NASHVILLE (BP) -- The surge of unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing the U.S. border has prompted renewed discussion of how government and faith-based organizations can partner to meet humanitarian needs during times of crisis. Some assert that such partnerships are helpful to both faith groups and government.
Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
The relationship between government and disaster relief teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) is a "perfect match," Scottie Stice, SBTC interim director of disaster relief ministry, told Baptist Press. "To work with government is not anything that is uncommon."
More than 47,000 children were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally between October 2013 and May 2014, with the possibility of 90,000 being apprehended by the end of the 2014 fiscal year Sept. 30, the Brookings Institute reported. In comparison, 24,481 unaccompanied children were apprehended in 2012 and 38,833 in 2013.
The massive number of children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America has prompted the federal government to call on faith-based groups to assist, including SBCT Disaster Relief; the Georgia Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries; BCFS, a partner organization with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); Texas Baptist Men, another BGCT cooperating partner.
Most SBTC DR deployments occur in response to requests from churches, Baptist associations, local governments, the state of Texas and, in the case of the immigration crisis, the federal government, Stice said.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency contacted SBTC DR in May, Texas Southern Baptists responded by providing 434 volunteer days of labor at the Brownsville Border Patrol Station over a three-week period. Volunteers prepared 21,000 meals for more than 1,300 children while providing shower and laundry facilities as well. SBTC volunteers also distributed 181 Bibles and 1,213 Gospel tracts and presented the Gospel four times.
Stice said reports that Christian ministries have not been allowed to discuss spiritual matters with immigrant children are inaccurate.
"With the border crisis, we were actually on a federal installation," Stice said. "We weren't there to conduct Sunday School or Vacation Bible School obviously, but we interacted with the kids. We know that some of the kids were Christians because we were talking to them -- those of us who spoke Spanish. It wasn't an atmosphere where we were able to do evangelism, but we were able to interact with the kids."
Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, told BP that some faith-based organizations are natural partners with government during crises even though government funds cannot be used to fund explicitly religious services. He used the analogy of salads and brownies to explain what types of services are appropriate for religious organizations to provide in partnership with government. Read More