Deming, New Mexico is a town of 14,000 residents just 30 miles north of the Mexico border. On Mother’s Day the first busload of immigrants was deposited at the local McDonalds. They were left to fend for themselves while awaiting due process to be granted asylum. Deming is one of the poorest cities in one of the poorest states but they have opened their homes and hearts to these mostly Central-American families. They are fleeing hardship in hopes of safety for their children.
Refusing to get sidetracked by talk about politics, the Deming residents have transformed their modest town into a survival station for these foreigners. Church members have joined the growing team of servants who have not complained about this change-in-plans for their quiet town. Cullen Combs, the emergency manager from a nearby town reflected on this challenge: “I have a lot of personal thoughts about it, but when I see a mother with a child who’s having a seizure because they have a 103 temperature, that’s going to hit you.”
So the jail warden has become the unofficial COO for the shelter which was an abandoned WWII airplane hangar. The Fire Department staff spend their days organizing and distributing supplies to people who have had little to eat and no showers for weeks. Rev. Manuel Ibarra, the priest at St. Ann’s Church in Deming, was awakened by a knock at the door late on Mother’s Day Sunday. It was a family asking for shelter for the night. The church has since taken in an average 85 people each week who usually spend no more than two days in the town. They are processed through to sponsoring relatives with whom they can stay in our country while awaiting an asylum hearing.
Chris Brice, the assistant county manager, said, “We don’t even discuss the politics of it here. It’s what we do or they would be out there on the street trying to find their own way. And that’s unacceptable to everybody.” This modest city that sits isolated in the desert has pooled its resources. It costs roughly $15,000 per day to accommodate these unexpected guests. Fire Battalion Chief Edgar Davalos stated, “Make no mistake, it’s labor intensive but the whole thing is we’ve still got to treat them like human beings, because that’s what they are. They’re here legally and they’re human beings, and we’re going to make them as comfortable until they finish their journey as we can.”
Amidst a national debate over walls and policies, residents of Deming are moved to compassion toward the refugees. The Jail-Warden-turned –shelter-manager said, “We had a mom who had a paraplegic daughter—12-year-old daughter—who carried her literally with her arms.” In the midst of this desperate mob scene, the needs of vulnerable individuals are not overlooked.
This story reeks of politics, doesn’t it? It stirs up different thoughts and feelings in different people sitting comfortably in our pews on a Sunday morning. It’s a modern story about lines being crossed, boundaries transgressed and cultures coming together under dire circumstances. The flow of immigrants into this country is not a simple, black-and-white issue. There are no easy answers. Folks in Deming have taken responsibility for an intrusion that they did not authorize or invite. Because of their compassionate response busloads of foreigners praying for mercy continue to be deposited into their care. There is no promised date-of-completion for this unwitting project.
In Luke 8: 40-56, we read about a crowd of people praying for mercy. They were waiting for Jesus! He came into their town and they welcomed Him. It’s a story of contrasts. Lines are crossed. Social norms are ignored. Grace is extended! It’s the only story in the gospels where one character line is interrupted by another. Somehow these two individuals derive meaning from each other. The first one introduced is the daughter of a synagogue official. He is named: Jairus. Full characters in any story are named. In Jesus’ day men mattered. Women—not so much. Psalm 127 hints at this preference for sons: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” That’s a lot of male language! Jairus, whose elevated position in the Jewish hierarchy should have made him an enemy of Jesus, comes to Jesus distraught over his daughter. She is his only child and is clearly cherished. We don’t expect this from a middle-Eastern man of Jesus’ day. For all his clout, the man is powerless over his daughter’s illness so he falls on his knees before this itinerant healer and begs for mercy. No questions are asked. Jesus sets out with the father and the crowd that welcomed Him earlier now almost crushes Him to death. The interest of the crowd in Jesus’ miracles was hazardous to His health.
