JUAREZ, Mexico (BP) — The man was afraid that if he refused one more time, it might be his last.
Or even worse — it might seal his teenage daughter’s fate.
“In Guatemala, it’s next to impossible to run a small business, because once you start doing well and making money, the gangs will come in and start demanding money,” said Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Washington, D.C., recounting the man’s story. “If you refuse enough, they’ll murder you. He not only feared for his safety, he was fearful for his teenage daughter, because the gangs were beginning to prey on her and he was afraid she’d be trafficked.”
So he fled with her to Mexico and ended up in the shelter where Sobolik met him. For two days last week — Sept. 3-4 — she and a team of other evangelical women including fellow ERLC staffer Elizabeth Graham, authors Ann Voskamp and Shannan Martin and podcast host Jamie Ivey spent time meeting the families who are trying to figure out their lives at the U.S.-Mexico border. They were invited down by an online community of women — known as Welcome. — committed to creating a culture of Christ-like welcome that transcends views on immigration policy or politics.
Over the two-day trip, the group visited with churches doing refugee and asylum ministries on both sides of the border, as well as talking with border patrol agents and visiting a shelter.
“I think each one of us walked away with someone’s story imprinted on our hearts,” Sobolik said. “At meals, we gathered around the table and gathered around the stories.”
For Sobolik, those stories are both personally and vocationally transformative. In her work with ERLC, she handles a policy portfolio and advocates for issues including immigration.
“I had an interest in going on the trip from that aspect,” she said. “I’m such a firm believer that you can’t fix problems you don’t understand, and you can’t understand from a distance. Something so powerful about going to see something for yourself and learn something for yourself.”
ERLC is “committed to just and compassionate solutions,” she said.
That’s an idea ERLC President Russell Moore recently underscored in a video on his YouTube channel. After spending some time talking about the biblical nature of borders, he dealt with how to handle the moral issue of caring for people.
“Christians can disagree on what the specifics ought to look like in terms of what the policies ought to be,” he said. “What we can’t disagree about are immigrants themselves.”
Throughout Scripture there’s language about caring for the strangers and sojourners, he said.
“The church ought to be the place that recognizes that yes, we’re part of a country, and that country ought to have coherent borders and coherent policies,” he said. “We’re also part of a church that is global, multinational and we have brothers and sisters in Christ in immigrant communities.”
Graham, who serves as ERLC’s director of events, tweeted back in June that “every human being deserves basic human care.”
Sobolik said going and seeing the situation firsthand “will better equip me to work on and advocate for those just and compassionate policies. It will further deepen and color the work I’ve already been doing.”
It was a quick trip, but it’s something Sobolik says she’ll be thinking about for a long time and she knows others will, too.
Another group of about 20 women who are part of the Welcome online community arrived as Sobolik’s group was wrapping up. They traveled down on their own dime to learn how to better help the vulnerable there, she said.
Sobolik said it’s life changing to “look someone in the face and be reminded that God created them and God knows their name and their story.”
“The world might not know their name, but the Lord does,” she said. “I was reminded of how important it is to infuse human dignity into these conversations. How we view one another and how we think of one another is so imperative.”
In a measure on immigration at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, messengers again requested reform — as they had in 2011 — that secures the borders and provides a pathway to legal status “with appropriate restitutionary measures.” The resolution also calls for “maintaining the priority of family unity.”
For more information about Welcome, visit welcomingimmigrants.org or check out their Facebook group.