July 22, 2014: Jesus Blesses the Children – unless they’re from Central America!

Posted on : Jul 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Still Speaking

Mark 10:13-16  New Living Translation

(New Living Translation copyright© 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation.)

13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

The Bible has a way of making faith seem so easy and natural, when in fact it is so hard and challenging. Then again, maybe it’s just the way we read the Bible. When you’re not personally involved, it’s easy to identify with the hero, the good guys, the faithful women; but when we are challenged face to face with the demand to follow the Way of Jesus, it’s much harder.

Last Sunday evening, I saw the story of John Riordan, a corporate banker, featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” John did for the Vietnamese what Oskar Schindler did for the Jews in the midst of the Holocaust.

Riordan worked for Citibank in Saigon, Vietnam (“South” Vietnam) during the Vietnam War. As it became clear that we (the US) were not going to win the war and the “North Vietnamese” were about to conquer Saigon, John Riordan was told by Citibank to “burn everything and get out.” Citibank hired a huge 747 Pam Am jet to evacuate Riordan and his Vietnamese bank staff and their families.

The reason Citibank provided such a huge jet was because anyone who worked for an American company, especially an American Bank, was considered a spy or traitor by the North Vietnamese military forces. The employees and their families would be tortured and killed, without question. Citibank’s evacuation plan didn’t work. Riordan was the only one who got out. But even with the threat of being terminated, John Riordan went back to try and save “his family.”

With the assistance of American government workers, Riordan saved the lives of 105 Vietnamese men, women and children.

If you want to watch the story, click here. It’s 13 minutes long, but it will renew your faith in what we can do when we care about others.

Riordan’s saving of his “family” is now being recognized as similar to Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jewish families and children from extermination during the Holocaust. Steven Spielberg brought Schindler’s story to life in the movie “Schindler’s List.”

This morning I woke up to the news that Governor Rick Perry of Texas is mobilizing the Texas National Guard along the Texas border to stop the women and children who are seeking asylum in the United States. And President Obama is trying to find ways to speed up the deportation of the children that are already here in the US under protective custody. At the present time, if we send these women and children “back home” they will most certainly be tortured and killed.

Why is it that “after the fact” we are so moved and in fact, honor those who protect innocent children and families from torture and death, but when the need is right before us, we don’t want to get involved?

From our faith perspective, there is no doubt about what Jesus calls us to do in this circumstance. “Bless the children and provide for their safety.” These children are loved and blessed by Christ, just as our own. And they are the ones who will open our eyes to discover what the realm of God is like among us.  What we need now is the faith to follow Jesus’ teaching.

Our Conference Minister, Rev. Felix Villanueva, along with the two other Conference Ministers whose UCC Conferences are contiguous with the US/Mexican border, has issued the following call to faithfulness and justice. Now is the time to step up and speak out, to save these children’s lives.



 Connections from Felix

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Council of Conference Ministers of the United Church of Christ and the Collegium of Officers offer this open letter to the church in response to the flood of child refugees coming to the United States from Central America. We write it in solidarity with our sister churches in the Southern California/Nevada Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the South Central Conference whose boundaries are coterminous with our neighbors to the South.

We have all been watching over the last weeks child refugees by the tens of thousands risk life and limb to flee violence and poverty in their homeland, hoping to find safety in America. The story of this land being rich with possibility can be heard even by children in far away lands. It is the same story that we heard with pride when we were children. It stirs their hearts, as it did ours, and compels them to leave everything behind except for the hope that it might be true.

It is fast becoming apparent, however, that the collective will to care for these children is far below whatever expectations they might have had. For them, the story that fostered such hope is met with profound disappointment as once in the US they are being detained, disgraced, and deported – treated more like criminals, terrorists, and threats than children, refugees, and victims of unspeakable horror.

As leaders in this denomination, we stand in solidarity with the children who seek refuge here. Our churches are fast becoming part of a network built to respond to these overwhelming needs. We cannot meet these needs alone. We are seeking to forge partnerships with those who are just as moved by the courage and suffering of these children, and who wish to extend to them love, comfort, and justice.

Deeply aware not just of our own immigrant stories and roots, but also of the clear biblical imperative to care for the stranger in our midst, we invite all settings and all leaders of the United Church of Christ to respond in any of the following ways:

Pray for the children who seek refuge across our southern border, and see in them the face of Christ;
• Support with your donations organizations that house, clothe, feed, educate, and provide medical care to the refugee children;
• Write to your elected Representatives and share with them your concern for these children, asking them not to see them as a threat to us or as criminals;
• Stay alert to emerging opportunities to respond to the needs of the refugee children;
• Prayerfully consider sermons, newsletter articles, adult and youth classes that articulate a narrative of care for the stranger and alien among us.
The United Church of Christ has a long and proud history of demonstrating courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Now, as ever, our resolve is being tested. It is with a good deal of hope and courage that we face this injustice. Let the actions forged by our compassion silence the voices of hatred and fear that ring right now in the ears of these precious children of God. Let them know we are Christians by our love.

We are one with you in Christ.


Felix Villanueva (Conference Minister, The UCC in Southern California and Nevada)
John Dorhauer (Conference Minister, The UCC in the Southwest)
Douglas Anders (Conference Minister, UCC South Central Conference)

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