Updated: Jun 12, 2020
This is one of several blog posts written by the participants who traveled to Juarez/El Paso July 28-31 to see and listen to the stories of persons from all sides of the immigration crisis.
by Thomas Riggs, Communication and Administration Coordinator
In traveling to El Paso/Juarez, I understood my role pretty succinctly: Be an imposing male presence while in Juarez and document the event on camera. I’m glad to fill any role, but even I have to admit that I have marginal skills at both!
So, with camera slung over my shoulder, I began to document others’ experiences to bring back images of the places we would go and the ministries we would encounter. Perhaps there was a chance I would soak in a bit of the story for myself and maybe share that story with others. However, I was going to attempt to remain a bit on the detached side and make room for others to tell their stories.
Then, I met the children of Casa del Migrantes. At that point, story was no longer an abstraction and I could no longer remained detached. It suddenly and breathlessly became way too personal and heartbreaking.
But a little background first.
Prior to my employ as Administrative and Communications Director for Synod of the Sun, I was a 30 year veteran of youth ministry. Summer camps, mission trips, shaving cream fights, late- night pizza gab fests, lock-ins, sleeping on the floor of a church fellowship hall... you get the picture. I don’t just like hanging out with children and youth, I still love it very much. In the latter part of my tenure as a youth minister, I found that my body couldn’t handle rigors of that kind of ministry easily and I felt a strong call to this ministry in which I find myself now.
Within that time frame of youth ministry, I had the opportunity to take a number of youth groups to Central America. So what I was seeing in Juarez was not new to me. The sights, smells, sounds and feel of Juarez was very reminiscent to me. It was wonderful and familiar. The dusty roads, the cement block buildings, the haunting eyes and generous smiles of people who live locally, the amazing aromas of cooking food, and the background noise of soccer announcers who describe the action impossibly quickly... this sensory overload served to evoke a feeling of being ‘there’ again.
In all of those years of going to Central America, I had learned to build up some defenses. The emotional turmoil in seeing abject poverty can break the heart of a kindhearted, generous person. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed. I recall spending more than a few sleepless nights in Honduras wondering how I was so blessed. So, I knew what to expect and knew how to “not let it get to me.” Or so I thought.
Now, back to the scene at hand...After visiting Pasos de Fe on Monday in Juarez and touring the Femicide Memorial (which could be the topic of an entirely different blog post), we arrived at Casa del Migrantes. We were invited to mill about the open grounds to meet and talk with the families who had found shelter at this facility. We soon discovered while some people chose to be the indefinite victims of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, there were some who were giving up hope of ever getting an asylum hearing. They made the decision to wait for the bus that would take them back to the hell from which they tried to escape.
As I walked outside with the team, I immediately found two young men taking turns at shooting a dusty basketball into a bent, lowered basketball hoop with no net. I put down my camera and assumed a role I knew and loved all too well: Youth Minister. If I was going to talk to these two guys and anyone else younger, I was going to have to get in the game.
After some spirited fun, my “too old for youth ministry” body signaled I need to sit down. In a matter of seconds, I was surrounded by migrant children and youth. With my broken Spanish and their broken English, we learned about each other. We played and laughed and joked around. Some parents stood in the background, watching the goings-on with a careful eye. It was wonderful and familiar and comfortable for me. I didn’t want it to end.
Of course, suddenly it was time to go.
There was so much I wanted to say so much to these beautiful children. But I lacked the ability to tell them what my heart wanted to say:“You are beloved child of God. Never ever forget that.”“You were made in the image of God. No government policy can take that away.”“I am sorry that our peoples can’t figure this out for you. I am so sorry.”“Don’t let anyone steal your soul. You don’t know that that means now. Just remember that you are so beloved to God. And to me.”All I could say was “adios, amigas and amigos”.
Maybe my actions and smiles and laughter was enough to communicate all that I really wanted to say to them. Maybe a few moments in an otherwise endless string of gray days was a gift. I don’t know. What I do know is that my heart breaks... no, my heart is shattered... to know that their upcoming days and weeks and years are not what God wants for them.
This is reason enough to advocate.
This is reason enough to share.
This is reason enough to give a damn.
I found hope for these children in the hands and feet and hearts of the people of Juarez and El Paso. They are moving heaven and earth to make room, prepare meals and offer hospitality. I found hope that Casa del Migrantes and Pasos de Fe are using meager resources to make a more-that-meager difference. They have been called to do that and we need to stand with them.
I now know, more than ever, that children and their families are not a political abstraction. The beloved and beautiful future that God wants is being robbed for these kids and the kids separated from their families and the children in detention. We need to sit on the ground to laugh and play and imagine with these children. God is calling us to that spot.