BEAN STATION, Tenn. (BP)—Driven by a belief “Jesus loves the little children,” Tennessee Baptists ministered to Hispanic families affected by the April 5 raid on a Bean Station slaughterhouse.
Federal agents raided Southeastern Provisions, a cattle slaughterhouse in Grainger County in northeastern Tennessee, as part of a probe of allegations the company was paying undocumented immigrants cash to avoid paying $2.5 million in payroll taxes over the past three years, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Of the more than 95 employees who were detained until their immigration status was verified, more than 50 were held for possible deportation due to their undocumented status, according to news reports. Those who have been released reportedly still face court dates and possible deportation.
Young people uncertain about future
William Burton, ethnic church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was in East Tennessee for a Hispanic Youth Evangelism Conference, and he noted the events at Bean Station took a toll on the Hispanic youth.
“The atmosphere at the conference was very somber,” Burton said. “Many of the youth were very emotional due to the uncertainty of their parents and their futures.”
Some of the 100-plus or so children whose families were employed by the slaughterhouse went home from school only to find one or both parents were in the process of deportation, Burton noted. Area churches and schoolteachers provided housing for the children until family members were located.
Pastor Alfonso Jerezano, of La Gran Comision Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., agreed the raid created a lot of fear among the Hispanic community.
“People are afraid,” he said, noting parents were afraid to send their children to school or even go to their jobs.
Churches directly affected
Three Tennessee Baptist Hispanic churches were directly affected because they had members who were employees of the slaughterhouse, Burton noted.
Tennessee Baptist churches in the area stepped up to assist families who have been affected, Burton said. First Baptist Church, Morristown, and Hillcrest Baptist Church, Morristown, along with other churches of Nolachucky Baptist Association, have sent food, water and toiletries to family members and also provided toiletry kits to those who were being deported, he said.
Jerezano began leading efforts to assist local families.
“The word (of God) tells us that we have to work together in love and unity in all times,” he told Nashville Public Radio. “But it is at times like this that we can actually live out what it means to love our neighbor.”
Compassion not politics
Baptists should not dwell on the political aspect of what happened, but focus on the compassion side, Burton insisted.
“This is about people created in the image of God who are hurting and need to know there is a God in heaven who loves them so much,” Burton said.
Ultimately, Baptists must share the gospel with people who need Jesus, he said, adding that funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions will be used to assist La Gran Comision Baptist Church in evangelistic outreach and ministry in the community.
Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist, Morristown, agreed the focus shouldn’t be on politics, but needs to be on innocent children who are affected by what has happened.
“I always want our nation to do the right thing, but we also need to do it in the right way. We don’t need to forget the children,” Haun said.
‘Taking care of the defenseless’
Area churches were continuing to come to the aid of families and children, Haun said.
“It’s about taking care of the defenseless,” he noted.
David Williams, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Morristown, echoed Haun’s sentiments.
“My concern is for the children and the families affected,” he said.
Williams and Jerezano participated in an April 9 prayer rally at Hillcrest Elementary School, where some of the Hispanic children attend. The rally drew about 800 participants.
Williams noted his prayer focused on “Jesus loves the little children” regardless of their color.
Jerezano is grateful for the community support from Baptists and others who have offered their prayers, time and resources to assist the affected families. It will be a long-term need, he stressed.
“The immigration process is long. It will not be over in a few weeks,” he predicted. Families will need help in the long-term as well as in the present, he said.
“Keep praying for us,” Jerezano urged.