At the Border: Church of God Contacts Frame Polarizing Place with Kingdom Perspective

 In All Church of God, Central, CHOG, Loving and Serving

By Carl Stagner

Twenty-twenty-three wasn’t just another year for Sherry Lamm, missions director for Central Community Church in Wichita, Kansas. Possessing personal experience working with refugees, and having long-followed the news at the border between the United States and Mexico, last year will go down in history for her as the year she got to see the setting and situation for herself. Given the polarizing nature of the headlines, the reality of the impact on people in both countries, and the opportunities for the body of Christ, her visit alongside another from the Wichita congregation of the Church of God proved timely and instructive.

Two travelers from Atlanta joined the Wichita duo down in Texas, all in partnership with Border Perspective. A “nice balance between learning and serving,” the experience allowed for a meeting with a representative from Border Patrol and site visits along the border. Facts about the long history of the border fence under presidents going back to the Franklin Roosevelt and Truman administrations, including cost of construction and miles and methods, laid the groundwork for understanding the challenges on the ground for authorities, residents, and immigrants. Through a partnership with three organizations—Catholic Charities, Team Brownsville, and Border Perspective, the volunteers moved beyond awareness to action.

“We were really impressed with the Catholic Charities facility in McAllen,” Sherry recalls. “They were serving about five hundred people each day. Upon being vetted and allowed into the United States under the asylee program, individuals and families would come to Catholic Charities, where they were able to take a shower, get new clothes, access OTC medicines and toiletries, receive a blanket and a place to sleep, and were provided food. It was very well organized and welcoming. We were asked not to talk to people about their experience, as many were still experiencing trauma. The majority of the people we saw were families and children.”

Clockwise from upper left: Sherry and team, historic border-area church, border bridge, border fence.

For Sherry, the trip was a notable highlight of the year; vivid memories live on in her mind, giving her much to consider about the crisis, further shaping her perspective on life and ministry, and opening her eyes even more to a very big world. She notes that the meeting with Border Patrol helped her see that “open borders” is not an accurate assessment of the situation, and it is “basically safe” on the United States side of the border. New technologies, like blimps, detect movement along the border and identify relationships when minors are involved. She notes that “the purpose of the fence is not so much to keep people out, but to channel them through legal entries.” That fact, she observes, “is for their protection, as well as [that of] border security.” She further observes that Border Patrol agents are prone to mental illness due to the pressure of the job. We can certainly be in prayer for these women and men!

When asked how the experience shaped her, Sherry had much to say.

“This experience made me more aware of the many components involved in the crisis at the border,” she explains. “It is obvious that there is a crisis, but what is important is how we will deal with it. We often have the perception that the United States takes in more than our share of refugees when, in fact, we are not even included in the top ten nations [for that statistic]. Those coming to the United States from Central and South America are not designated refugees, since the United Nations does not consider it a big-enough crisis. Therefore, the only way for them legally is through the asylum process, which must be done in the United States.”

Thinking more broadly about the application for the body of Christ, Sherry offers some additional thoughts.

“When you look at the push/pull factors,” she explains, “it is likely that people will continue to flee to the United States. So, as the church, how can we help? We are to ‘welcome the stranger,’ so how can we balance border security and compassion for those in need?”

Sherry says we can:

  • “Bring awareness of the situation to the church;
  • Help those who are arriving make the transition easier, such as English-language classes, cultural adjustment services, and friendships; and
  • Keep in mind that the children coming will soon transition and become as American as the rest of us.”

To learn more about the ministry of the Church of God around the world, visit www.chogglobal.org. For more information about Border Perspective, visit www.borderperspective.org.

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