Room at the Inn
When Assemblies of God North Texas District Superintendent Rick Dubose heard of the need to house a minimum of 500 detained Central American youth who had crossed into the U.S. illegally, he thought of a refugee baby from two millennia ago.
While Joseph and Mary had difficulty finding a spot to encamp for the birth of Jesus, Dubose didn’t want teenagers who had trekked hundreds of miles from their homelands to be turned away.
With little advance notice, the North Texas District has agreed to provide sleeping accommodations and food for at least 500 undocumented immigrants, ages 12 to 17, for up to three weeks. The youth came across the border from Mexico, although none in this group are Mexican. Nearly all of them are from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The number who will be staying at district campground cabins could rise to 700 by the time processing and vetting is finished in stages.
Caring for orphans is nothing new for the district, Dubose notes. Working with Texas Child Protective Services, district churches that have received training have become one of the largest foster care providers in the state.
“We have a huge investment in hurting children in the state,” Dubose says. “Hurting, broken kids – many of them Hispanic who have come through the border with less publicity – end up in our homes.”
In the past, North Texas District offers to help with immigration influxes have been declined. This week, however, agencies came calling.
Border Patrol took legal control of the unaccompanied kids after they crossed into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In conjunction with U.S. Health and Human Services, Baptist Child and Family Services is responsible for virtually all programming for the immigrants, as well as supplying around 215 adult support staff, including counselors and medical personnel.
Dubose quickly agreed to lodge the refugees at the district’s Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center near Waxahachie. District offices are located across the road.
“These are hurting kids who have sad stories,” Dubose says. “They have experienced horrific abuse, neglect, and gang warfare.”
Between 40 and 60 percent of those who are being processed will wind up being sent back to their country of origin, Dubose says. But in the intervening three weeks, they must be fed and housed.
“For just a little while, we have the opportunity to give them the gospel and show them the love of Jesus,” Dubose says. “Scripture teaches us to take care of widows, orphans, and sojourners, and they qualify on two out of three.”
Not everyone is so compassionate.
An elected official in Ellis County, where the AG campground is located, took to Facebook Wednesday night and advocated that local residents take up arms to defend themselves from the approaching hordes.
Safety won’t be a problem, according to Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown. At a press conference Thursday, Brown explained that off-duty deputies are being paid around-the-clock to patrol the campgrounds and keep order.
While adult workers began arriving Thursday afternoon, the first immigrants are expected Friday, and they will continue to trickle in through the weekend. Under a reimbursement agreement, the North Texas District doesn’t expect to be out any funds for the benevolence.
“How could we not do this?” Dubose asks. “It would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t allow them to come. The Lord teaches to whom much is given, much is required.”
The modern, nearly 400-acre campground allows for the feeding of 800 people at a time and has overall sleeping accommodations for 1,000. The complex includes a gymnasium, soccer field, and classroom space. The fewest denominational events are scheduled at the facilities each December and January.
“Not many organizations have the ability to bring such a large number in,” Dubose says. “We’ve got to take care of these kids. Society may not like what we’re doing, but the Lord is pleased.”
U.S. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood agrees.
"When this door for ministry opportunity opened, Rick Dubose and the North Texas District readily responded,” Wood says. “I’m grateful for the way they have opened their arms to provide a safe haven where the love and the message of Christ can be made clear."