and pushed away to the side of church and just set up cots. And the pastor said to me, we had no plans for this. We had no budget for this. But we knew these desperate people were on our doorstep and we knew we had to act and God has been meeting our need.

Over decades and over dozens of cities in the U.S. World Relief has had offices where we seek to help immigrants and now asylum seekers understand what are their rights? Do they have a credible case to make the case for asylum? If they do, how will they go about that? If they don’t, tell them the truth that they don’t. Good legal counsel is really important.

But one of the things that I think any of us can do, to use our voices, not only to appeal to God but make a case to our Congress people and say, we can and we must solve this issue in a more comprehensive way. And we want to help people use their voices in advocacy. 

REICHARD: Well, World Relief is also asking individuals, Christians across the country to get involved in very specific ways. So talk to that housewife in Utah or that construction worker in Pennsylvania. What would that person be able to do?

ARBEITER: Get informed and if you Google “Welcoming the Stranger,” it’ll take you to a book that’s been written by some of our staff. I believe it is the most trusted reference point for evangelical Christians to understand a biblical view with regard to immigration. 

So, at a practical level, I do think advocacy is important. We often underestimate how powerful our voices are. I would also encourage you to talk to your pastors and ask them what they think and whether or not your church can be engaged. And then of course to look for those organizations that are doing the work and then supporting them by giving. 

REICHARD: What do you say to those who point to the great needs in their communities—like the rising homelessness problem—and wonder how to balance those with what they see happening on the border? 

ARBEITER: Well, I don’t think that we want to set up one set of needs against another. They’re all real. Caring for the poor at home? We can’t turn a blind eye to that any more than we can turn a blind eye to the other places and the other people that are in need. 

I read something interesting not long ago that Christians spend more money on pet food in a year than they spend on foreign missions. All right, if we are saying we can’t afford to do all of this, why are we deciding between which desperate people we will not pay attention to as opposed to—I wonder if there’s some other priority we could change?

My guess is we could do much more in the care of many people, the very kind of people that Jesus told us we should be most concerned about. And so it may be setting up a false argument. 

REICHARD: Very good. Very good. Scott Arbeiter is president of World Relief. Thanks so much for joining us today. Very helpful.

ARBEITER: Thank you. Mary.

(Photo/Associated Press, Cedar Attanasio) Central American migrants in El Paso, Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Crisis at the southern border

  1. Susan Grant says:

    I love your program but have a concern about how your reporting on this segment has bought into the progressive tactic not to acknowledge a difference between legal immigrants and refuge seekers and illegals. Yes, we should have compassion on all, but our strategy must reflect respect for the rule of law and awareness that encouraging unfettered illegal immigration will destroy our capability to help those who need it – both American born and immigrant.

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