Here’s a question asked for a former Christian missionary who lived in Nicaragua for many years (he’s still a Christian, just apparently no longer a missionary): Why are so many Christians willing to travel to countries like El Salvador and Honduras for short periods of time to help poor children but are unwilling to let them come to the United States to be helped here?
Why do we want to go on mission trips to Honduras or El Salvador and help those poor children but we don’t want to let those same children fleeing for their lives come into our country?
Here’s my answer: letting them come in, live near us, become citizens, and share in our resources requires more than a narrow, circumscribed version of acting good. We feel great about ourselves when we send out Samaritan’s Purse boxes. We helped feed hungry kids! But what happens when the hungry kids come to us? What happens when they have no way to support themselves but their parents have chosen to flee here so that they don’t starve or get murdered? A box isn’t going to do it.
Tell me this: Why does that choice they’ve made to come offend us? Because we’re all so committed to following every law? Seeking asylum is legal in our country. We have a history of desperate people escaping to our country. My ancestors did. Did yours?
I’m a Jesus follower. I have no argument for someone who believes that we should not share our resources with children who would otherwise be raped or burned alive in their homes, because “Why should our tax dollars have to go to them?” When I say “I have no argument” I mean we have no values in common from which I can argue. I can argue basic humanity and minimum requirements of mercy, but so far those have fallen on deaf ears. If the 10 cents or two dollars that would come out of your taxes are more important to you than a starving child’s life, and you truly believe this child deserves to sleep on a cement floor in worse conditions that we keep our convicted felons because “her parents broke the law,” then I have no hope of convincing you. We understand the world and our responsibilities in it differently.Assuming you suffer when you see children suffer, I’m trying to speak to you as plainly as I know how: living next to children suffering all the time forces you to find a way to cope. You have to. I went home and ate dinner and fed my children dinner, and I knew some children close by were going hungry.
Very interesting question, and answer. Let me add one more to it: because much of the focus on missionary work is not so much about helping people in a material, substantive way but rather is about converting them and witnessing to them. This is obviously not true of all missionaries or all Christians. Many progressive Christians welcome immigrants fleeing poverty, violence and persecution to come here. They go into the desert and leave food and water for them, fund medical care and legal representation for them, and even provide sanctuary for them in their churches to keep them from being arrested (most of the people on trial for helping immigrants by leaving supplies for them in the desert are from Christian organizations). They should be applauded for that. But for those who support mission work in such countries, or do it themselves, but also support efforts to prevent those same people from escaping to America, this is a question they should be asking themselves.
But this gentleman is right when he says that if someone thinks that way, we have no shared moral framework from which to even have an argument over it. Our differences are not about policy, they are about our most basic values. And I have far more in common morally with the man who wrote this article — his name is Mike Rumley-Wells, by the way — than I do with the people he is addressing, or with that small subset of atheists who support anti-immigration efforts as well. And I don’t know where to even begin to address those differences. We do not have the same values, don’t even speak the same moral language. And that is a tremendous problem for society.