Texas Methodists Help the Vulnerable

Date Posted: 7/24/2014

United Methodists are once again stepping forward to be in prayer and ministry to those in need, particularly the children coming over the Texas border in record numbers. Five Texas Bishops, numerous United Methodist congregations, and dozens of organizations are collaborating to bring aid to the little and "least of these."
The cards bear encouraging messages in youthful scrawl: “Don’t be afraid. You can do anything with God.” “We are praying for you.” Rev. Mireya Ottaviano and over 200 others were touched by the children of St. Luke’s UMC Gethsemane campus who shared from their hearts at the five-hour prayer vigil held there to intercede for the little ones at the Texas border. “We had a number of speakers leading us in prayer about how we can best witness God’s love in this situation, and in all of Texas,” she adds. “It was a night to commit to God that we are available to do whatever we can for the children in our community and beyond.”
On July 21, St. Paul’s UMC also held the first of two prayer vigils planned to keep this matter in God’s perspective. The next one is set for August 11.
Uniting in Support
Last week, five Texas bishops issued a pastoral letter to Texas Methodists to provide scriptural texts and thoughts that churches can incorporate into their sermons, Bible study groups, newsletters and worship liturgy. “We also hope that local church mission committees will find this information and perspective helpful in planning a faithful response to the needs of these children at our doorstep,” adds Bishop Janice Riggle Huie.
Rev. Diane McGehee, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence of the Texas Annual Conference understands that immigration issues can be a divisive topic even within the church.  However, she hopes that Texas Methodists will remain focused on John Wesley’s words – to “do all the good you can.”
Diane shares, “Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation around this humanitarian crisis. In addition to remembering first and foremost that, as Christians, we are called to share God’s love with all people, especially the children of the world, there are some facts that might be helpful to remember as we prepare to respond:

