A Faith-Based Response To The Humanitarian Border Crisis


First UMC Denton hosted a town hall meeting with panelists (left to right): Dale Tampke (moderator), Scott Atnip (Texas Impact), Andy Lewis (Center for Missional Outreach),  Paul Zoltan (immigration lawyer), Andres Pacheco (Opening Doors International Services), Dicla Monterrosso (Opening Doors International Services) and, on screen, Mike Seifert (ACLU of Texas).

First UMC Denton’s movement to promote border awareness

Laura BrydLaura Byrd went on a Courts and Ports trip to the Texas/Mexico border with a team from First UMC Denton. Those few days had a profound and lasting impact on her life, and now she and others from First UMC Denton are finding ways to advocate around immigration issues in ways that reflect the compassion and grace of our Wesleyan heritage.

This is her reflection on that trip and a recent event hosted by First UMC Denton called “A Faith-Based Response to the Humanitarian Border Crisis.”

To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I had heard that my friend Jonathan was leading a trip to the border, and my heart was stirred. After some intense prayer, I knew God was asking me to say yes to this trip.

Since I am a firm believer in listening when the Spirit nudges, I bought a blow-up mattress and packed for Brownsville. As our group’s own world view slowly shattered through every interaction with these beautiful, faithful people, we couldn’t help but come back changed. Our experiences with the friends we met at the border and the deepening bonds created with the people we came with would clearly shape us for years to come.

These friends from First UMC Denton and the Denton Wesley Foundation were the kind of people I liked to be around. It was so easy to see Christ in them: the way they would drop everything to serve, the way their heart broke when they witnessed suffering, and their fiery passion for social justice.

One night, as we all sat together in fellowship and processed all we had seen, our pastor asked us what we could do going forward. How could we take what we had witnessed and make a difference in our own community?

Without missing a beat, Cynthia said something to the effect of, “we will end this oppression, change the law and liberate these people so that they can have a better life.”

Cynthia RivesShe stunned me.

When I was thinking of how we could get our church members to donate, Cynthia already knew we, this little band of 15 Dentonites, could rid the world of oppression, poverty and hate.

This woman was a formidable Disciple of Christ.

They all were.

As we came home, our daily routines began again and the truth of our privileged life was revealed more and more each day. We knew that something had to come out of this but what exactly? My friend Haley suggested a town hall, and we built on that seed. The event began to form, a panel with people who were already doing this work in their every day lives, would speak first.

From their own unique perspective and experiences, they could help us understand what was truly happening at the border. We would then break out into sessions, each panelist tasked to help those in the Denton community learn how they could connect with the effort.

Michael Seifert, border advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas, gave us a synopsis of what is happening on the ground in the Rio Grande Valley as he continues his work everyday advocating for those unseen communities to have their basics needs met.

Scott Atnip, congregational outreach director for Texas Impact, spoke on “Faith in Democracy,” pulling from his experiences connecting the education and advocacy efforts of Texas Impact and the Texas Interfaith Center for Policy Policy.

CrowdRev. Andy Lewis, director for the Center for Missional Outreach of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church, focused on the next steps in the NTC with border missions, including trip planning and work with Justice for Our Neighbors in DFW.

Andres Pacheco, executive director for Opening Doors International Services in Denton, helped us understand how their local Denton organization is trying to connect with immigrants and meet their needs, when they are afraid to reach out for help.

Paul Zolton, immigration lawyer and advocate, spoke to the specific problems within immigration law and his own advocacy work in DFW communities.

Dicla Monterroso, a volunteer for Opening Doors International Services in Denton, gave a heartfelt talk on her own immigration experience from Guatemala and her volunteer work with other immigrants to help them in any way possible.

We still weren’t sure, after all this, if anyone would show up. I kept telling myself that even if it was only the core planning team and a few people from our own church, we still made a difference to someone. My friend even reminded me that the people whose heart belonged to this work would show up.

The Spirit had bigger plans.

We filled the room that night with people from our church, from the Denton community and from other area churches and faith communities.

As the night ended, my heart felt full … yet I knew this was only step two of a million more, leading toward the people’s freedom from oppression.

Small groupsHowever, Cynthia’s words were already imprinted on my heart: Jesus only had 12 disciples, I thought, and he changed the world. What could we not do with the power of Christ’s love?

So, we continue to do the work. We will be going back to the border May 13-17, and I invite you to come with us! How ever you decide to join us on this journey, even if you can’t physically go to the border, you can make a difference. One of my personal transformational experiences happened in the shoe room, so First UMC Denton is asking for shoe donations. 

You can help by bringing new or gently worn shoes to First UMC Denton. To donate money, please mark any checks with “Shoes” or give online (designated as "Mosaic”, memo line “shoes”) A donation of $25 will provide a refugee with new socks and quality shoes to start their life in America. We will gather donations until May 12 then take everything to the border to give to refugee families. All sizes of children shoes, women's size 5 and 6, and men's size 7-8 are needed the most.  

A journey to freedom from safety and oppression starts with one step. Won’t you help them with theirs?

We also hope to continue to spread awareness to our community and beyond about what is happening at the border. I know big things are to come because we have the Spirit and his disciples on our side. I hope you join us.

Laura Byrd is the worship leader for Mosaic Worship at First UMC Denton.  Read more at seekingyourspirit.com

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2019