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With open arms

Area churches seeking to help immigrant kids


From some quarters, the reactions have been cold, even contemptuous. But the children who have arrived on America's southern border deserve our compassion and our help.

It's not clear exactly what a community like Fort Wayne could do for them, but a group of area churches is exploring the possibilities.

If people here made it clear that we would welcome some of these young refugees, we would show the nation and the world that this is a special and caring place. We would lead the way for others to respond similarly. We would be doing exactly what “the City of Churches” should be doing.

The fledgling coalition is being led by St. Joseph United Methodist Church. In a recent sermon, its pastor, Russ Abel, challenged the congregation to think about the possibility of our community accepting as many as 2,000 of the young refugees.

Rev. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches, which represents more than 130 churches in Fort Wayne and Allen County, has also been in on the discussion.

“We believe that we have a crisis,” Reece said Tuesday. “And regardless of the political issues, there are children who are hurting, being confined behind chain-link fences and barbed wire.”

Karen VanGorder, a member of St. Joseph United Methodist who is chairing the group's exploratory committee, sent an email this week seeking information from the Unaccompanied Alien Children's Program at the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“We are hoping to be part of the 'solution' as you look for housing for unaccompanied minors,” she wrote.

“We have a number of committed churches and will be able to reach more once we have details.”

“We haven't agreed to anything,” VanGorder said of the discussions so far. People have raised many questions, VanGorder said, including considerations about the health of the children, how long they would stay and “what would it feel like when they have to go?”

In an email to The Journal Gazette Wednesday, Kenneth Wolfe, a U.S. Health and Human Services Department spokesperson on this issue, wrote that “Organizations, communities and states have offered to help with this humanitarian response and the Unified Coordination Group is also evaluating facilities proposed by state and local partners. ... Facilities will be announced when they are identified as viable options.”

Whatever Fort Wayne's role might be, those involved in the local discussions understand that there are arguments against offering the children help, Reece said. “We have hurting children in our community as well, and we're trying to care for them.”

But Reece believes people here are “not going to say, you can't come in here.”

“One thing you can say about people in northeastern Indiana is that they take responsibility seriously.

“Whoever caused the crisis, it's a crisis,” Reece said. And, he added, “it's not somebody else's problem.”

The moral clarity of local voices like Reece's, VanGorder's and Abel's is in sharp contrast to those who view the influx of children as some kind of dire threat to the United States. Some Indiana leaders, including Gov. Mike Pence, have made it clear that they just want to see the children get back home as quickly as possible. Pence, in a letter to President Barack Obama this week, evoked the warm image of sending the kids back “to be reunited with their families,” though he surely must be aware that most of them are fleeing gangs and drug violence in their homeland. Governors in some blue states have been as resistant to the idea of sheltering the children as red-state governors.

It isn't necessary to reject or buy into particular philosophies or long-term solutions in order to react to the crisis that now faces the children at the border and the people there who are trying to care for them.

Fort Wayne, a town built by immigrants and people of faith, should be proud to offer its help.