Bud Kennedy

Texas Baptist Men say they helped border kids out of love, not for politics

Before the arrival of 60,000 children became a political showboating opportunity, it was a chance to show love.

“What you have on the border is a humanitarian disaster,” executive Don Gibson of the Dallas-based Texas Baptist Men said Thursday.

“When we responded, we didn’t think people might complain. We’re a Christian organization and we operate on Christian principles.”

Now, some of the Baptist Men’s fellow Christians are mad because they bathed and fed children.

Besides complaining and threatening protests, a few cranks are criticizing faith-based groups for even working with government agencies at all, particularly to care for foreign children staying legally in this country until they get an immigration hearing as required under a 2008 law.

In one Houston-area Tea Party leader’s diatribe, he accuses Southern Baptists of making a “deal with the devil.”

Terry Henderson, state director of relief for Texas Baptist Men, replied, “We’re volunteers — we’re not in this for money or a contract.

“To us, this was just like going into any disaster zone.”

The children started coming in larger numbers last year. By May, they streamed in at a rate of about 400 per day.

By the end of May, that was up to 600.

Texas Baptist Men worked inside the Border Patrol station at Fort Brown in Brownsville, providing childcare, laundry service, showers and food.

Doing 1,200 loads of laundry a day, they found clothing with U.S. phone numbers written inside sleeves or on wristbands for children to call.

“We read to the kids, we played ball with them, we did anything we could to help the Border Patrol,” Henderson said.

Federal contractors took over from the Baptist Men after about three weeks, and a laundry unit remains on loan.

As conspiracy hobbyists began circulating complaints, the Baptist Men published a Facebook statement Monday disclaiming any political role.

The post reads: “For the past 47 years, Texas Baptist Men has not endorsed any political party or any political candidate and we are not starting now. … TBM always responds to hurting people, especially children in a time of crisis or disaster.”

Henderson said the volunteers treated “lots of head lice” and saw a couple of chickenpox cases, but nothing you wouldn’t expect in a large crowd.

“Everything we saw was treatable,” he said.

Critics also have the wrong idea about who’s coming across the border, he said. News reports describe children, but the Baptist men saw about half unaccompanied children and teens, about half mothers with their kids.

Gibson and Henderson both suggested reading the thorough coverage in the Baptist Standard and an online column by editor Marv Knox headlined “ What are we going to do about all those children?”

“Unspeakable conditions” led to the children’s arrival, Knox writes, and “since American politics has degenerated to perpetual finger-pointing and name-calling, our government is ill-equipped to respond.

“… But we’re hearing Christians, even a preacher [the Rev. Robert Jeffress] who should know better, express more concern for the sanctity of our borders than the safety of children.”

According to their website, Texas Baptist Men are dedicated to “sharing God’s love in Texas, across the United States and around the world, through disaster response.”

If nobody at all loved or cared for or bathed or fed these children, that would truly be a disaster.