Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” Then he blessed the children and went away from there. Matthew 19:13-15
Cresting the hill, my ears heard the impish giggles of children and the scrape of plastic wheels over the ground. Three kids, I would guess around 5 or 6 years-old, were playing with a toy car that they had somehow acquired. One pulled from a tow rope tied to the front while another in back pushed it forward to the delight of the boy who I’m sure imagined a NASCAR race or a car chase in a movie.
Playtime with new friends is one of the only luxuries to be had in the refugee camp in Matamoros, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas. Over 2,000 people crowded into a few acres–600 to 800 of whom are children–live in tents while they cook and eat and live the rest of their lives outdoors while waiting for their asylum hearing, victims of violence and deep poverty in their home countries and of cruel, unjust policies in the new country they are seeking.
I thought about those kids on Friday, as I hiked in Carolina Beach State Park, enjoying outdoor time while practicing the “social distancing” called for by health officials. I get to enjoy the outdoors for a period of my own choosing, then return to my home, safe from anyone who may be contagious. They, on the other hand, are stuck outside, crowded into a camp of thousands, unable to keep a safe boundary between themselves and others. Meanwhile, if they practice social distancing, they are robbed of one of the few joys of life afforded to them.
“Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” And, I would add, to their weary mothers and fathers, bearing the children in their arms. “Each time we look upon the poor,” said Oscar Romero, “remember, there is the face of Christ.” This is the face of Christ I see: that laughing child, now deprived of the joys of friendship. And I pray that we find a way to welcome him.
A Prayer adapted from St Oscar Romero:
You became a man of your people and your time:
You lived as a Jew,
you worked as a laborer of Nazareth,
and since then you continue to become incarnate in everyone.
If many have distanced themselves from your church,
it is precisely because the church has somewhat
estranged itself from humanity.
But a church that can feel as its own all that is human
and wants to incarnate the pain,
the affliction of all who suffer and feel joy,
such a church will be you, loved and awaited:
such a church will be you, present.
Teach us to be such a church, Lord. Amen.
From the NC Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Immigration Alliance
To educate this week:
Send letters to your elected officials and your local press regarding the experiences and treatment of immigrant people.
To cultivate growth this week:
Host an event to empower your congregation and communities to show hospitality to immigrant people.
To advocate this week:
Advocate against efforts of authorities to intimidate the immigrant community.
Shawn Blackwelder is an elder in the North Carolina Conference and serves as the pastor at St. Pauls UMC at Carolina Beach.