Renowned Presbyterian hymn-writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has penned a new hymn ― “The Children Come” ― in response to the flood of unaccompanied children from Central America across the U.S. border in recent months due to escalating violence of all kinds.
The new hymn, sung to the familiar tune to “Be Still, My Soul,” has been made available free for use in local churches. “Please share this new hymn with pastors and church musicians who might want to use it in worship, as well as to encourage Christians to respond to this crisis,” Gillette said in an email to Presbyterian News Service.
Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras over the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that she sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there. Carolyn wrote “The Storm Came to Honduras” in response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The full text of the hymn:
The Children Come
The children come, not sure where they are going;
Some little ones have seen their siblings die.
They’ve traveled north — a tide that keeps on growing,
A stream of life beneath the desert sky.
Their welcome here? Detention, overflowing.
O Lord of love, now hear your children’s cry!
The children come in search of something better;
They’ve traveled here with nothing in their hands.
On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather
Leads to a phone, a brother here, a plan.
They come alone—or sometimes band together;
They bring a plea that we will understand.
O Christ our Lord, you welcomed in the stranger;
You blessed the children, telling them to stay.
Be in the desert, with the tired and injured;
Be at the border where they are afraid.
Be on each bus where children sense the danger,
As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!”
God, let each one know justice, peace and welcome —
And may your gift of mercy start with me.
For unto such as these belongs your kingdom,
And in each child, it is your face we see.
May we, your church, respond in truth and action,
And with you, Lord, say, “Let them come to me.”
Biblical references: Matthew 25:31-46; 19:14-16
Tune: Jean Sibelius, 1899.
Text: Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved
Permission is given for free use of this hymn for local church use by those supporting efforts to help these children and immigration reform now.
For a copy of the hymn formatted in MS Word as a half sheet insert with the hymn note on the other side, email Gillette at email@example.com
The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.
“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, Calif.. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?"
The Presbyterian Church (USA) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) have developed a very helpful “Frequently Asked Questions: The Exodus of Children from Central America”:
Who are these “unaccompanied immigrant children”? How do they end up in the United States alone?
Unaccompanied immigrant children are minors under the age of 18 who cross the U.S. borders alone, without their parents or caregivers. They come to the United States from all corners of the world, but the most recent influx of children has primarily been from Central America — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They travel by foot over the border or as stowaways on freight trains. Sometimes they are victims of human trafficking, sometimes they must pay to get to safety, and sometimes they just travel alone. The number of children making this perilous journey has grown astronomically.
Why are they fleeing their home countries?
There are several main push factors: faltering economies, large youth population, and rising crime and gang activity. There are also pull factors: the desire for family reunification and changing operations of smuggling networks.
How old are these children?
They are usually in their early teens, but can be as young as three. They are both boys and girls.