I have been nervous about posting this story. I can mentally picture the list of names who might be quick to post a comment, adding to the online noise that wearies my spirit. This article is my first-hand account, and comes after being exposed to a group of people with whom I had never before interacted. I pray that grace and understanding will envelop the hearts and minds of those that want to respond with harsh, quick words.
The floor was laid with alternating black and white porcelain tiles. On the south wall, the cinder blocks had been painted over, forming a nearly life-sized vertical chess board. On the north end of the room, the black-and-white pattern continued, enveloping the opening in the wall through which a kitchen was visible.
Whether the color scheme was intentional, I’ll never know. But the sheer magnitude of the conversations that took place in that room undoubtedly left all of us feeling like either pawns on the board or players who were trapped, unable to make a move.
I was sitting in the third row of seats, listening to the first-hand accounts of four different couples who were seeking asylum in the United States. U.S. policy changes in late 2019 had left them waiting in Juarez, hoping for news on their cases. Two of the couples were Mexican nationals trying to escape cartel violence in their home towns. One couple had fled Cuba for fear of political persecution. The other couple, from El Salvador, was trying to escape violence that had claimed the lives of several family members.
The room was cold. I shivered in my sweatshirt, wishing I had another layer on. The man from El Salvador pulled four photographs out of his breast pocket. Each captured the image of a corpse, beaten and swollen. The funeral home had tried to make the bodies look more presentable, but there was no disguising the violence that had taken the lives of these people.
The mothers wiped tears away as they recounted their time in U.S. detention centers. They were glad to be safe and secure on this Juarez church property, but the pain of an uncertain future was etched on their faces. How can you plan for the future when you barley have the stability to get through the day?
The 20 or more children there either wandered the property, played quietly on bunk beds, or participated in a basketball throwing contest on a small concrete court. Babies and toddlers were cared for by anyone within arm’s length.
I was part of a group there for the Paso Del Norte Borderland Gathering. We had met in El Paso just the day before and participated in workshops and lectures led by nonprofit leaders, pastors and even a Mexican governmental official. These presentations focused on the asylum opportunity (it was emphasized by at least two speakers that this migration of people should not be labeled a “crisis”) that’s happening on our southern border.
The anger among these Christian leaders was palpable. They were angry with U.S. policy. Angry with many of our elected officials. Angry with heavily skewed news reports. Angry at the apathy that has largely infiltrated the American Church. Angry at the feelings of paralysis and helplessness. After all, what can one do when the needs of so many overwhelm both systems and governments?
A small handful of compassionate Mexican churches have been critically impacted. Choosing to open their doors to temporarily house and care for these weary travelers immediately resulted in a flood of humanity crowding into any available space they had. In some cases, migrants have so overwhelmed the church that the former parishioners have left, giving up their pews to people from El Salvador, Cuba, Guatemala, and other nations.
Area nonprofit organizations who operate in the sphere of humanitarian services are scrambling for adequate provisions to meet physical and legal needs. While their clients may find beds, clothing, and food, their questions on legal matters often go unanswered.
On the El Paso side, facilities that had been equipped to house crowds of people during the spring and summer of 2019 now sit mostly unoccupied because asylum seekers must wait in Mexico. One location I visited had hundreds of cots tipped on their sides, bringing to mind the bureaucratic storm that has blown many people off course.
It’s nearly impossible to get an unbiased report on what is happening in, among, for, and to this huge pool of migrants, figuratively frozen along the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of lives are impacted as the monumental questions of “Where do we go?” and “Where do we belong?” remain unanswered.
I have no real solutions to put forward. But I have some heavy questions to leave with all of you who have taken the time to read this report. They are questions that I have had to wrestle through myself:
How do you see migrants/asylum seekers? Are they men, women, and children created in the image of God, or are they “those people”?
When you have opportunity to engage in conversation on this heavily divisive topic, are you listening to hear and learn, or listening in order to rebut?
Has news or nationalism caused you to draw unfair conclusions or lump together thousands of people whom you’ve never met?
How do you pray over this issue?
Too often, my prayers have revolved around safety, comfort, or security. What does that say about my confidence in the ability of the God of the universe to handle monumental problems? What would it look like to trust Him and love according to His standards? So, I’m nervously ready to consider being used by Him and all that it might entail. Who wants to join me?