By Stan Friedman
MUSKEGON, MI (January 5, 2015) — Editors note: Since the beginning of the year, some 70,000 unaccompanied minors, most of them from Honduras and El Salvador, fled to the United States to escape extreme violence and poverty in their native countries. In June alone, 10,622 children were apprehended along the Rio Grande River.
Since then, the number of children has slowed to a relative trickle of several hundred a month, and the media coverage has dwindled to almost nothing. But many of those who already arrived still are awaiting hearings to determine whether they will be deported, and the conditions that led to the exodus remain.
In recent weeks, Covenant News Service spoke with three women whose attention has remain fixed. Itzel Yared Morales Gutierrez is working with children detained by authorities on the border of Honduras and Mexico; Margarita Monsalve, pastor of Navegando con Cristo Church in Torrance, California, continues to work with children and families; and Shelley Kurth is preparing to help children who have been transferred by the Border Patrol to the Grand Rapids area in Michigan.
When Shelley Kurth, associate pastor of Forest Park Covenant Church, and other members of her congregation went on a Merge Ministries mission trip to Guatemala, her heart broke as she saw the extreme poverty in which families live. “That trip really opened our eyes” she says.
Kurth, her husband and two teenage daughters, are now going through a process to achieve certification so they can be a foster home for the unaccompanied children. “The idea of providing foster care for refugees and orphaned children in need has been in the hearts of my husband and kids for a long time.”
The children generally stay with the foster family only several weeks or less until family in the United States or a sponsor is found. “Sometimes all these kids have is a phone number—if that—for someone,” Kurth says.
The foster families play an important role in helping the children transition, Kurth says. “The families who take these kids in may be the first friendly face they’ve seen.”
Kurth and several other families are undergoing the process in working with a local agency, Bethany Christian Services. The agency provides opportunities for foster parents in the Grand Rapids area to help through the Unaccompanied Minor program, the largest in the country.
Forest Park Covenant already has a strong ministry dedicated to helping foster children. The state uses the building for parent visitations. The church’s Covered in Love Pantry provides clothing and basic supplies to newly placed foster children and their foster families within 24 hours of placement.
The fate of the children ultimately will be decided by the courts, which is working through a backlog of cases.
Kurth says she understands that people have different views on whether the children from Central America should be allowed to stay in the country but adds, “The goal is to care for the kids and not get stuck on the policy situations.”
The denomination’s Kids Helping Kids project this year focuses on refugees.