Church: Caught in the Middle of the Immigration Crisis

The southern Mexican/American border at San Antonio, TX

Preston Sprinkle recently interviewed John Garland and Dr. Rebecca Poe Hays on the subject of immigration in episode #95 of Theology in the Raw. John Garland pastors a church in San Antonio Texas where he is immersed in ongoing immigration issues. Dr. Poe Hays is Assistant Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University.

The San Antonio area is home to several immigration prisons. Being in San Antonio means the immigration crisis is a daily reality for Pastor Garland, and his church has embraced its position in the world. For that reason, the media often comes to him for stories they can publish on immigration.

When they interview him, he says, they usually are looking for a story that fits a particular narrative. Garland says that most people doing stories on immigration have already developed their narratives when they come to him for an interview. Thus, they are typically looking for a story that fits that narrative.

That characteristic of the media is true on both sides of the political fence. Because of the media focus on certain narratives, Garland estimates that only about 5% to 10% of what we read in the news on immigration describes an accurate picture of what is happening.

Most news stories on immigration are developed according to prefabricated narratives.

One story that the news media doesn’t tell is that it involves the Church. In Garland’s personal experience, the Church is on both sides of the immigration crisis, and the Church is caught in the middle.

When there is crisis, there is often confusion. Soldiers talk about the confusion in the “fog of war”. When we experience crisis in our personal lives, we often lack the clarity, need the clarity that comes from counseling from others who can provide us perspective.

That clarity often comes from people who “have been there” and have wrestled deeply with the struggles we experience. John Garland is someone who “has been there”.

We don’t see in most media reports that the majority of the people coming across the southern border are Christians. Garland speaks from personal experience when he says,

“[The immigrants] are our Christian brothers and sisters, and 85% of them over these last seven years are evangelical Christians…. They sing the same songs as we do.”

The people that Garland and his church serve at the border read Scripture with each other and pray together every night. They worship and serve God. They seek a better life for themselves and their families. They seek safety and freedom.

Garland says that the immigration crisis is very much a 21st century version of the exodus of freedom seekers to the New World.

“This is not a political story, really. That is happening on the news…. It’s a story of the pilgrim church and how we, as a church in America, are receiving the pilgrim church, a persecuted pilgrim church.”

Garland has experienced this reality on both sides of the border. He has spent time in Central America where he watched Christian leaders being driven out by violence and persecution.

In San Antonio, his church is receiving pastors, social workers and Christian community leaders escaping the dangerous and volatile environments they have left behind as a last resort. Garland says,

“This story doesn’t fit into any of the prescribed political narratives that you are generally going to get from the news.”

In the remainder of this blog piece, I will relate the narratives that Garland has categorized in his dealings with the media. He says they boil down to three categories that are reflected in the questions he is asked over and over again.

Continue reading “Church: Caught in the Middle of the Immigration Crisis”

Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches

Lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord ?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me….”



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Proverbs 30:7-9

I read this short passage in Proverbs in my early years as a follower of Christ. It might have been in college after I gave my life and my heart to the Lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ, or it might have been in the few years that followed. I remember praying these things to God earnestly, and I have remembered these words and my prayer ever since.

During my late 20’s and through my 30’s, I struggled through many difficult years with a young and growing family. I didn’t realize how much this prayer would mean for me. At the age of 28, married for 3 years and with 2 children, I was restless. We had no debt, but we lived hand to mouth. I felt God leading me (I believed) to law school, but I was also focused on what I needed to do to increase my income so that we were not one bad circumstance away from the poorhouse.

I believe God did lead me to go to law school, but I also let worry, and sometimes even fear,  creep in and sit at the threshold to my heart. Those three years of law school were very difficult. We had a third child at the end of my first year. The pressure of the work, of the necessity not to fail, of going into a hole financially, of an uncertain future and more was a very great burden. The pressures and the worry and fear overtook me.

