By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BEAN STATION — Tennessee Baptists are ministering to families affected by the raid on a Bean Station slaughterhouse on April 5.
Federal agents raided Southeastern Provisions, a cattle slaughterhouse in Grainger County, as part of a probe on allegations that 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, approximately 54 have been held for possible deportation due to their undocumented status, according to news reports. Those who have been released still face court dates and possible deportation, sources said.
William Burton, ethnic church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was in East Tennessee over the past weekend for a Hispanic Youth Evangelism Conference. He noted the week-ending events had a toil 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.”
Burton noted 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. Area churches and school teachers provided housing for the children until family members were located.
Pastor Alfonso Jerezano, of La Gran Comision Baptist Church in Morristown, agreed that the raid has 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.
Burton said three Tennessee Baptist Hispanic churches were directly affected because they had members who were employees of the slaughterhouse.
Tennessee Baptist churches in the area have stepped up to assist families who have been affected, Burton said. He noted 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 even provided toiletry kits to those who were being deported.
Jerezano has been leading efforts to assist local families. He told Nashville Public Radio, “The Word tells us that we have to work together in love and unity in all times. But it is at times like this that we can actually live out what it means to love our neighbor,” he said.
Burton agreed. He said Baptists should not dwell on the political aspect of what happened, but must focus on the compassion side.
“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 dwell on sharing 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 that the focus shouldn’t be on politics, but needs to be on the 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.
He said area churches are continuing to come to the aid of families and children. “It’s about taking care of the defenseless,” Haun stressed.
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 a prayer rally on April 9 at Hillcrest Elementary School (where some of the Hispanic children attend). Nearly 800 people attended, according to estimates. Williams said 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. He said it will be a long-term need.
“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, the pastor said.
“Keep praying for us,” Jerezano urged.