In the crowd there’s another woman in need. Like the daughter of Jairus, she is not named. She has had a bleeding condition that no doctor has been able to cure. Do you notice the number that links these two suffering women? 12. Twelve is a number that signifies completion. It harkens back to the 12 tribes of Israel. It was carried forward when Jesus chose 12 disciples. The 12-year-old girl and the woman who had hemmoraged for 12 years certainly don’t seem to enjoy “completeness” in their lives. Both need a man to take care of them. One has her father. The other is left to fend for herself. So she dares to approach Jesus on her own. The tassel she touches is a symbol of God. It’s akin to the stoles that I wear as a worship leader. Like a towel, a stole signifies servanthood. The nameless victim believes in Jesus’ power. She fights her way through the press of this mob scene and touches the tassel. What’s the effect? IMMEDIATELY she is healed. But Jesus senses that someone has tapped into His power without permission. He persists in His inquiry in spite of the protests of His disciples. The woman falls at Christ’s feet—where Jairus had been not so much earlier—and tells Him her sad story. Jesus listens.
There are a couple of important details that follow. Notice what Jesus calls her. This woman who has no one to go to bat for her is given one of the most beautiful names possible by Jesus: Daughter. That blessing could have been enough for her. But Jesus pronounces the source of her healing and He doesn’t brag about His own powers. What healed her? Her faith. She recognized Jesus for who He was, something religious leaders failed to grasp.
If we need to understand the power of the name, “Daughter”, we simply need to read on. There’s no time to throw a party for the woman who has finally found a cure to her bleeding. A messenger from Jairus’ home appears and says that the daughter has died. They don’t need to use up Jesus’ precious time anymore. It’s too late. But Jesus overhears this and isn’t worried about His time. He offers the words that are the most repeated phrase in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.” What do they need in order to have hope for a dead daughter? Faith. Two nameless daughters need faith to be healed. One has it for herself and is healed. Another has a father who goes to great lengths on her behalf. He believes, even in the face of death, that Jesus has the power to heal her. He could easily be written off as deluded! We’re back to the original story line which ends with resurrection from death amidst scoffing. Bystanders understandably doubt that anything can cure this beloved little girl. But the dad hangs on to the faith that led him to seek out Jesus in the first place. He learns—and we learn through him—that when you’re feeling abandoned, dead as a daughter, Jesus will heal you.
One Central American mother carried her 12-year old daughter in her arms for countless miles into the oasis of Deming. She also carried with her the hope of a new life for them in our country. No wonder the residents of Deming, New Mexico have opened their hearts, their wallets and their doors to these strangers. Unnamed daughters are elevated to the status of being beloved when in the tender care of Jesus and His Church.
I was at the City Impact carnival in Cedar Springs last Monday. It was a free event for residents of a nearby mobile home community. What an amazing evening that was! Lots of our people volunteered. Some of our members donated food for the meal or money for the activities. I sat at a table and got to know a woman who was holding her 18-month old little girl. She also has a 14-year old daughter who wasn’t with her. The mother’s life has been difficult. She is of meager financial means but she loves her girls more than anything else. She has one word tattooed on her arm: STRENGTH. The two “t”s in the word are crosses. We talked about the source of her strength, the fountain for her hope. She’s a follower of Jesus and this gives her strength to pursue Him even if it seems like so many others get first crack at Him.
If you’re feeling abandoned, dead as a daughter, Jesus will heal you. I sent my tablemate off with a hug and reminded her of the power of Jesus that was evident in the word inked onto her skin-STRENGTH.
Two weeks ago a couple in our congregation shared with us their story as a married lesbian couple. They were not easy stories to hear. They have faced rejection and loss because of who they are. Money is tight. Sometimes hope seems hard to come by. But they are raising a family to have joy in their hearts. Where does their strength come from? Both would say it is their faith. And it is the love of Jesus that they have found in our congregation that has brought some healing to them.
Where there are people, there are politics. When there is a crush of a humanity, there will be arguments over territory. Who has the right to address the One in charge and who only gets the leftovers? Who is a full-fledged member of the family and who is the step-child relegated to the dank room in the attic? In this story about two daughters from Luke 8 there is an inversion of cultural values. It is the unnamed women who receive Jesus’ undivided attention. With a mob of important people from whom Jesus could have chosen more impressive company, Jesus gave His time and attention over to the least of these. Why should this surprise us?
In our churches and in the national arena we hear the stories of those who have been sidelined, some nearly trampled to death. We could get hung up on categories. We could justify looking past them because of their lot in life. But, when we have encountered Jesus in our own lives, we cannot look away. We cannot turn them away. We open our hearts—and, together, our faith fuels hope that gives us the strength to carry on.