I let those weeds grow up and choke the spiritual life in me. I didn’t maintain the discipline of regularly reading Scripture or daily prayer. My prayers were Hail Mary’s thrown up in the midst of the weariness and pressures of my life at that time. Even going to church was filled with tensions of herding three rambunctious boys into a car on Sunday mornings amid the whining, squabbling and desire simply to take a break. it became more of a duty that something I looked forward to.

Three more children, and new pressures and tensions as a new lawyer, struggling under the load of debt, and many, many activities threatened to snuff out the spiritual life in me. The worry, fear, busyness and lack of discipline on my part to take time out on a regular basis to sit before my God, listening for His voice, waiting on Him, being renewed by Him was a recipe for spiritual death.

In addition to praying the prayer of Proverbs 30:7-9, I prayed desperately to God before those days of tension, worry and fear not to let me slip ever from His hands. I didn’t pray that because I saw anything in my own heart that caused concern, but I had seen enough other people who seemed to have had it all spiritually together at one point walk (or slip) away into spiritual darkness.

It puzzled me then (in the joy of being a new Christian), and the inability to understand it at the time added to my concern that I might be no different than they. After all, everyone of us sins and falls short. There is nothing new under the sun. Though I had fully embraced Christ, and even left family and home and all that was familiar to me, to follow Him, Scripture gave me pause not to be so confident.

 As I look back, I see that I was right to pray those prayers. Not that I count any advantage to being right. Rather, I have learned that Scripture is full of wisdom to which we would well to pay attention. Above all, though, God is faithful! Continue reading “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches”

Following Jesus on Immigration

Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we are Caesar in a democracy in which we all participate through the right of freedom of speech.


“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law is transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point he has become guilty of all of it…. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-10, 12-13)

The immigration issues in the United States are much on everyone’s mind, if for no other reason than Donald Trump and the media are making a big to do about it. Most thinking and empathetic people, however, have watched with some angst as the treatment of families and children crossing the border has brought a moral crisis to our daily awareness.

What should we do with these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? How should we be treating them and handling the situation? As the videos, photos, stories and reports stream in day after day, we can’t help but notice what is going on and react to it.

How does a Christian respond to the immigration issues that face our country?

Continue reading “Following Jesus on Immigration”

Hearing the Voice of God for Today

Our focus should be on God, and our direction should be inspired by scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit to discern God’s heart, intention and direction for us in these modern times.


I recall a sermon preached back in the 1980’s in the church I attended at the time in New Hampshire. I don’t remember the scriptural passage or references, but I remember the gist of the message, and it has stuck with me ever since.

The gist goes something like this: As God’s people, we need to be informed and take our direction primarily from God and God’s will as revealed to us in the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are in the world, but we are not of the world, and we should be careful not to be influenced by the world in our thinking.

The key point that I remember, however, is that we can focus so much on trying not to be influenced by the world that we become reactionary to it. If the world goes right, we go left. If the world goes left, we go right. If all we are doing is being reactionary to the world, we lose our focus on God. In the process of trying not to be like the world, we allow ourselves to be defined by the world nevertheless.

If our direction is dictated by nothing more than going in the opposite direction of the world, we are no more directed by God than if we are going in exactly the same direction as the world. Either way, we are focusing on the world and allowing the world to influence our direction, rather than God.

Continue reading “Hearing the Voice of God for Today”

How Do We Measure Our Relationship With God?

depositphotos Image ID:40565079 Copyright: atholpady
depositphotos Image ID: 40565079 Copyright: atholpady

I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of Jesus a statement that we will be judged by the degree to which we have achieved justice for the wrongs that have been done to us. God is just. In fact, he is perfectly just, but He didn’t leave us any instruction to that effect.

We may think of God’s justice in the context of an eye for an eye.[A]  Where there is a wrong, perfect justice requires recompense. We don’t feel this any more keenly than when we have been wronged ourselves by others.

But there is a flip side to God’s justice. The flip side of God’s justice is God’s mercy, and God desires mercy more than God desires justice.[B] God desires to extend relationship to people rather than assign punishment. In fact, our own relationship to God can be measured by the extent of our relationship with others.

Continue reading “How Do We Measure Our Relationship With God?”