Bishop Minerva Carcaño, California-Pacific Annual Conference, shares letters of encouragement with Regino Enrique at the immigrant welcome center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. Photo: Mike DuBose/UMNS.
By Susan Kim*
February 24, 2015—In the past few months, more than 6,000 migrant children have come into the Los Angeles area. Churches in the California-Pacific Conference (Cal-Pac) are drawing together to help them—and thousands of others across the state—through the “You Are Not Alone” Migrant Children's Program.
At a Feb. 21 gathering, representatives from many churches met at the Claremont United Methodist Church in California, where they talked about how to become involved in a new network being developed through “You Are Not Alone.”
The program, supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) along with many church volunteers and pastors, is a new effort through which churches will serve as welcome centers for child migrants; operate healing camps and retreat programs; and become involved in other border ministries. Churches have also been assembling UMCOR health kits and school kits for the children.
A key message at Sunday's gathering was that, without help, these children face a human disaster, said Judy Lewis, Cal-Pac disaster response coordinator.
"We have had to redefine this as a human issue rather than a political issue. It is a disaster for the children and their parents,” she said. “I would like to thank the whole church for what we are able to do because this is certainly connectionally understood."
Why Are Churches Uniquely Positioned to Help?
Churches are an ideal vehicle through which to offer migrant children compassionate help, pointed out David Farley, Cal-Pac director of Justice and Compassion Ministries. “There is a certain amount of distrust and fear from the families that are receiving the children,” said Farley. “Our congregations are really located throughout the different communities and have relationships already in place. We have very good, established partnerships with the organizations that are providing legal and counseling services as well.”
Members of the Rialto United Methodist Church assemble School Kits for migrant children. Photo: Lynda Schofield
There is no question that these children have experienced trauma, whether it is “the horrific journey or the broken, stressed-out family situations they are leaving or entering,” added Farley. “When they are released into custody of the sponsoring family member by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they are not given anything as far as resources or support. They are let go and then it's up to them to connect, to show up for whatever legal hearings.”
The “You Are Not Alone” program can help churches can make a connection with these children in a gentle, compassionate and knowledgeable way, he said.
“I think that part of why we are trying to engage through the congregations is to make the human connection, to see the human face of the families and the children, to encounter their real lives and understand their stories, to move it beyond some political thing.”
Your support for UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, helps UMCOR respond with compassion and knowledge to human-caused and natural disasters.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.