Investing in the Young at the Border
Spending time with youth, single mothers and families at the Texas-Mexico border earlier this month was an emotional experience for members of the Cabinet and Provisional Elders and Deacons.
“It is almost impossible to describe the complete transformation of the families during their brief stay at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, TX, where I spent two days, during our mission trip this month,” shares Rev. Brandi Horton, associate pastor of Deer Park UMC. Clergy Excellence Center Director Rev. Gail Ford Smith and others provided much needed hospitality to youngsters and families that were released from the Mexican border detention centers with only the clothes on their back. According to Brandi, the facility provided much-needed toiletries, food, a change of clothes, and a shower to immigrants coming from Central America. “Clean clothes and a shower can do amazing things!” adds Brandi. “After witnessing these families putting on new clothes, being made clean, and having their dignity and worth restored, I will never hear the phrase clothed in Christ in quite the same way again.”
Rev. Ben Lohmer, Sr., Pattison UMC had an equally moving experience. “During this mission trip, I had the opportunity to speak with and serve many immigrants, mostly children traveling with a single parent. The first observation I made was how many children are fleeing, usually with one of their parents. Not once did I see both parents with their children. My heart broke for them as I tried to understand the atrocities, fear, and death they were fleeing from and the hope they had in finding life in the United States. To take such a dangerous journey from places like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala on the slim chance of being able to get to a better place amazed me. These people want to work. These parents want the best life for their children. They want to live in a place where cartels and warlords do not run everything,” he shares. Adds Ben, “As I reflected on these experiences, I realized that they want exactly what I want.”
According to the Texas Conference leader team, when immigrants arrive at the welcoming center they are carrying little or nothing. Adds Ben, “Many of them have been outdoors for several weeks, have not showered or eaten much, and arrive dehydrated from the journey to the border. At the center, they get hygiene products, water, food, a shower, clean clothes, a phone call, and a safe place to rest inside with air conditioning. It is the first time they feel safe and welcomed, maybe in their whole life. The state of fleeing immigrants from countries riddled with war, crime, and abysmal unemployment should give rise to the heart of God and the Church. As a young clergy person, seeing with my own eyes the state of immigrants coming into the United States was a tipping point in my missional awareness. We are called to do good, do no harm, and stay in love with the most holy and gracious God. Here is the God-given opportunity to test ourselves and see our faith increased.”
Rev. Eleanor Colvin shares an experience that impacted her very personally. “The Sacred Heart Welcome Center was the most meaningful place I served,” she says. “The Holy Spirit was at work -- helping me to help others despite language differences. The Spirit was translating and transforming. The few hours people spent at the center revived them. Most entered the space quiet and reserved -- quite likely unsure if we'd be like the authorities they encountered in the detention centers. They left the welcome center with their smiles testifying to the peace and even new life that can be found in a bowl of hot soup, a shower and a change of clothes. I will quite likely never see any of the people we served again; but, I will never forget them either. As I watched them head back to the bus station to travel all across the country, I wondered if my sisters and brothers in Christ would be ready to receive them into their communities. I pray the answer is yes!” Adds Eleanor, “It was a privilege to walk with them for this small portion of their long journey.”
“Jesus invites disciples to see where he is staying with the simple words, Come and see,” adds Brandi. “Throughout the mission trip, we were invited to come and see where people were staying, working, fighting injustice, eating, and worshipping.
The learning part of the trip was essential to the doing part of the trip. It is only through learning that we could respond appropriately.”
“This was the Cabinet’s fifth year to serve in this area, which has allowed us to establish relationships and to train our “up and coming” pastors on the Biblical basis of immigration reform and hospitality,” notes Rev. Diane McGehee. “This annual trip gives all of us a great opportunity to learn experientially – about being a disciple.”