A relative who passed years ago, was born during the Depression. She saved many items. In her basement she stored stacks of plastic containers from Dream Whip and other food products. Even though her daughters gifted her with good quality Rubbermaid items, she couldn’t stop keeping those various Cool Whip containers!
Have you ever known someone for whom the glass is always half empty and never half full?
Here at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas, we are experiencing the high temperatures of summer—104 is easily reached on a daily basis. Because of that we keep the air conditioner running all the time, but this is not without controversy! There is one school of thought that at night the thermometer needs to be turned up and a competing school of thought that it is better to maintain the same temperature 24 hours a day. Says one of the ministers, “We have money to pay for this expense and we want our volunteers and refugee clients to be comfortable.”
Different people even have slightly different ideas about how much to place into the travel bags that are given out. Some people are the conservers who think we will run out, so we must be careful not to be too generous. Others think that the point of being given all these items is to use them for our sojourners and that we can always ask for more.
Scarcity or abundance? Use now for the purpose given or save for later for the purpose given. I think of UMCOR making the distinction between a warehouse where items are to be stored and a depot from which items are to be shipped out to those in need.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
Let’s think about what abundant life means for all of us. I enjoy a very abundant life in many ways. I want that for everyone. Do you?
Here at the Holding Institute Community Center in Laredo, TX, the volunteers are seeing refugees from Guatemala, crossing the Rio Grande and being apprehended by Border Patrol. The specific refugees seen here are women and their children and rarely a single woman traveling without children or very rarely a single man. No unaccompanied minors are here.
I asked one woman why she came with her little boy, traveling 26 days by bus and on foot. She told me that she is joining her husband who is working in Ohio. He left because there was no work for him in Guatemala and he couldn’t feed their family.
In talking to her I was reminded of the Guatemalan refugees I met in southern Mexico in 1985, living in camps because they had escaped by crossing into Mexico fleeing from the Guatemalan Army seeking to kill them. In early 1982 10,000 Guatemalans and farmers were killed and more than 10,000 fled their homes. When asked why they thought that the soldiers wanted to kill them, the answer was “No nos quieren ver.” “They don’t want to see us.” And so they were being murdered by their own countrymen.
When I think about the response of the U.S. government to these refugees arriving in 2014 and being deported in a matter of days if they are single. Or with the moms we see, being given 30 days to appear before an immigration court judge with deportation likely, I think of that remark–“No nos quieren ver.” They don’t want to see us. When I think of John Bohnner announcing that comprehensive immigration reform is not a possibility this year, I think again of “No nos quieren ver.” When I think of people demonstrating in California because they don’t want a shelter for unaccompanied minors in their town, I think of that comment–“No nos quieren ver.”
Why are there people that we don’t want to see in our town, our church, our school, our country? Who are the people that you don’t want to see?
Sunday, July 19
This past week has seen a significant reduction in the number of refugees coming into Laredo. At Holding Institute Community Center we have had only about 20 adults all week. We continue to see mothers with small children. They still come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, though few from Guatemala.
One young woman from El Salvador said that her reason for leaving was threats from a gang. Her older sisters live in the U.S. and send money to the family. One day several gang members came to the home, pulled a gun and held it to her head. They threatened to kill her if she didn’t pay them $10,000. Her sisters told her it was time to come to them. She is also pregnant with a due date in October.
A Honduran woman with three daughters explained that she had been separated from her husband for five years and wanted the girls to know their father. She wanted the girls to have a better life and a chance to go to school. She and the girls had been on the road for over a month, walking many days, as well as taking the train.
Another Honduran woman who came yesterday with her one year old daughter was able to ride the bus, while her companion with a seven year old had used the train–La Bestia–riding on top in Mexico.
A Mexican pastor of a Methodist Church in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, shared information with us about the slow down in numbers. His observations are that there are many Central Americans in the city who are looking for the opportunity to cross over. They have heard now how single men and single women are being kept in detention and deported more quickly. Either they are out of money to pay the coyotes to cross the river or they simply are waiting for a better chance. Earlier in the week there was a large train derailment that caused quite a bit of delays for those that ride on the top of the train. There were people hurt and people who were then on foot.
The city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has put up some simple shelters for the migrants, hoping to keep them in one area while they wait. This particular Mexican Methodist Church is serving food, going out at midnight in the streets. At first it was risky, but now the Mexican police and the Zetas, a gang in control of much border territory, recognize them and leave them alone. We would like to help them with extra food and clothes, but there are border restrictions about carrying certain items across. We are impressed with the pastor’s maturity although he is only 26. In the early evening he has been bringing several of young adults of his church with him to help in tasks around Holding Institute Community Center. Mercy and charity seem to seep through borders.
The Holding Institute Community Center has been one of the sites for humanitarian relief for the refugees who come from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and cross the border at Laredo or are bused by the border patrol to Laredo after entering at another point.
The showers have been provided by the Texas Baptist Men and also my the Holding Institute Community Center. When refugees come from the Greyhound Bus Station to Holding, they are given at least one set of clean used clothes.
