January 14 – May 31, 2019
by John Paul Bierly
On Friday, August 29, 2014, American Baptist International Ministries missionaries Ray and Adalia Schellinger Gutierrez, along with ABCUSA General Secretary A. Roy Medley held a prayer vigil at Friendship Park in Tijuana, Mexico. The vigil was in response to the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and seeking refuge in the United States.
High above a beach I stand. The waves crash below me, rhythmically muting the sounds of people all around me. As I look south, I see the beauty of God's creation: sand, sun, waves, the faces of God's children. As I look north, the picture is different. The beach is still there, the waves still crash, the sun still warms the earth, but the people are obscured by the mesh of a steel fence that makes it impossible to make out anything more than vague shapes.
Invited by Ray and Adalia Schellinger Gutierrez, American Baptist missionaries from Deborah’s House (a domestic violence shelter in Tijuana, Mexico), I stand at Friendship Park on the US-Mexico border. Historically it is a place of meeting on the border; today it is a place of prayer. I have come here to pray for my brothers and sisters. Since October of 2013 more than 60,000 children have come from Central America, unaccompanied by their parents or guardians, to seek refuge in the United States. They flee conditions such as gang recruiting, human trafficking, drug cartel violence, and police brutality.
A gathering of approximately 100 people are present, representing the care and concern of churches, citizens, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, and sisters. We pray for safety and acceptance for the children, for the resolve of the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and the United States to justly respond, for those who care for the needs of the children, and for our church congregations.
Granting asylum to people escaping persecution is an ancient practice and one spoken of in Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV: “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We pray God will soften our hearts as we come alongside the work that God is already doing in God’s steadfast love and righteousness: defending the cause of those most vulnerable and showing compassion toward those whom the world does not see. We pray that all will be able to do the best that they can in responding to children seeking asylum. As the UN Refugee Agency put it, “The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution…is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization.” We pray to become part of this practice, to truly see this group of people that God sees and loves.
Though we stand here at the border on Friday, August 29, 2014, our prayer goes out across borders of space and time. Some join us on the other side of the border, just inches away from us and yet we cannot see their faces. Some join us on the Internet, watching our live stream. Others will join us weeks or months later as they experience this vigil through their eyes and of those who are here, listening to stories, watching videos and reading accounts of the event.
The prayer goes on, prayed by us and heard by God, carried throughout the world. This is a prayer for justice. This is a prayer for compassion. This is a prayer for peace and it is for this prayer that I stand.
Click here to watch the archived video stream.
—John Paul Bierly is the Music & Small Groups Minister at First Baptist Church, McMinnville, OR (a BPFNA Partner Congregation) and a new member of BPFNA.