I don’t think Jennifer Whitney, photographer for the New York Times, realized the profound nature of the image she took this photo this week, when she pressed down on her camera to capture the events unfolding in front of her.
At left, a tall, crew cut, man dressed in a head to toe forest green uniform, with a gun and baton strapped around his waist……stands in stark contrast to the small Honduran boy who stands at the center of the photograph.
The Border Patrol agent is writing on a clipboard..
the little boy, his eyes looking wistfully up at the man….are marked with hopeful anticipation. In his hands he holds a frothy bottle of ice water.
All captured in a single snapshot.
The boy, Alejandro, Age 8, was illegally trafficked into the US by Mexican Drug cartels, for close to 8,000 dollars. He told the border patrol agent that he came by himself in search of his parents in Texas or his Aunt in Maryland. He carried no addresses or phone numbers…..just a copy of his Birth Certificate in hand.
As Californians, we are well aware of immigration both legally and illegally.
For better or worse, it has been part of our story, as a state where people come from all over the world with a “strike it rich” mentality that harkens back to the Gold Rush…..
In 1983, the groundbreaking film El Norte, captured some of the harsh realities of immigrants in search of a new beginning. Mayan Indian peasant, brother and sister, teenagers, are caught in the thick of the Guatemalan Civil War, where they barely escape massacre as the Guatemalan army destroys their village and family…..they escape knowing that their only hope may be California…..the journey ahead of them is marked by abusive and shady Coyote’s who rob them and leave them for dead….in perhaps the most dramatic scene in the movie and the one that has been impressed in my head since I saw the movie in high school, is the siblings crawling through the sewer pipe laden with rats….
Some 30 years later…..not much has changed.
The public narrative until recently…..has focused primarily upon adults entry into the states….while recent reports about detention facilities filled at capacity has brought public attention back towards children caught in the middle of a messy system of despair, violence, poverty and hope.
Since October more than 52,000 minors have been apprehended at the border without their parents. These children are fleeing from the gang violence that plagues their countries…. primarily from central America – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala….not Mexico as we often are lead to believe….
In Nogales Arizona, a 120,000 square foot warehouse sits, where hundreds of children are housed “in holding pens….with barely room to walk, as mattresses line the concrete floor, which also has long bleachers bolted to it….” as they wait for processing.
“the logistical challenges of caring for children are clear.” Border Patrol agents once responsible for capturing and deportation are suddenly serving as babysitters….for countless children….awaiting reunification with family members, and if they are arriving from Mexico immediate deportation.
Anyone who has ever worked with children….knows the challenges of “entertaining” a dozen kids let alone a thousand of them….combine that with meeting their basic needs, of food, shelter, and safety and its not surprising this influx of unaccompanied minors has been labeled a humanitarian crisis
Robin Reineke, a classmate of mine and the founder and executive director of the Calibri Institute, a border agency committed to identifying the remains of those adults and children that haven’t made it to el norte and informing their next of kin, points out that while the hipe around children in detention facilities is immediate, pressing, and pulls on our heartstrings….the larger issues revealed in this influx is the role the US plays in foreign policy, and acknowledging the role we may be playing in the economic instability of these countries in the first place….leading to increased levels of violence within the country and the eventual push north.
And then there’s the challenge that many Christian’s face this Sunday….when they hear the Gospel message…., a continuation of last weeks Gospel, Jesus continues to offer the disciples direction and guidance as they embark on this new journey of discipleship. Last week we heard about the likely struggles and challenges that they will face, while this week we almost hear exclusively about the rewards of discipleship.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;
The rewards of righteousness, the prophet’s reward all for welcoming the outsider.
Welcoming….is not always easy work, even though we sometimes think it is….
We THINK it is easy…. because we do a good job welcoming our friends and family into our homes, into our lives…and building relationships with them….
When the reality about Welcoming…
is that it is often controversial, political, and challenging.
Welcoming often divides families, communities, neighborhoods, countries…..
Basic human impulse for self protection often kick in….making the act of welcoming an incredible vulnerable act….
Welcoming while not always easy, it is something that we can work at….
Welcoming is about finding that perfect balance….
balancing personal safety, common good, and radical hospitality all at the same time….
“While operating with a clear awareness of power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion.”
While in our human-ness we struggle with welcome…..
The truth remains that God does not….
God’s welcome is all encompassing, it reaches beyond anything we could possible imagine, it stretches beyond all borders…..
In the act of welcoming…..the transitive property plays itself out….
If we welcome the outsider, we welcome Christ, and if we welcome Christ we welcome God….
And yet in the midst of our own hopelessness and sometimes-even to the point of paralysis to the many in need of welcoming we often find ourselves wondering where are we to begin?
And that’s where the gospel continues
whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
A cup of cold water…..to someone in need,,,,a simple gesture….
A bottle of water….to a boy tired from a long journey…. a simple gesture….
And yet Jesus reminds us there is no such thing as a simple gesture…..
“anything done in faith and love has cosmic significance for the ones involved….and indeed for the world God loves so much.”
It is through that snapshot…..that single photo, that the depth and profundity of the Gospel is made clear……
Alejandro, is one of many children caught in the midst of a global system of violence and foreign policy, and yet he seeks something so basic. His big eyes staring at the Border Patrol Agent…..drinking the cold water…cold water that made him feel welcome….that gave him hope…..
Immigration is a huge…messy….big…..issue…..
Foreign Policy is a huge…messy….big…..issue…..
52,000 children misplaced is a huge…messy….big….issue….
it seems like there really is no good place to start…..
but maybe….just maybe…..….it is starting with that single cup of water.
That single bottle of water……and seeing where that simple yet life changing act leads us…….
Sermon preached for Proper8A:
 “Radical Welcome”