Balancing Acts: The Heart of Peacemaking

tom bEditor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

June 2019

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

(Matthew 25:35, NIV)

Immigration to the United States and elsewhere in the world has become a major issue. In particular, immigration from Central American countries including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to the US has increased significantly over the past several years. The reasons for this seem to be well understood. One recent newspaper article in the Arizona Central gives the reasons as  “extreme poverty, violence, and political instability,” adding, “The strong U.S. economy also is drawing migrants looking for jobs.” (https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2019/03/29/why-so-many-migrants-suddenly-arriving-u-s-mexico-border/3314514002/ )

UNICEF provides a more comprehensive list : “Crushing poverty. Environmental crises. Endemic crime. Gang-related violence, extortion and forced recruitment. High rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse of girls. Scarce social services. Limited opportunities to learn, or to earn a living. The desire of children to be with their parents, who are already working in the U.S.” (https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/why-migrants-flee-central-america/34545 )

It is not hard to see that the reasons people, often unaccompanied children, leave their home and risk an uncertain and potentially dangerous journey for an equally uncertain reception at the US border are compelling. In many ways the refugees have little or no choice: stay where they live and face crushing poverty or gang violence or seek asylum in the US, historically a welcoming and prosperous country.

In the scripture verse at the top of the article Jesus echoes a common Biblical theme, that of welcoming the stranger and caring for those in need. Leviticus 19:33 says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.” God’s love for the needy including strangers in the land is central to the Bible’s message; it is, in fact, the heart of peacemaking.

Peacemaking, as we all know, is not just about refraining from violence or war; it is about seeking and promoting well-being, providing for material and relational needs. To hear the case of the immigrant seeking refuge is to make peace. To meet the needs of the immigrant, at least while they are seeking refuge, is to make peace. To welcome the immigrant fleeing poverty and violence is to make peace. Jesus says that Christian peacemaking is to “invite in” the stranger.

Unfortunately, current policies of the US are largely the opposite of what Jesus expects. Immigrants are far from “invited in.” They are turned away, arrested, sent back to Mexico, separated from their families. Granted, the US is not a Christian organization, despite what some perhaps well-meaning Christians think. Nevertheless, Christian peacemakers should encourage the government to act in ways that are more compassionate and humane.

A couple of recent stories from the New York Times highlight the cruelty of US treatment of immigrants. First, the story of a 4 month old baby separated from his family for five months. The family is from the Romas, a persecuted Romanian minority. Baby Constantin was sent to a foster home in Michigan. His father was subjected to psychiatric evaluation and his mother hospitalized for hypertension as a result of the separation. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/16/us/baby-constantine-romania-migrants.html?searchResultPosition=1&module=inline )

A June 23 article titled “Trump’s ‘Concentration Camps’” lays out the problems with the forced separation of children from their families and overall immigrant care at detention facilities.

“At least seven children are known to have died in immigration custody since last year, after almost a decade in which no child reportedly died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

“an attorney for the Trump administration argued before an incredulous panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit that toothbrushes, soap and appropriate sleeping arrangements were not necessary for the government to meet its requirement to keep migrant children in “safe and sanitary”      conditions.”

“Not only do these children in question not have beds, they are not even turning off the lights so that they can go to sleep. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, plain and simple.”

These are just a few of the horrific stories outlined in the New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/23/opinion/trump-migrants-camps.html?em_pos=small&ref=headline&nl_art=4&te=1&nl=opinion-today&emc=edit_ty_20190624?campaign_id=39&instance_id=10434&segment_id=14593&user_id=d1a79bb4996781df1399952924c7aaa7&regi_id=60366932emc=edit_ty_20190624 )

A feature of this column is to provide practical peacemaking actions in the context of our Christian beliefs. So what can one peacemaker do in the context of current immigration problems? There are several things.

  • Be informed about the problem: what is its scope, what are the causes, what is or is not being done by the government, aid groups and Christian groups? This may not sound like much, but understanding the problem, even somewhat, is the starting place for any response.
  • Make others aware of the problem. Many of us simply do not know what is really going on and therefore do not know that something needs to be done. Awareness, our own and that of others, is key. Making others aware can be done informally with family, friends and neighbors, or in a more organized way through presentations, sermons, Sunday school classes, community forums, etc. To be effective we will need to understand the problems and possible actions (i.e. back to point one!).
  • Advocate with government officials and representatives, local and national, to bring about needed change. Usa.gov has information on how to contact both state and national officials (https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials/ ).
  • Take action through aid groups by joining a list of those advocating for action or donating to support work. For example, “Speak Out Now” or “Donate Today” through UNICEF at https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/emergencies/child-refugees-and-migrants or “Take Action!” at the Mennonite Central Committee website https://mcc.org/stories/immigration-update-26 .

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