  • In 2013, Health and Human Services (HHS ) reported that approximately 93% of unaccompanied children coming into the U.S. were from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they have experienced severe economic deprivation and gang and other violence.
  • These children are protected under U.S. law and some of them may also have protected status under international law. Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress transferred the care and custody of unaccompanied minor immigrants from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to HHS. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 requires that these children be given an opportunity to consult with an advocate and appear at an immigration hearing, and recommends access to counsel. It also requires that these children be turned over to Health and Human Services for care under the directive that they be placed “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and to explore reuniting those children with family members.
  • Unaccompanied minors have been crossing the border and being assessed by HHS for years.  It is the recent spike in the numbers crossing and needing care that has created the current crisis in providing adequate care.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a part of HHS, oversees the assessment, processing, and care of these children. ORR has seen its caseload jump sharply in recent years, rising from an average of between 7,000 and 8,000 unaccompanied children from 2005 through 2011 to 24,668 last year, according to figures provided by HHS. This year, officials estimate that the office will receive at least 60,000 referrals.
  • These children are required to be detained, pending assessment, processing, and either deportation or placement with family or relatives in the U.S. It is also possible that some will be placed temporarily with licensed foster care families in the months ahead. Detainment pending placement or deportation means that they will be placed in secure residential facilities that provide the full range of services required by law (case management, nutritional, medical and dental, educational, recreational, counseling, religious and similar services necessary for the well-being of at risk children).  They will not be out roaming the streets of the communities in which they are being transferred.  It does mean that these children need extra care due to the trauma they have already experienced, as well as the ongoing trauma resulting from the requirement to remain confined in controlled facilities, pending appropriate placement or deportation. 
  • Many of these children have a legitimate fear of what could happen to them if they are sent back to their home countries. A recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit group, showed that 40 percent of these unaccompanied children potentially qualify for statuses that exempt them from deportation. Among the most likely possibilities: asylum, because they fear persecution in their home country, or a special immigrant juvenile status for children abused or abandoned by a parent. Regardless of their potential status, all of these children are God’s children and they are in need of care.
  • In addition, contrary to misinformation being circulated about these children, vaccination rates of children in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria are higher than rates for children living in the U.S.  Also, WHO (the World Health Organization) reports that Central Americans are vaccinated against TB at a rate of 90%.”
The Texas Annual Conference and the Center for Missional Excellence are working in coordination with the Rio Texas Conference of the UMC to respond to needs on the border. Rio Texas Conference Bishop James E. Dorff has appointed Rev. Javier Leyva, as the Response Coordinator for Rio Texas Conference for the border. Rev. Leyva will work under the auspices of the McAllen and Southern Districts in partnership with UMCOR.   He will be developing a United Methodist response team while establishing effective relationships with ecumenical ministry partners along the border.   His office will be the primary connecting point between the needs of persons in the area and the resources of the UMC.  Donations are already coming in and providing relief. TAC Disaster Response Coordinator DeWitt Cox recently made a delivery of needed items to Laredo, to aid in this humanitarian effort.  Thank you to all who contributed!  The Center for Missional Excellence has also formed a task force to work on opportunities to respond right here in our own conference to care for children being placed here.  We will be offering those opportunities as they become available.
Want to Help?
Rev. Diane McGehee reminds all that, particularly in crisis, prayer is essential  to: keep ourselves rooted in the love of God, rather than fear; care for those in need;  and discern how God would have us respond  – and it’s something everyone can do as an immediate and ongoing response. “We are mobilizing United Methodists near and far to care for these young ones, but we also want to encourage everyone to pray, and host prayer vigils such as the ones already held at St. Luke’s/Gethsemane and St. Paul’s UMC in Houston.  We will be posting dates and times of prayer vigils on the TAC website so let us know if your church will be holding one or participating with others in one.    Praying together for these children is one of the most important things we can do at this moment.” What might such a prayer vigil look like?  Dr. Matt Russell of St. Paul’s UMC offers this suggestion:
In addition to holding a prayer meeting, Diane encourages local congregations and members to:
  • Make financial donations to UMCOR Advance # 901670 and mark it specifically “Border Response”  
  • Let the Center for Missional Excellence know if you have any volunteers with the following skills who would be willing to help if that help is requested:
    • Bilingual translators/interpreters who are fluent in both Spanish and English;
    • Licensed foster care families who would be willing to provide temporary homes to children if requested, undergo licensing training for foster care, or families willing to house and host families;
    • Attorneys willing to be trained to represent refugee or trafficked children in initial hearings – bilingual preferred but we can also match English speaking attorneys with interpreters;
    • Social workers, case managers, educators, physicians, dentists, and licensed therapists (The Center for Missional Excellence will be compiling a list as a resource to be used as needed).     
  • Let the Center for Missional Excellence know if you would be willing to host one of the following in your church or community:
    • “From the Heart” Workshop, using Scripture, prayer and art to help us discern God’s desire for these and all of the world’s children, and how God would have us best respond to this need.
    • Host a viewing of an educational film about the needs of these children, followed by discussion and prayer.
  • Collect and donate the following items for children and families through July 31:
    • Gift Cards in $5 to $25 for fast food or discount retail stores
    • Bedding: twin sheets, small airline-size pillows and pillow cases
    • New undergarments and socks: children’s sizes and small women’s sizes are needed most. Sports bras fit more various sizes of women. (No other clothing can be handled at this time.)
    • New or like-new shoes fit for travel – small sizes (e.g. tennis shoes; no sandals).
    • Fruit juices (not fruit drinks) for travel in non-perishable cans or containers that can be opened by hand
    • Disposable diapers in all sizes
The Texas Annual Conference recommends individuals and churches collectively follow these guidelines carefully. “Please do not take or send deliveries to the border yourself,” Diane emphasizes. “I would suggest that donors call ahead to one of the following locations to arrange a drop off time prior to August 1.” 
  • Houston, Fairhaven UMC, (713) 468-3276, 1330 Gessner Rd., Houston, TX 77055  Email pthomas351@aol.com  website www.fairhavenumc.org  Contact: Rev. Paul Thomasson (6 am- 6 pm Monday-Friday)
  • Huntsville, Wesley Memorial UMC, (936) 295-7459, 700 Highway 30 E, Huntsville, TX 77320-5449 Email cherylsmith@wesleyhuntsville.org  Contact: Rev Cheryl Smith 
See Scheduled Prayer Vigils