There Is No Solitary Narrative for the Border Crisis | Opinion

Earlier this month, I spent several days in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, visiting the port of entry, migrant shelters and several of our church's partner organizations and churches on both sides of the border.

During my time there, I heard from many different people about their experiences on the humanitarian crisis at our border, each with their own unique voice. As I went from place to place, I had a growing sense that the crisis is far more multi-faceted than any single narrative—political or otherwise—says it is. In other words, "the story" of the border that almost everyone wants doesn't actually exist. There is no single, solitary narrative to capture its complexity.

Nonetheless, minimized, myopic and solitary narratives are what we hear most, whether in the form of hate against immigrants, demeaning words about our law enforcement, or other forms of clickbait controversy. All the while, our political leaders point fingers and talk over one another, rather than working together toward solutions we elected them to provide, as former President George W. Bush himself remarked recently in an op-ed about the border crisis.

Our preference for these distilled, one-sided narratives can have real consequences. Let us not forget it was in El Paso that, less than two years ago, 50 people were shot inside a Walmart, and 23 were killed, all because one man had been driven by hatred and anger of a myopic narrative about the "invasion" of Hispanic migrants into the U.S. The emotional wounds from the shooting are still fresh throughout El Paso, and nearly every place I visited referred to the incident, highlighting the fact that the shooter drove more than 11 hours to commit an act of hatred against their community.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie analyzed the problem with solitary narratives in her well-known TED Talk. Adichie argued that, when a "single story" proliferates, it "creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

But what is the alternative to these solitary stories that breed stereotypes and sow confusion and division?

As a pastor, I make it my responsibility to point myself and other Christians back to the core, foundational truths of our faith. As followers of Christ, we profess that the only story that matters is the story of all stories: the narrative that begins with God creating every human life—whether unborn or born—in his own image, continues through our every human experience, and ends in our salvation.

What would it look like for the Church, as the people of God in this age, to speak and live this all-encompassing narrative as our own story, and to resist and reject those voices seeking to draw us into their own solitary, myopic narratives? In my own life, I want to find those places where I can clearly see God at work among people and surround myself with others who demonstrate Christ-like attitudes and actions above all else.

U.S. Border Patrol custody
A mother and daughter from Venezuela are taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody on May 19, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images

Several examples of such people stand out from my time at the border.

There was the small group of volunteers I joined who stand outside the port of entry doors in El Paso daily, welcoming newly-processed asylum seekers with a smile and a "bienvenidos."

There was the exemplary United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer who knew all of the volunteers by name and treated each migrant family with extraordinary kindness and respect. Officer "S" seemed neither discouraged nor jaded by his job. Rather, he embraced the opportunity to give his best to each person.

And then there was a migrant father I met in Ciudad Juárez traveling with his severely autistic son. He was so patient and caring toward his son, whose illness worsened during their hard journey from Guatemala and because of continual sensory overload of living in a migrant shelter surrounded by lots of people at all times.

There is no solitary narrative, no single story, to capture all of these viewpoints and experiences. The border is only part of their stories—it is not the complete picture. As my friend Sami DiPasquale, founder and executive director of Abara Borderland Connections in El Paso, argued, "The crisis does not begin or end at the border." For most people, it began somewhere far away, and it will end in another location at some point which they hope and pray—like all of us do for our families—will be safe and will provide opportunities to thrive.

Much like the many other crises around the globe, the border crisis is rich with human experiences and felt needs, all of which matter greatly to Christ and should matter greatly to his people, the Church. The follower of Christ can and must do better than the solitary, myopic views of things like the border crisis and the echo chambers that circulate them. Our hearts and hands should be open to demonstrate Christ's love to any and every person in attitudes, speech and actions, so that Christ's love is the all-encompassing narrative for everyone, weaving together every story into the salvation story of welcome and redemption into God's kingdom.

Eric Costanzo is lead pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla. You can follow him on Twitter @eric_costanzo or visit his website.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.