Providing Aid to the Children on our Doorstep

In recent days, I’ve been contacted by numerous individuals and groups seeking information on how they can provide aid to the children coming across the border. So, I’ve been gathering sources in order to provide the best direction possible. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the situation, in conjunction with political and legal complexities, it is difficult for faith organizations and individuals to know how to respond in this situation.

As Marla Bearden, the Texas Baptists disaster recovery specialist related to me in our correspondence, “It is not HHS (limiting access to the children), it is Home Land Security from what I understand. It has to do with liability. We are hoping and praying that we will be able to help out with the children but we want to keep in mind what is best best for the children. This is why I am working to find ways we can assist even if we don’t get to work directly with the kids.”

One thing I want people to know, without reservation: people of faith care deeply about the welfare of the children crossing our borders. I’ve met them. I know them. And so do you.

Please, people of faith, let us not harden our hearts against one another, believing, erroneously, that our fellow brothers and sisters do not care about these children. Yes, there are political reservations about the process of immigration in our country, but this is a separate issue, at the moment at least, from the babes at our doorstep. With that said, here is what I’ve been able to find out about how we can help.

Every night, around 300-400 children arrive at the border in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). I’ve tried to find information about whether these children are crossing borders in New Mexico, Arizona, or California to little avail (if anyone has info on this, please let me know). Apart from the protestations against the busloads of immigrants arriving in Murrieta, California, it seems the bulk of children immigrants are coming from the RGV. Because of the massive influx of children, children are being transported to facilities across the country, including other areas in Texas, Arizona, California, and Oklahoma.

At the moment, it seems that Catholics, Baptists, and interfaith organizations are leading the way in this area. I’ll be following this more in upcoming days, but wanted to draw your attention to a few helpful resources if you wish to help:

http://texasbaptists.org/disaster/current-projects/children/

http://texasinterfaithcenter.org/article/how-you-can-help-humanitarian-crisis-border

If neither of these suit you, simply google “churches in McAllen, Texas” and most have links on the front page of their websites indicating how you can help.

Border Wars: One Border Agent on the Truth About the Texas Border

Yesterday, the Obama administration amended their estimates of how many children are expect to be apprehended on our southwest border this year from 60,000 to 90,000. Last week, I wrote a post on the crisis on our borders for Her.Meneutics in which I urged readers to consider how we can provide assistance to the children crossing into the U.S. I still strongly believe these children need to be received with warmth and dignity, and we need to creatively discover how we can participate in providing aid to these children.

However, I want to address a point of criticism the article garnered, namely, the use of an anonymous source and what that source claimed about the types of people that are crossing our border. The critics claimed, first, that the use of anonymous sources is professionally negligent and ill-advised. And sometimes, anonymous sources are fabricated to advocate a certain viewpoint (such as Janet Cooke’s Jimmy) or provide an “inside scoop” from dubious “anonymous sources” close to some celebrity or other. But sometimes, sources must remain anonymous to protect their livelihood and the people close to them. Like Watergate’s Deep Throat, the pressure to remain silent or tow the party line is so strong that anonymity is the only means of protection. As the Society of Professional Journalist Ethics Committee notes, “Anonymous sources are sometimes the only key to unlocking that big story, throwing back the curtain on corruption, fulfilling the journalistic missions of watchdog on the government and informant to the citizens.”

This brings me to my second point, which is that information about what is really happening on our borders is being suppressed. What other explanation would suffice in the face of numerous reports of gag orders for border agents, border union officials, and medical personnel, when one U.S. congressman is denied entrance from a child immigrant facility in his own state, when a policy termed ‘Interim Protocol for Visitation and Tours,’ prohibit policymakers from carrying cell phones or interacting with immigrants or staff while touring detention facilities?

Since the purpose of my Her.meneutics post was to draw attention to these children and the need to provide aid, I was not able to include my full interview with the border agent. However, I believe that his perspective is important, and one that deserves a full hearing. Over his years of service, my source has spoken with news media outlets around the world, but given the “extremely political” nature of the topic at this time, he has elected to remain anonymous.

Describe your role and responsibilities on the border.

I was stationed in Rio Grande Valley area for a few years beginning in ’08 and my job was to patrol the Rio Grande Valley area in our helicopters and airplanes.  Our primary responsibilities back then were to assist the local city and county agencies with whatever we could or provide other assets to these agencies that they did not have available.  When not assisting the local agencies, we flew the Rio Grande River looking for any type of contraband crossing into the US illegally. Examples of the contraband we searched for included narcotics, weapons, terrorists, illegal aliens and cartel personnel involved in human trafficking and human smuggling.  Most of our efforts focused on assisting the US Border Patrol ground agents with border activity such as the items listed above.

