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The 'Stranger' Among Us: Church Tackles Immigration

Randy Mancini 8 October 21, 2014

U.S.-MEXICAN BORDER -- Seventy percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants threaten the country's culture and economy. That can put the Church in a position of drawing the line on compassion.    

The subject of immigration and the Church goes back to Bible times.

Scriptures talk about showing compassion to the "stranger" in your land, but what if that stranger breaks the law to get there?

Churches regularly face that question as thousands illegally cross the border, including women and children.

A Better Life

That includes 18-year-old Jose Maldonado, who's waiting to see if the courts will allow him to stay in the U.S.

"Some of them say we just come here to take their jobs and behave badly," Maldonado said. "I like this country a lot and you can have a better life. That's why I came here: to have a better life and to help my family."

Last year, Maldonado traveled from Honduras, up through Mexico, across the Chihuahua Desert and into Texas.

The three-month journey almost cost him his life.

Out of his group of 25, only three people made it through brutal desert conditions to reach America.  

Maldonado had very little food or water and knew he couldn't survive on his own strength. That's when he said he cried out to God in the desert --  literally.

"I always read the Bible and prayed, and I promised God since I left Honduras that if I made it to the U.S, well, I would dedicate myself to the things of the Lord," he said.

Maldonado said his grandparents raised him from a young age after his parents abandoned him.

They passed away when he a was teenager, leaving him on his own. He said often the only place to turn is the gang life.

"I lived in San Pedro Sula for a while and there are a lot of gangs there," Maldonado said. "I really like soccer and there was a group that rooted for the team I liked. And the group that rooted for them said I had to join their gang or else they would kill one of my family members."

'Common Sense' Compassion

Father Cameron Lemons and his wife Jenelle see first-hand what happens to young people like Maldonado.  

Their church, Saint Paul's City Church, is located next to the Border Patrol center in Murrieta, California.

They believe it is their responsibility to help.

"I think it's important for us to differentiate between the political issue of what do we do to secure our borders," Father Lemons said. "We also have a biblical call to show compassion."

Back in July, Murrieta made immigration headlines when protesters filled the streets as buses transported detained immigrants to Border Patrol. Most of them were women and children.

The protests in Murrieta have really shown the great divide over immigration. But the churches have also seen a divide and it's over one word: compassion.

The Lemons, at the heart of the protest, provided shelter to detainees and helped organize churches in the area to pray.

"We have been responding, not to pat ourselves on the back, not to promote ourselves, but to let people know the truth which is the fact that we're a city which has some common sense and when you see a baby floating down the river, you pull it out of the river and you take care of it," Father Lemons said.

The 'Wrong Side' of Compassion

Diana Sarafin helped organize the protests and says people like the Lemons fall on the wrong side of compassion.

She says the government should send all illegal immigrants back home, and one reason for that is because she believes they're a potential health risk.

"I'm concerned some of the churches or people will start taking them in," Sarafin said. "Our government should have before they shipped them, bused them, threw them on a plane, given them medical treatment. There's too many with diseases."

Sarafin also said if churches want to show compassion they should start with their own country.

"Okay, we're $17 trillion in debt -- I'm barely surviving myself -- and we're going to pay them to stay here and take care of them, food and welfare," she said. "Our nation can't afford it."

So where does 'compassion' leave immigrants like Maldonado as he waits for his upcoming court date?

The Church may not have a clear cut answer.

Jose told CBN News, "I think God has something for me because I put myself in His hands." 

And maybe putting it in "God's hands"  is one thing the Church can agree on.