I can’t stop thinking about the children. And their parents. Seeking asylum together in the United States. Arriving at the border when immediately, suddenly, maliciously, and with devious intent, children and parents are separated from each other. This is happening with no plan in place to reunite them, with no information provided as to where the children are going, and with no communication allowed between them.
I can’t stop thinking about it all.
Most who know me know that I’m a Christian pastor. Many do not know that before I became a pastor, I founded and directed a church-based preschool. It was that work that led me to listen to voices around me and to finally accept that God was calling me to ordained ministry. Now in retirement from full-time pastoral ministry, I live out that call through activism. All of the work I’ve done through the years grew out of my love for family. The family I grew up in. The family I gave birth to and raised to adulthood. God’s family that includes every single one of us.
When my own children were small, they attended a cooperative nursery school. Through my participation with them I learned as much — if not more — than they did. I got to know the other children and their parents. At the same time I began to recognize what church could do in a family’s life. Church became the place where my family could learn more about God through people who love us, even the smallest of us. And so, when my children were off to school, I took all I learned and poured it into developing a preschool program in my brand new church. A small brand new church that grew large from opening its doors and its heart to families with children who came during the week and often discovered the place they wanted to be on Sunday mornings. A place where they could learn and help others learn about God’s love through the love of others who are not our family.
This week I’m remembering especially the controlled chaos of arrival time for the youngest of the children — 18 month olds, 2 year olds — who just did not want Mommy to leave. Sometimes crying real tears, hanging on to Mommy’s leg for dear life. It was only a small portion of the morning, but it was time we took seriously. If Mommy or Daddy needed to stay a little longer to help ease in to the day, OK. If it worked better for parents to leave quickly with a kiss on their children’s forehead handing them off to the loving and experienced caregiver’s arms, that was OK too. Whatever worked. But we had this one rule. A critical one. No parent was to sneak out of the room. It was tempting not to, but we always enforced that parents had to say good-bye to their child and to give this promise: I’ll be back. Mommy always comes back. Daddy will will pick you up at the end of the morning.
Generally the tears stopped before Mommy drove out of the parking lot. But not always. Sometimes a favorite toy or a special little friend was exactly what was needed to console. But even then, things would be fine when a child would suddenly remember that Mommy left her behind. We could always ALWAYS reassure her that Mommy would be back. Remember. Mommy always comes back.
But what do you do when you know that in all likelihood Mommy won’t be back? What do you do when a child has been ripped from her father’s arms. Or from her mother’s breast. How do you comfort when you don’t know the child’s name? When he speaks a different language. When she is too small to know how to speak at all. How will the day get any better if you’re not allowed to touch the child. Or when you’re under strict instructions that big brother must not hug his baby brother. When those in your charge are locked in cages. Locked in cages. For what must seem like forever to one of God’s little ones. It seems like forever because there is no one there the child recognizes who tells her that it will get better. No one who says, and until it gets better, at least we will be together.
These parents could not promise their children anything. That parental responsibility was stolen from them the moment their children were taken. They cannot reassure their children that they will be together again. No one knows when or even if that will happen. They don’t even know where they are.
I have listened to the audio of children crying, calling out for their Mommy’s and Daddy’s. Have you? You can’t unhear it once you’ve listened, but I believe that you must. If anything about this is to change, we must see and hear for ourselves. My own children are all grown up, and my grandchildren are safe and well-loved by parents and grandparents and their caregivers in preschool. I would promise them the world if I could. But making a promise to them is not enough. There are other families who are not safe. They too are God’s children. They too are our responsibility. We must promise them that this terror will end.
My promise is this: I will not stop thinking about these children at the border until this horror ends. I will call my Senators and Representatives again and again. I will tell them that we must not play politics, delay votes, or compromise these precious lives in any way. Every day matters in their young lives. I will march when it is appropriate. I will vote and I will work to bring others to the polls with me. Voting for those who will live and legislate the ideals of our nation. I will be present when I can, and I will give of my resources when I cannot.
I will pray. For the courage to speak truth to power. For the same persistence to be there for other children that I just naturally have for my own. I will pray for an end to the immediate trauma to these children and to be reunited with their parents. Soon. Without delay. I will pray that there be not one more child held in a prison, alone, scared, and without hope. I will pray for them to receive whatever care they need for the trauma that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
I will pray through my anger for anyone who is actively involved in this horror or anyone passively accepting of it. Anyone who dares to call this summer camp, or normal toddler crying behavior or makes light of this dire situation in any way. Anyone who holds children as ransom for a wall or a political agenda. I believe God expects me to be angry and for that anger to fuel my actions towards saving these children.
I just can’t accept this and move on. And I won’t.
Pastor. Parent. Activist.