The number of international migrants is staggering, with more than 231 million international migrants worldwide.
A global exodus of women, men and children fleeing the misery and violence in their countries is taking place.
When people lack the resources to provide for basic needs, they cross borders in search of a better life and economic opportunities.
The perils of their journey are offset by the remarkable hope of a future with dignity.
People from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other countries in the world believe that in the United States they will fulfill their yearning of a better life for them and their children.
Twenty percent of global immigrants journey to the U.S., and 41.3 million people living in the U.S. were immigrants in 2013 – 13 percent of the population.
The stories about record numbers of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the southern border made headlines last summer. Where are they now?
Most of us don’t know, as the stories of their tragedies and suffering are already out of range from our news radar. They have become old news, statistics, nameless people.
In the gospels, the characters of the parables often do not have names. However, Jesus relates a telling parable in Luke 16:19-21 in which one of the characters, who happens to be a pauper, is named.
Lazarus, whose condition was tragic, sought the help of his wealthy neighbor whose name, by the way, is not mentioned. The wealthy man failed to help his needy neighbor; a choice that had eternal consequences.
Today, impoverished people (and nations) are lying at the gates (borders) of rich nations, seeking an opportunity for a better tomorrow. Yet, their plight is disregarded.
By naming the poor man, Jesus seems to suggest God personalizes his deep concern for those who are vulnerable – the poor, the homeless and the immigrant.
They are created in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) and their human dignity must be recognized.
If their tragic condition is to change, they must not remain nameless. We have to get to know them and their stories on a personal level so we can be salt and light in their lives (see Matthew 5:13-16).
Filogonia Perez is from Oaxaca, Mexico. She could be another nameless immigrant, except that she shared her story with me.
“I was 15 years old when I decided to come to the United States. My mother was very ill and when my father took her to the doctor, they found a tumor in her chest,” she said.
“I told my mother, ‘I will go to the United States. Do not worry because I will make lots of money and will send money so you can go to the doctor, so my siblings do not have to suffer what I suffered, so they can study,'” she explained. “They said that – in the United States – whatever you make at home in a week, you could make it in a day.”
Perez shared that the first time she tried to cross the border, their group was robbed before being apprehended by border patrol and jailed in Nogales, Mexico.
After a second failed attempt, she made it to the U.S. with the help of a coyote who took them through the Arizona desert attempting to arrive at Phoenix.
“He took us the wrong way,” she said, “so when it was morning we were still in the desert. There was no water, no food, nothing … I began to cry and I told my brother, ‘I’m going to die here. I don’t know why I came here.'”
The group was found by border patrol agents and sent to Nogales once again.
“Despite all that, I did not lose hope,” Perez said. “I wanted to get here. When we tried for the fourth time, we were robbed again. It was very difficult, but we finally arrived in Phoenix.
“I couldn’t find work because I was 15 … Months went by and I was still looking for a job … Every morning, I went outside to ask the Lord for help. I told him, ‘I am only here to suffer and be humiliated by people because I don’t know how to speak English,'” she said.
After months of looking for work, she met her husband.
“I see everything different now,” Perez said. “I know a lot of people look at us in a different way: as foreign people or illegals. I only thought about working, and working in order to have a better future so my children would not suffer what I suffered. So my siblings and parents would not continue to suffer because of money.”
International migration is not going to end. How are we going to respond to people like Lazarus? How should the church treat immigrants like Filogonia?
Most of us do not think of ourselves as wealthy, but we are when compared to immigrants who seek a better life in this country.
God wants our continual involvement in the lives of people like Lazarus and Filogonia (see Matthew 25:34-40 and James 2:14-17). Failure to demonstrate compassion is failure to fulfill God’s call in our lives.
Juan AragÃ³n is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A longer version of this article first appeared in the February-March 2015 edition of The West Virginia Baptist Newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.