My perspective on what is happening on the border?

Honestly, the border is so out of control I don’t know that there is anything we can really do about it at this point.  When I was stationed there back in 2009, we could fly over the river and “deter” or “push back” any illegal activity.  Granted, as soon as we were clear of the area, the cartel would try again and probably be successful.  Now, with the new immigration policy of writing “promise to appears” to undocumented aliens, they are basically given a two year amnesty somewhere in the US and promise to show up or “check in” with the local immigration office at wherever they end up.  At the drastically increasing rate people are coming into the US illegally and how much of a toll its taking on the federal budget, I’m not sure how the infrastructure of the US can stand much more.

What do you think the media gets wrong about what’s happening on the border?

I don’t think the media is getting things “wrong”, the information is not being delivered to the people.  You hear about border issues every now and then through a quick blurb or through a reality series like Texas Drug Wars or Border Wars.  The border has always been an “issue” so people don’t put much thought into it.  I am positive that MOST people in the US are unaware of how bad the border issue really is.  The media portrays people crossing the border as “Mexican nationals wanting a better life for themselves and their family”.  I agree, there is a lot of those people coming over, but mixed in with those people are drug cartels, terrorists from Islamic countries, weapon smugglers, human smugglers and human traffickers.  People that want to infiltrate and destroy this country know that if they want to get inside our borders, they just need to get to Mexico and then walk across.  It’s bad…

What people need to know about illegal immigration?

I answered some of this in the previous question but as far as being able to secure the border.  I don’t want to sound like a heartless person but there are countries around the world that do not have border issues.  There is a reason they don’t have border issues.  They handle their border situation to where people are afraid to enter.

What is your perspective on the kids flooding the border?

I do sympathize with the kids coming over to the border.  They are sent over by their parents, sometimes under false pretenses.  The kids are interviews after we find them and they are told things about the US that isn’t necessarily true.  I know people want to help all children as far and housing, finding caretakers, employment, etc. but the US infrastructure and economy just can’t handle it anymore.  If we continue at this rate, like I said earlier, the US infrastructure will collapse.  This country is already in a financial crisis and spending billions more just on the illegal children coming over, will surely ruin our credit and eventually our status as world power.

I hope these answers help you.  This is obviously a topic I am somewhat passionate about since I was down there and saw first-hand what was going on.  It’s a lot worse than people know and I honestly don’t seen an end in sight.  The money we are pouring into border security is, in my opinion, is a waste.  I hate to say that but I feel we are just spinning our wheels down there.  This country has gone “soft” and this is the result.

I could sit down and talk about border issues and tell stories all day probably. When people do sit down and ask me questions, their eyes are so big by the time I’m done I can’t believe it.  I’m glad your doing your part to inform people. I’m definately not against immigration, we just have to find a faster way to make it legal for them so they can start contributing to our “system”.  This country has it’s work cut out for them.

A Beautiful Disaster: Weak and Wise Athletes

Beautiful-1Today, I’m pleased to share with you the lovely work of a dear friend of mine, Marlena Graves, one of the wisest, gentlest people I know. In her book, A Beautiful Disaster, Marlena reflects on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus amid the beauty, wonder, and tragedy of this God-haunted world. She desires to offer a taste of the beauty and goodness and the hospitality of God through what she writes and how she lives. She also thinks about this: if Jesus reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day, challenging their attitudes, in what way is Jesus challenging her and others within the Church? Here’s an excerpt:

Adapted from A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves, Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2014. Used by permission. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

God is continually calling me, and every one of us, to take up the cross of obedience. In God’s hands, crosses that are considered instruments of death become instruments of life-giving grace and conduits of shalom. Of course, few of us look forward to taking up our crosses daily and dying a thousand deaths to self in the span of a lifetime. Need we be reminded again that such dying is the Jesus way? The wisdom of God teaches us that we must die these deaths so that we might live.

Every time we refuse to die to the godless self, the life of God in us weakens. The process of dying to ourselves takes a lot out of us. We vacillate between following through in obedience to God by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and hanging on to familiar death. We panic, and then we rationalize our decision to cling to the unredeemed parts of ourselves. Sometimes we hesitate and decide we want to keep the godless parts of us alive after all. We don’t like to die even when it’s good for us.

