The Hope and Heartbreak I Encountered at the US-Mexico Border
April 20, 2023
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I spent Spring Break 2023 in El Paso, Texas, on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. I went with a group of Christians who wanted to learn more about migration and the circumstances that bring people to our border. Wow, did we ever learn a lot!
I won’t sugarcoat it; this is a humanitarian crisis. We met with border patrol officers, shelter workers, migrant advocates, retired government officials, pastors, and leaders from organizations such as Save the Children. There are so many layers to this crisis that calling it complicated is a huge understatement.
Words and phrases that describe what we learned include these: international relations, multiple borders, agreements, conflict, corruption, cartels, persecution, lies, greed, money, policies, power, politics, drugs, children, danger, desperation, failure, death...and on and on. It felt like a spiral that was pulling us further and further down into darkness and despair.
Then I met Demar.
It was the afternoon we went to a migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico, and simply played games with those living there. The sheltered were mostly women and children (and some men) from Central and South America who are waiting for their number to come up so that they can apply for asylum and entrance into the U.S.
Demar is 11-years-old, has a contagious smile, big brown eyes, and is from Venezuela. He loves to play Jenga and Memory. I sat at a table and played with Demar and several other children from Venezuela and one young girl from El Salvador. They knew no English and I knew no real Spanish. But we communicated through our knowledge of how to play the games and a desire to have fun. The laughter rang throughout the shelter that day! It was noisy, and it was a happy sound.
There were many tables set up, and many children and adults joined our visiting group in playing together. It was fun! We cheered each other on. We learned each others’ names. We became somewhat comfortable in each others' presence because we were on the same team, playing and laughing and communicating with expressions and actions that went beyond words. We saw past the barriers of language, culture, skin color, and country. We were just people. Doing something fun. Enjoying each others' presence.
I don’t know how to solve the problems that bring a beautiful 11-year-old child from Venezuela to a shelter on the border of Mexico and the United States. I don’t know how good or bad his chances of making it to the United States are. I know that it is too dangerous in Juarez for Demar or the children to go outside and play. I know that he may remain in that shelter run by a Catholic church for over a year—maybe longer—waiting his turn. I know that Demar has probably already experienced incredible difficulty, trauma, and loss just to get to that place in Juarez.
My mind could spin itself into a state of total hopelessness when thinking about all I learned. But even in this, with God there is hope. That is a very difficult thing to say after seeing and learning about all of the complexities, dangers, and evil that surround this crisis.
This we know and believe, God has always been at work in the world. For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son. God knows the name of every person created in his image. God is not slowing down. He is not abandoning us, or Demar, or any of the other children or adults on the road, in the shelters, in the streets.
As we prepared to leave the shelter, we had our thumbs painted green and left our finger print on a canvas as a leaf on a tree. A tree that symbolizes hope. A tree that symbolizes life. A tree that symbolizes healing for the nations.
We left the shelter among the smiles and tears of those who expressed their thanks for our coming to play games for a few hours. And as I was saying goodbye to Demar, he reached out his arms for a hug, and he stole a piece of my heart.
In that hug, God showed me that this crisis has a face, a name, a heart, and a smile. I thank God for the privilege of playing games with Demar. I pray that God will continue to use me as a leaf on one of those trees that brings healing and hope and participates with God and what he is doing as he ushers in a new kingdom where all are welcome and all will be well.
What can we do?
Be in prayer
There is so much more, but this is a start. Sometimes we just need to start.
Final note. We were hosted in El Paso and led by a group called Abara: Borderland Connections. They are a community of peace builders in the borderlands of Juarez-El Paso. Learn more about them at their website: abara.org
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Diane, this moved me to tears. Thank you for coming back and telling Demar's story. For telling the story of many other precious souls. Lord give me courage to not look away.
Yes, Staci, it is hard not to look away, because the more you learn the more overwhelming it is. But thank you for your prayer for courage - that is what we need - courage to see and to ask what God wants us to do and be.
Diane, thank you for sharing this experience with us along with ways we can pray. When I started reading this, I wondered if you met with Abara representatives. A very dear friend of mine works for Abara and it's possible you even met him - Nate Ledbetter. He's an inspiring soul with a heart for justice. Grace and peace. ~ Margie Brenner
Yes, Margie! We did meet with Nate. If you get a chance to go down there, you should go and also visit with him. He definitely has a passion for the mission there.
That's so awesome that you met Nate! I worked with him at Mars Hill Bible Church (Grandville) back in the day. If I go to El Paso, he might not let me return to Michigan as he'd probably want me to work for him :) One day, I'll meet up with him and his family again. I love to hear him speak about the things he's most passionate about. I've been following Abara on the socials since he was hired. I'm so glad you wrote this article and are helping to educate the rest of us on such an important topic. The hands and feet of Jesus, you are.
A nation without borders is a "no man's land."
Thank you so much for helping to raise awareness about this humanitarian crisis at our southern border. No matter our politics, we must see each person as an image bearer of God. Additionally, as you no doubt experienced, so many of those seeking asylum are also fellow believers who love Jesus and trust God for their daily bread.
Thanks for this powerful, insightful and touching report. What is hard to assimilate is that this is happening in Brazil. it's happening in Darien, Panama. It's happening in Tapachulo, Mexico. It's happening in Pedernales, Dominican Republic. Etc. Etc. Etc. Much to pray for, much to work for.
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