The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Breaking News

July 15, 2014

ELCA leaders to visit shelters for unaccompanied children

To learn more about the recent arrival of unaccompanied children into the U.S., ELCA leaders will travel July 16-18 to Texas. They will visit children's shelters and facilities managed by Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas., and meet with ELCA pastors and members to hear about their experiences and response efforts.

“The holy family was undocumented when they fled to Egypt because their lives were threatened by King Herod," said Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. "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.”

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,” Eaton said. “I’m proud of the work that we are doing as a church.”

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said the children are leaving their home countries to seek protection from drug and sex trafficking, hunger and poverty, and other risk factors rendering them 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," said Malpica Padilla, a member of the group traveling to Texas. "My appeal to United States decision-makers is to respond to this humanitarian crisis in a comprehensive way.

“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. 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.

"A change of direction in U.S. foreign policy is needed so desperate families won’t feel a need to run from the many risks associated with allowing their children to journey unaccompanied to this country.”

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA members are working with Lutheran church companions and strategic allies, such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), to respond to the needs of unaccompanied and migrant children. Based in Baltimore, LIRS is one of the nation's leaders in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants, working on behalf of the ELCA.

Stephen Bouman, executive director for ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, considered a biblical passage from Mark where Jesus placed a child in the midst of his disciples, saying, "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," Bouman said. "I expect to see Jesus in Texas. In the way of Jesus, you cannot love people from afar. ... 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.”

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 provides food and clothing, education, spiritual and psychological care, and medical treatment to unaccompanied children, ages 12 to 17. The shelter also offers case management services and coordinates legal services to assist the child in reuniting with their family, obtaining asylum in the U.S. or returning to their home country. ELCA leaders will visit one of the agency's transitional foster care programs for unaccompanied minors that serves young children and those with special needs.

Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South, said: “We’ve been working with  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the ELCA and other partners, and we all know that together we are stronger.

“This is a justice and mercy issue. ... 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.”

Learn more at the ELCA website.

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.”

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