We cling to the unredeemed parts of ourselves out of fear and because doing so is what we know. We don’t have enough of a God-bathed imagination to imagine anything else. We are scared of the uncertainty involved in surrendering ourselves to God. But as we learn to become completely dependent on God, who has always shown himself to be trustworthy, we learn to stop fighting the demise of godlessness in us, like a restless child who finally stops fighting sleep. As we confess our sins and waywardness and put to death the deeds of the flesh, trusted others function as pallbearers at our “death of self” funeral. Together with us, our friendly pallbearers bid adieu to the old, rebellious us. With us, they bid good riddance to what unleashes destruction in the world. We don’t shed any tears.

Because we are at our weakest in the desert, the desert experience almost forces us to practice becoming utterly dependent on God, as we should always be. When we are submissive to him in our dying to self, we can be submissive to him in the ways and means of resurrection life. Yet, we must keep in mind that each death and resurrection is unique. Just when we think we’ve got dying to self down pat, we must relearn mortification. Dying is never easy. Still, after much practice, dying to self becomes easier than it was initially. Maybe it’s because we finally come to terms with the reality that we have to die in order to live. There’s no way around it. John Chryssavgis writes, “The more involved our exposure to the way of the cross, the more intense our experience of the light of resurrection.”

Headshot for Beautiful DisasterBio: Marlena Graves is a bylined contributor for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics and Gifted for Leadership blogs. She has contributed to Christianity Today, Relevant, the Conversations Journal, Rachel Held Evans’s blog, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, and other venues. She is also a member of Ink: A Creative Collective and Redbud. She is married to her favorite person in existence, Shawn Graves. He’s a philosophy professor. Together they have two girls with another on the way. She’s on staff at her church offering and coordinating pastoral care for their beloved seniors. You can find her blog athttp://marlenagraves.com and her Twitter handle is @MarlenaGraves. She welcomes conversation with you in the name of Jesus. 

When Porn is Female

Earlier this week at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit, author and professor Heath Lambert delivered an address on the gospel and human sexuality in which he urged churches to proactively confront the issue of pornography. I’ve been married to a therapist who works with men with sexual addiction for 13 years, a man passionately committed to helping men find freedom from pornography, so I fully appreciate and agree with Lambert’s call for more attention to be drawn to this area. However, Lambert’s speech was punctuated with references to “the forbidden woman of pornography”, a hyperbolic literary personification of porn as female that is deeply problematic.

When porn is female, we obfuscate the real nature of pornography addiction, excluding a wide swath of porn abusers, discounting their experience. Women, who are more likely to act out pornographic behavior than men, constitute 28% of porn users with 9.4 million women visiting porn sites each month. Seventeen percent of women say they are “addicted”. Some estimates state that gay pornography makes up 5%-15% of all porn and several studies reveal that half of gay men use pornography for masturbation or as a prelude to sex. Child pornography is a $3 billion annual industry and over 100,000 websites offer illegal child pornography.

When porn is female, women are held responsible for the sexual failings of men. We shift the locus of blame for sexual immorality from the inner spiritual condition of a man to the outer, physical body of a woman. We turn 1 Corinthians 6:18 on its head: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But wait, no one believes that. No one really blames women for men’s sexual problems. And yet, they do. I was raped by a pastor who said that the problem was me, not him. He didn’t feel so bad about his actions because “sex sin” is outside him, coming from woman. Au contraire. Sexual sin is concerned with and deeply affects our own bodies in ways that other sins—such as gluttony, drunkenness—do not.

When porn is female, we perpetuate a culture in which women are objects and therefore, commodities. The objectification of women has led to a burgeoning sex trafficking industry in which women are abused and exploited. The objectification of women impairs men’s ability to overcome sexual addiction. Once the habit of female objectification is imprinted on the mind, it is difficult to change.

Some might object by saying that Lambert was simply appropriating a metaphorical personification from Proverbs 9, in which Dame Folly is described as a seductress, but if so, that would be sloppy hermeneutical practice. First, the “Dame” is “Dame Folly”, set in the larger context of folly in general, not just folly in sexual matters. Second, the author of Proverbs uses female metaphorical personification in both a positive (Wisdom) and negative (Folly) sense, while Lambert exclusively uses the negative.

