Disintegrated families, extreme poverty and even high rates of violence are the most common causes for hundreds from Central America to flee from their countries looking for a long-awaited “American dream.” This phenomenon has been taking place since June 2014. It so happens that many of the
inhabitants of several Central American countries declare they want to enter the United States primarily because they are fleeing from critical, degrading and even dangerous living conditions.
Such is the case of young 23-year-old Stephany. Her appearance is innocent as she tells us with gentle looking eyes that life in her native country, Honduras, was unbearable because of oppressive violence. It took Stephany about 5 months to reach the border between Mexico and the United States. Without money or contacts, she started out on an uncertain adventure, but with the strong hope of crossing the border and leaving behind a stormy past. It was truly a past full of poverty, insecurity and violence. But most of all, it was a past that would forever leave its mark on her life, because Stephany did not travel alone. She went with her little baby who was still in her womb. She left Honduras shortly after having been raped by a member of one of the active gangs there, and her pregnancy was the result of the rape.
Hundreds of cases similar to Stephany’s, some more critical than others but all certainly very painful for the persons living the experience, reach the different points of entry between Mexico and the United States.
Stephany was just one of the many who I was able to meet at the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, in September. This church is precisely an assistance center which the Catholic Charities of the Rio Gran Valley opened on June 10 this year.
This well-equipped assistance center has portable wash bowls, kitchen and dining room, toilets, portable showers, large tents with cots and mattresses for sleeping arrangements, and a large stock of clothing classified according to gender, age and size. They also provide telephone service for both national and international calls.
On an average, this center receives 40 persons every day. After immigrants are captured by patrols on the border and processed in the detention center, they reach this assistance center without really understanding where they are being taken. With faces that display tension, anxiety, embarrassment,
tiredness and most of all, hunger, these men, women and children arrive disoriented and frightened, having no idea of what they can expect next.
So here, at least for a few hours, the tension of having crossed the border is lessened to some degree and for the first time, they feel a friendly, disinterested hand ready to help them as much as possible.
Stephany, Elisandra, Pedro, María, Melany, Juan and so many others have the opportunity of being assisted with their most urgent needs -a refreshing bath with hot water, clean clothes, hot vegetable soup, telephone calls to their relatives and a bag full of drinks, sandwiches and snacks for the rest of their journey, wherever that may take them.
However, this would not be possible were it not for the many hands that have united to serve these men, women and children who have so desperately fled from their countries looking for peace and a better future.
The Sacred Heart Church has partnered with other organizations to make their assistance center effective. Consequently, the Salvation Army coordinates their kitchen and food preparation, a local Baptist church washes the towels used in the showers. And Save the Children provides a recreational space for the children who pass through this center.
But that is not all. Sacred Heart Church can serve dozens of immigrants every week because many bighearted volunteers who want to serve have promised to work every day in this center. They do the cleaning, the classifying of clothing, help with the cooking and offer personalized attention for each refugee coming from Central America and sometimes even from South America.
Mission Discovery is one of the Christian organizations that helped in this center in September. We were a group of about 30 volunteers who had the opportunity of serving, either directly or indirectly, the dozens of refugees who had arrived there.
But, have you ever asked yourself what moves people to serve others who are in need? There are countless humanitarian aid organizations in the world. And there are millions and millions of benefactors of an endless number of noble causes. What is it that motivates them to devote so much effort to the cause of the less fortunate?
No doubt each one can present his or her own reason, but personally, I dare answer this question with what the Bible says in James 1:17:
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Furthermore, God the Creator of the Universe, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, the Creator of the human being, God who is the essence of love, clearly invited us to “love Him and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
Therefore, especially for those of us who profess to be Christians, we feel it is a real privilege to serve those in need. Because this is an opportunity to share some of the many blessings our God has given us, and through them bring glory, honor and power to His Holy Name. And certainly, to make Him known –Jesus Christ, the only and wise God, to all nations and peoples.
Let me share the following short video, courtesy of Michel DeLisle which graphically summarizes part of the experience of our service in McAllen and Port Isabel, Texas, with those who have risked their lives while crossing borders looking for a new horizon.