by Rev. Laura Barclay
From the start, the gritty images of border crossings, border patrol, police cars, barren deserts, and government buildings place the audience firmly in another world—one with which immigrants are all too familiar. The video begins with the question, “Lord, when did we see you?” as we watch a desolate path that evokes images of the Good Samaritan story.
Gospel Without Borders is a documentary produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics and sponsored by the United Methodist Church, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, and other faith groups that shows vignettes of immigrant stories. Woven in are interviews with attorneys, ministers, immigrants, and government officials. The documentary challenges the audience to look through eyes of faith and step outside hyper-partisan, vitriolic viewpoints.
Eleven miles inside the Arizona border, the Presbyterian ministry “No More Deaths” offers water and food to immigrants near death after they have crossed a dangerous section of the Sonora Desert. In the last decade alone, at least 5,000 have died here because towns have been sealed off by border patrol, forcing immigrants to wander through treacherous paths. The ministers there share that they spend much of their time walking the migrant paths looking for the dead or near dying, who reluctantly cross the border to find jobs to support their family. Recently, they found the body of a 14-year-old girl, identified only by the green shoes in the missing person’s description.
Another vignette tells the story of CBFNC pastor and missions council member, Hector Villanueva, who was taken from his home in front of his children by local sheriff’s deputies. Hector, a legal resident who had applied for citizenship, served 16 months in prison in California almost 15 years ago for cashing a check that was not his. According to immigration law, if you’ve ever committed a felony, even if you’ve served time and paid for your crime, you can still be deported. Hector, who dedicated his life to God in prison, now faced deportation and a possible forced separation from his wife and children, who are all U.S. citizens. Still, he pastors Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Siler City and has faith that his case will be dismissed.
Though these stories are gripping, viewers might ask questions related to policy. Interviews with an immigration attorney and a Mexican consul engage some of the misperceptions created by partisan bickering. Attorney Paul Charton addresses the myth that these immigrants are merely skipping line to get in the country illegally and states, “There is no legal avenue for them.” Andrés Chao, the Mexican Consul in Little Rock, AR, refutes the rumor that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes. In fact, they do pay taxes and pay into social security, of which they are not eligible to receive benefits. They also confront the idea that immigrants drain money from social services. The only services they can receive are emergency health care and K-12 public education, which every person in America receives. All told, immigrants pay more into the system than they receive from these few programs.
There are several more compelling stories, and the documentary asks questions for thought and action. There is a review of what the Bible says about fear, justice, and a Christian response to the stranger in the land. Gospel Without Borders ends with suggestions for next steps for your congregation, and images of multicultural Christian worship, calling the audience to a kingdom-centered community.
This documentary has a short and long version and can be split into chapters for Sunday School viewings, study, and discussion. There is a balance between telling immigrants’ stories and confronting the questions that keep many Anglo Christians from engaging in ministry or justice work with immigrants. Perhaps the most poignant quote from the documentary comes from a Baptist minister in Alabama, Ellin Jimmerson, who asked us to remember that Christians should hold U.S. law in regard but recognize that it is not always moral. She states that, like WWII era Japanese interment camps, “Segregation was a system of laws, thoroughly legal and thoroughly immoral.” This quote stands out for me as a white, moderate, Baptist minister, because I will forever be haunted by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that he was more troubled by “the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than justice” than by the KKK. As a white moderate, I am reminded to be constantly vigilant and advocate justice for the oppressed.
The biblical call to welcome the stranger and work for justice is currently at odds with the treatment of immigrants. This documentary challenges us to think about those tensions and act. Now what is your congregation going to do about it?
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina is sponsoring screenings of "Gospel Without Borders" around NC. For more information, please check out CBFNC's Immigration Resource Page.