Words are the incarnation of our ideas and beliefs, and those ideas have consequences. What we say and how we say it matters because words are the vehicle through which we come to understand ourselves, our world, and the nature of reality. Words, the task of naming, was our first responsibility as human beings. Let us steward them well.

Breaking Down the Barriers in Taipei, Taiwan

1392072_10152314631134189_1171936017_nSpreading the gospel isn’t easy in Taipei, Taiwan. Though citizens do have religious freedom, becoming a Christian often means sacrificing your cultural identity and alienating your family. Lifting Hands Network exists to equip believers in sharing the gospel to people they love. Recently, I spoke with Jane Hsu, the executive chairman for Lifting Hands Network about her ministry.

At what point in your life did you realize you were a leader?

When you have a vision, a passionate, burning desire and you try to share it, most people’s response is, “You are crazy. That’s impossible.” Twenty years ago I had a vision and the impossible came true.

In Taiwan, children usually aren’t named either by their parents or grandparents but by fortune-tellers, because their parents believe that a good name will bring children a prosperous life. When an infant doesn’t sleep well, his mother likely will take the baby to a medium or a palm-reading psychic for a special treatment, but not to a pediatrician since most Taiwanese are either Buddhists or Taoists. More than that, many parents give their children to gods as foster sons or daughters. They do not know that “…anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deut. 18: 12a).

This situation made me feel sad. So I prayed for the children in Taiwan. In my prayers I began to receive a vision from the Lord. I could clearly see more than 1,500 children singing, laughing and being healed in a large building.

And later, you saw an opportunity to do this through a Christmas program held at the National Theater in Taipei and broadcast on YoYo TV…

Christmas is the best time for sharing the Gospel; even the most traditional families allow their children to go to church for Christmas. I envisioned the name “A Magical Christmas,” for the program. Live children’s Christmas programs need to be strong in concept and design. In prayer, I asked God to reveal to me just who would be the ideal person to be the program producer. Vickie Pettis, the lead teacher of the most popular English TV teaching program, come to mind. Vickie agreed and [her team] were eager to join the program even though it would require to working overtime.

On December 22, about 3,000 children entered the theater. It was so crowded that even the aisles were full and more than 600 children were left outside. One pastor held my hand and asked if he was dreaming, since he had never seen so many children who wanted to attend an evangelistic program.

At the end of the program, 95 percent of the children raised their hands to respond to the invitation of salvation. That night my home phone rang all night long. YoYo TV broadcast “A Magical Christmas” on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Many thank-you letters and phone calls came to ORTV and YoYo TV after the program aired. People thanked us for presenting the real meaning of Christmas and they wanted to know more about Jesus.

I still remember an 80-year-old grandmother told me she accepted the salvation too. She said that she did not know God is so good; she did not know she needed not to go to the hell because Jesus dies for her sin. All her life she never experienced unconditional love, and she was so happy to be God’s daughter…

What is the ministry of Lifting Hands? What would you like people to know?

To reach the lost in places that prohibit proclaiming the gospel in an open, public manner, such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In Taiwan, Christian’s population, including Catholic, is less than 10%. People need Jesus. We teach Christians how to lead atheists, Buddhists or Taoists to Christ in China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. We reach non-Christians through workshops about emotion management and dating. We plan to open grief counseling courses to help [Christians] reach out to non-Christians.

[We also aim] to Equip the Body of Christ. Christians are poorly equipped and need better resources. Many Christians are neither people of influence nor joy, and their hearts are full of doubts. They are spiritually hurt from incorrect interpretation of the Bible and oppression from dysfunctional pastors. Wrong teachings, deviations, and heresies are not unusual. So we help Christian workers become more professional by providing lectures that help them enjoy working and excel in the workplace. We provide character development courses for pastors, missionaries, and their wives. We publish better materials and hold conferences in North/Middle/South of Taiwan, inviting the authors to teach intensive courses.

What are the biggest challenges for you as a leader?

Most Christians are attracted to Charismatic Movement since they want their life problems to be solved immediately. People want success and miracles, but that’s [not in God’s Word]. Our sponsor structure is weak because Lifting Hands Network is not underwritten or sponsored by a large organization or any denomination. I have to lean on God to supply all our needs every day. Also, the publishing industry decline seriously due to the internet.

What has been your biggest blessing?

Many pastors/preachers tell us that [our ministry provides] what Taiwan needs and they feel immensely grateful that we publish these books and hold the conference. Pastors and their spouses have told us that not only is their relationship with elders/deacons [improving], their church grew, and their family relationship also improved.