Last year I moved to South Texas from Kentucky. It’s been an adventure, particularly living within 2.5 hours of the border with Mexico. As a bit of a political nerd, I always paid attention to issues like immigration, but they’ve taken on a whole new meaning now that I am in the minority in our new city. And, as you can imagine, this summer has been a huge call to action for me and countless other people of faith.
The Interfaith Welcome Coalition has been at work long before the recent crisis. Their efforts have been to make the rough path for immigrants and asylum seekers more hospitable. After the required 20 days in detention, volunteers at the bus station and airport greet anxious newcomers with backpacks full of comfort and entertain their children during long waits before they transition to be with sponsors in the US. My pastor, Rev. Natalie Webb, first connected with the IWC and then challenged our church to get involved. All the while she preached messages of God’s command to care for the stranger and give voice to the powerless.
As of April 2018 and the implementation of the Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy, what was a difficult process became excruciating for parents and children coming to the United States. Let me share with you the journey of one young Central American mother and her six-year-old who came seeking asylum. I met them in the process of reunification in July 2018 as they took shelter in our church.
“B” (it is important to maintain anonymity for asylum seekers) is in her mid-twenties and is actually the mother of 3 children. In her desperation to leave her home, she left the younger children in the care of her mother. When asked how long she planned her trip to the US, she said, “There was no planning, things became really terrible and we just had to go.” I don’t know the details of what she faced there, but her devotion to her six-year-old tells me that she felt she had no choice. Exhausted, they made it to the US border on June 9, and she felt hopeful the worst was behind them.
As is typical at the border, the two of them were placed in the hielera, a cold holding cell, for the night. Very late as she cradled her sleeping child, guards came in insisting that she wake him. She explained he was so very tired; couldn’t they leave him to sleep? She said they yelled that she must wake him now and she worked to rouse the sleeping child. At that point the guards took the child from the terrified mother, saying they’d see each other the next day. Instead, they did not set eyes on each other again until July 12. Mother and child were sent to different detention centers as though they were criminals. In fact, bond had to be raised to release B, and others like her, from this nightmare. Faithful lawyers have truly been heroes and continue to work tirelessly for families’ like B’s.
For almost a year, Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX, followed the lead of our compassionate pastor learning about the needs of immigrants and how we could make a difference. Because of her preaching about the inclusive love of God and carefully exposing us to opportunities, we were ready to say yes, when called to care for “B” and another asylum seeking mother waiting to be reunified with their children.
It was a whirlwind week for our small congregation. People readied the building to receive the moms, this included bringing in beds and stocking the refrigerator. Most of our congregation isn’t bi-lingual, but thanks be to God for friends who are. On Monday, the first person to meet the moms was Paula who brought a friend to translate. The guests were greeted with comfort food and warm smiles. Using her limited Spanish, Paula asked their names and recognized they were answering as though this was another interrogation reflective of their incarceration. She worked to ease their anxiety and assure them they were welcome and safe.
The next few days were fraught with the work of getting their respective children freed from detention. After four days of struggle, B’s child was the first to be released. Another day of mixed messages and a rollercoaster of emotions passed before the other mom and her two children were reunited. But on that Friday night, with everyone accounted for, our pastor and a caring crew threw a fiesta of grand celebration with the families.
Over those days many of us were honored to serve them. There were trips to buy clothing and supplies, church kids shared their toys, we all went on a church-wide outing, and there were the moments of simply holding a crying mom as she tried to process all that was happening. They expressed that as surprising as their treatment at the border had been, being treated like “queens” by the church had been even more surprising.
On July 15 each little family flew off to be taken in by extended family living in the States. They left markers on our hearts as we continue to hold them in prayer. We are grateful that our pastor prepared us for such a time as this. Though none of us saw this coming, the hand of our Creator was at work.
The crisis is certainly not over. These families and many others are struggling on so many levels. Some children are still in detention, while parents have been deported. All are very uncertain about their futures. Though in South Texas we are especially aware of this need, the world is crying out to our country and the family of God to show compassion. Thanks to our pastor’s leadership, we were ready for such a time as this and we’ll gladly do it again.
The needs of the world exist all around us. How are you challenging believers to answer people’s needs in such a time as this?
The 2019 National Festival of Young Preachers theme is “The Gospel and the World.” How does your preaching connect the gospel to the real-life issues and struggles in the world? Register for the National Festival today!
*The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author(s) or speaker(s) and do not represent the beliefs or positions of the Academy of Preachers. The distribution of content by Academy of Preachers is an effort to fulfill our mission to Identify, Network, Support, and Inspire young people in their call to gospel preaching. Our network and participants are widely diverse in geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, theology, tradition, and practice. We give space for those in our network to contribute their unique voices to a global conversation on gospel preaching and Christian ministry.
Rev. Holbrook is a minister, entrepreneur, catalyst, and mentor. Having a long history on college campuses and in non-profit leadership she determined in 2016 to take flight with Holbrook Consulting focusing on connecting people, ideas, and resources. Her years in campus ministry and the Academy of Preachers taught her the power of cultivating every voice. In addition to her current work with AoP, she is honored to serve with Nevertheless She Preached, a conference celebrating the gifts that women bring to preaching. A native of Kentucky, she is a newly minted Texan living with her husband in San Antonio. She credits her wealth of mentors and education (Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Divinity) for giving her the confidence to lean into her gifts to help people get from where they are to who they need to be.