Pastor Gavin Rogers of Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio says he joined the migrant caravan in Mexico for two reasons: to inform himself on the migrant crisis as a U.S. citizen and to join in solidarity with the migrants as a Christian and a minister. What he saw in Mexico convinced him that there is no reason helping migrants needs to be a partisan issue for Christians in the U.S.
“I really don’t see a divide between the liberal, moderate and conservative church,” Rogers told ChurchLeaders in an interview about his trip. Rather, he sees a consensus among believers, and that is they “care deeply” about those fleeing incredibly dangerous situations in their homelands.
What Compelled You to Join the Migrant Caravan?
Rogers told us he joined the caravan out of an act of solidarity with the migrants. He didn’t necessarily have a fleshed-out plan for his time in Mexico, because, as he explains, “acts of solidarity are almost always improvisational.” After checking with the lead pastor of his church in Texas, Rogers decided to fly down to Mexico City to join the migrants.
The experience traveling with a group of people mostly from Honduras brought memories of traveling to Honduras himself as a teen to help with short-term missions endeavors. Rogers went several times to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch hit the central American nation in 1998. He even met some young people in the caravan that were from the same city he visited as a teenager.
Now, the implications of telling kids in Honduras all those years ago that he cared about them and loved them are coming full circle for Rogers. How many Christians go to poverty-stricken nations, tell people they love them and God loves them, but don’t help those same people when they show up in their backyard, Rogers ponders.
In addition to feeling compelled to go as a Christian and a minister, Rogers also wanted to know for himself, as a citizen of the United States, what was really going on with the caravan. As rumors swirl in the U.S. about the migrants’ motives and their caliber as people, Rogers wanted to know the truth.
What Kind of People Did Pastor Rogers Encounter?
Ministers “that are better connected to immigration circles than me,” Rogers told us, have said that a “higher percentage than normal of this caravan from Honduras are evangelical Christians or Protestant Christians.”
Rogers said he met a lot of families and young people during his travels. At one point, he climbed onto a semi and was sitting on top of steel bars that were being transported. As most families with young children were hesitant to take their children on the semi, Rogers ended up traveling mostly with young people during the second half of his trip. Sitting next to a 15-year-old girl, Rogers recalls her wrapping her arms through his backpack so as to help him maintain his balance on top of the truck. Acts like these impressed upon Rogers the family-like concern the migrants showed for him, a visitor in their midst. Indeed, the young people he joined made sure he was accounted for at each pitstop and transition, even when there was limited space in the vehicles they were able to hitch rides with.
This account of peaceful travelers (“99 percent drama-free” as Rogers tells it) may debunk some myths floating around that the migrant caravan is violent and causing trouble. Rogers said someone posted an image to his Facebook page of a skirmish between Mexican police and attackers. The post, which has since been taken down, claimed migrants were attacking the police, but when Rogers asked the police officers he came across in Mexico if this was accurate, they told him the caravan was overwhelmingly peaceful. A reverse Google image search of the images shared to Rogers’ Facebook page revealed they were taken during an incident in 2012, he explained. Although, he doesn’t deny that things could potentially turn violent as the caravan reaches Tijuana. Protestors in that city are already making their qualms about the migrants known. That city will have a significant burden to shoulder as thousands of migrants roll in and wait their turn to seek asylum in the U.S.
When asked if he feared for his safety at any point while traveling with the caravan, Rogers said no. He even left his backpack, which had his passport in it, unattended during a bathroom break. Jokingly, Rogers said he’d been more concerned about things like protecting his wallet in San Antonio than he was in Mexico.
Partisan Responses May Vary, But the Christian Response Shouldn’t
Turning to the intersection of faith and politics, Rogers says “our human condition and our tendency to mistreat the immigrant is a universal problem.” We might not know how to solve the problem of an overwhelming number of migrants coming to our border, but the Scripture is “actually pretty clear” when it comes to the issue, Rogers says.
“The Christian response to immigration doesn’t change based on what country you live in or what politics you operate under. It’s pretty clear in Scripture how to treat the immigrant, and if we do it that way, even when there’s a perceived lack of resources, even when there’s extreme poverty, political confusion, it can break down walls and relationships to be peaceful even when there’s a lot of stress.”