Folks like these United Methodists from Corpus Christie are bringing clothing and staying to sort it and to help with other tasks needed to keep everything running smoothly. The man in front in the plaid shirt is a retired pastor who graduated from the Holding Institute when it was a school up through high school.
During this week, we have not seen many mothers and children. Just a few each day have come and usually in the mid- or late-afternoon. Our friend from across the border tells us that one event that may have contributed to this was a train derailment in Mexico. Many people are hitching rides on top of the train. This accident would slow them down. Another aspect he noted is the increasing wariness of migrants from Central America who are in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and are waiting for better chances to cross. They are aware that single adults are being detained and quickly deported. Some do not have the money needed to pay the coyotes, the gangs (Los Zetas) or to bribe the federales. All of these actors, with weapons, prey upon the migrants.
Rumor has it that many more Border Patrol are to be brought to our area. But, in situations like this, there are always rumors. We help those who come to us and are happy to see their smiles after a shower, a change of clothes, some information about riding the Greyhound and some snacks and a toy for the children.
Here in Laredo I am so impressed with the faith community’s response to the needs of people who are migrating from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua and pass through from apprehension by the Border Patrol to wait at the bus station.
Leaders from the United Methodist Church, different Baptist congregations, the Catholic Church, Save the Children, and other faith traditions I’d never heard of were united in their concern for doing the best in the short period of time that the travelers stop at Laredo on their journeys. All groups came to the meeting with something to offer and a real willingness to share their resources and to serve.
Depending on the time of their arrival, there is breakfast, lunch or supper available. In the morning showers are taken at Bethany House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen of the Catholic Church. After lunch, the showers move to the Holding Institute Community Center , a mission institution of the United Methodist Women. The showers are provided by a trailer built just for that by the Baptists and situated on the Holding property. While parents pick out clean clothes, the children have a play space created by Save the Children, which is finishing up a new play ground, sure to be a hit for years. Adults come back in to the Holding Institute Community Center for a bag with undies, a hygiene kit, snacks, water, diapers and other items for a bus trip. At the Greyhound bus station an employee of the Mexican consulate is coordinating serving meal in the evening. The company is allowing people to sleep on the buses that aren’t in service until their bus departs.
The faith communities are shining in their willingness to cooperate with each other for the good of all. This is an example our political leaders could follow. In cooperation and open communication solutions can be found to benefit everyone. Everyone is bringing something to the table–people even walk in to Holding with donations off and on all day. Compassion, communication, cooperation–all important community values that the faith groups I have met are exhibiting.
Children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who are unaccompanied are being housed in San Antonio at the air force base. The UMC missionaries Dr. Juan Guerrero and his wife Alexandra Castro came from Honduras to southern Texas to speak to supporting congregations for several weeks. They were able to meet some of the children from Honduras housed at the air force base, a moving experience for all of them.
I am here in New Braumfels for the night with missionary Becky Harrell, who is South Central Jursidictional Mission Interpreter. When President Obama came to Austin, near her town, he didn’t go to the border, which upset many activists who advocate for the new refugees. Two young people stood up to invite him to come, but his apparent indifference has disappointed those who worry about the future of the young border crossers.
Here in the United Methodist Community of south Texas, more churches and towns like First UMC of Laredo are seeing many needs. I am going to be a part of the humanitarian response of First UMC in Laredo and its Holding Institute, which are part of a collaborative effort in Laredo. United Methodist leadership is preparing plans for organizing a response along the border. They find that New Mexico, Arizona and California border churches are reaching out for help. There are even calls for help coming from as far away as Nebraska!
Tomorrow I arrive in Laredo to see what is happening beyond the news media impressions. I pray that God will show me the best way to help. I am inspired by all of the efforts of the United Methodists that I have heard from so far in Laredo. I hope that many of you in Iowa will consider involvement in efforts of our sister churches here in Texas.
Today is Sunday and we went to a worship service at the Church of the Village in Lower Manhattan. What a great worship service! We liked the liturgical dance by talented twins, the welcoming atmosphere, the amazing sermon by the young (!) woman minister, the encouraging words of the senior pastor Alton Johnson, a retired bishop for our week’s activity and the mission interpretation of a new Church and Community Worker in West Virginia–Holston Annual Conference. I met a native of Council Bluffs who will be marrying his partner in a couple of weeks. The pastor announced that anyone who was interested could join a group spending the afternoon strategizing on the need for changes in the church’s attitude toward LGBT folks so that all the doors of the church could be truly open! What a great worship service for inspiring us for the week to come. Those of us who introduced ourselves as members of the UMW delegation to the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights were thanked, encouraged and commended by several different folks, including the retired bishop and the pastor. There were also visiting students from South Africa and a couple from the seminary in Monterrey, Mexico, one of whom knew our own Edgar Solis in Muscatine. It was an amazing feeling to think of the global connections of the United Methodist Church and have those acknowledged by folks in the congregation