As I look back, I am surprised that we held that conversation last night. We are all putting in lots of time and energy to help here at the Holding Institute Community Center in Laredo. Blanca, a special education teacher, has been the main organizer of the crazy assortment of used clothes that people keep pulling out of their closets to give. José is a consultant who comes over early evening after work every day and writes grants for things like new appliances for the center. Viky is giving time from her campaign for city council by being here off and on to handle a variety of tasks and issues that pop up. Mario is a Missions Minister with the Baptist church and starting his own “cowboy church.” He plans to follow up his activities here with trips to evangelize in Mexico City and Venezuela. And I am participating, too.
All of these folks have been very involved in the Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team for weeks, but we still don’t get it.
Our sojourners are facing numerous bad choices in their lives and having to make the best of it, even thought “the best” may not be what we would choose.
Elena* and five year old Teo* from Honduras seemed like any other folks when they came through the door on Tuesday. After showers Elena went to use the phones provided by Catholic Social Services, while Teo went to play with the two Head Start teachers provided by Save the Children. When the other three women and children left for the bus station to await their buses, Elena and Teo were still here. Then we head that she didn’t have money for a bus ticket, so Mario took them to the home his supervising pastor to spend the night. This doesn’t usually happen.
In the morning we were glad that Elena and Teo had gone to the pastor’s home rather than Mario’s church because the church was broken into on Tuesday night and many items stolen. At any rate, Elena and Teo were back with us around noon and Teo seemed quite happy to play and get snacks again. But Elena was looking pretty frazzled. She started calling to make connections in Virginia. Then it came out.
The person Elena was calling was not a relative, but a man she met on Facebook with whom she said she had been corresponding for over a year. They had agreed that if she would come to the U.S. then they would get married. Each time she would call him in Virginia he would have some excuse as to why he couldn’t send the money for the bus ticket—he was working, the bank was closed, he didn’t have enough money yet, etc. Well, when we learned this, quite the conversation ensued between those of us who are privileged and can manage our own destinies quite well.
Our remarks ranged from “How could she think that he would really pay $500 for a bus ticket?!” to “Maybe she better just go back to Honduras.” Or, “He might take her passport and threaten to harm Teo if she doesn’t do whatever he wants.” Visions of human trafficking or domestic abuse came to our heads. One person opined that we shouldn’t even let her go to Virginia until he talked on the phone with Facebook boyfriend.
Reflecting on the conversation of a group of well-meaning volunteer helpers, I am embarrassed that we were not more sentient of the difficulty facing Elena. Coming from Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate in the world and the poorest country (except for Haiti) in the Western Hemisphere, just how many good choices did Elena really have? Who did we think that we were to tell an adult how to manage her life choices? Suddenly, simply because we had the time, energy, motivation and money to be involved in this relief effort we had taken on the mantle of judging her actions.
How easy it is to have power and how easy to tell the powerless what to do.
Oh, yes, our motivations were certainly above reproach. Oh, yes, we want the best for this mom and child. But, we can give information and the needed immediate material aid without assuming that we know what is best for Elena and Teo. She has received information on the national hotline numbers for domestic violence and human trafficking. She knows where the Catholic Social Service office is in Virginia from the information given out by them.
Now we have to let go and let God work in Elena and Teo’s lives. She has gotten herself and her little boy with a mop of curly red hair this far and I don’t think that happens without a lot of prayers on the way. Her life experience is not ours. Her choices are not ours. Her dreams are not ours. She has her own path that we can’t walk.
May we invest the time, energy, money and good intentions into pushing for changes that are our responsibility to make. We are U.S. citizens in a democracy with free speech. Our tasks are to advocate for social justice and comprehensive immigration reform, for foreign aid that actually contributes to making countries better places for their people and for a fresh and realistic look at our neighbors to the south. We can make the effort to find out more information about what life is really like for refugees who come to our nation. As active Christians we can urge our denominations to be prophetic voices in the immigration debate. These things we can do, but we can’t judge Elena and her life choices. Our circumstances are not hers. May we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord so we may not assume that we can judge.
What are you doing to understand more fully the plight of the people of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala? What are you doing to urge your church to speak out prophetically for new immigration policies? What are you doing to advocate with your congressional delegation? Are you spending your time judging or are you being pro-active to do what is within your power to find justice in this situation?