by Rev. Natalie Webb & Covenant Baptist Church, 7/15/2018
"...for this child of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate." -Luke 15:24
This week, we roasted the fatted calf. We feasted and celebrated as children ran back into their parents’ arms. There were no prodigals in our story, but children who, like the prodigal, were lost and then found, away from their mothers and then reunited.
Bessy (*all names have been changed to protect privacy) crossed the border on June 9th, fleeing abuse, violence, and poverty in Honduras. When I asked how long she had planned for her trip, she said, “There was no planning. There was a problem, and we had to go.” She presented herself and her 6 year old son, Jasiel, for asylum, and they were detained in what is known as the “ice box” for one night. In the middle of that night, guards entered the room where Bessy was cradling a sleeping Jasiel and demanded that she wake him up. She tried to refuse, but they continued to yell that she let go of him, put him down, and wake him up. She gently laid him on the ground in front of her and tried to wake him. Before he could get out of his sleepy daze, he was gone. The guards told Bessy that she would see him the next day. She didn’t see him again until last Wednesday, July 10th, one month and one day later. During that month, she was detained in a for-profit detainment facility in Port Isabel, where she met and became friends - hermanas really - with Belia.
Belia came from Guatemala, also fleeing for her life with her children, Arlin and Mishel (10 and 12, respectively). She did not hire a coyote, but worked her way through Mexico, going as far as they could with what they had, then stopping and finding work for a week or two, then going further north as far as they could, then stopping for work, and on and on like this until she led her children across the river and presented her family for asylum.
Neither mother had any idea what would be waiting for them – that their children would be taken away, that they would be treated as criminals, even though requesting asylum is in no way illegal. They told me last night how completely surprised they were by the harmful and violent way their families were received. Then they told me again and again, that after going through all of that, they’ve been even more surprised ("la mas grande sopresa!") by the love and welcome and help they received here in San Antonio, and especially here at Covenant.
I received the request to shelter Bessy and Belia last Sunday night, the elders immediately approved, and you all sprang into action. There were no prodigals, but I couldn’t help but think of that story as I walked through this week with these mothers – grieving the absence of their children, facing hurdle after hurdle, disappointment after disappointment, then finally embracing their lost children and not wanting to ever let go.
We brought out the finest robes and shoes, clothes from many of your own closets, shoes lovingly shopped for and bought; I don’t think any rings were presented to our guests, but there were bracelets and shawls and prayer beads and toys galore. You brought suitcases and Spanish-language magazines, craft supplies and snacks. You cooked meals and drove the moms to their appointments, lent out nerf guns and cell phones. You donated funds, stocked refrigerators, and some of you spent hours translating. Others (like me) did your best to speak bad Spanish boldly! You prayed and prayed and prayed.
On Friday night, when all three children were finally back in their mothers’ arms for good, we had an impromptu fiesta – we roasted carne asada on the grill that hasn’t been used in years, Bessy and Belia became boss chefs in our kitchen, and pretty much kicked everyone else out! We danced to Jasiel and Arlin's guitar playing and singing, we feasted and laughed until we were too tired to go on. Mishel could barely eat, she was so tired, and Jasiel literally fell asleep on top of a toy in the hallway. I told you - we roasted the fatted calf (the fatted calf was from HEB in our story, but it still works).
Ver, juzgar, activar. There are so many things that I saw, and discerned, and am activated to do. But I want to hear from you. So we’re having a group sermon today! If you’d like to share a minute or two about your experience, either with Bessy and Belia's families or welcoming families at the bus station this week, please do. We'll use our friend, Pastor Helen's model for reflection to get your wheels turning: Ver, juzgar, activar. What did you see? What did you discern? What action will that cause you to take?
Thank you, each of you, for sharing. Keep sharing – this is the good news. Pastor Helen talks about having “una grande voca” – a big mouth! And we have a responsibility to tell these families' stories, to bear witness to the beauty and grace and strength we’ve seen in their lives.
One month ago, on World Refugee Sunday, when we prayed for the families being separated, we had no idea we were praying for these families. When we wrote letters to our elected officials, we didn’t know that these were the beautiful families we were outraged for. When we gave money to RAICES, we didn’t know they would use that money to pay Bessy and Belia's bonds. When our kids made welcome cards for refugee kids, we had no idea we’d be welcoming Jasiel and Arlin and Mishel into our own space, our own arms.
This week, I saw the gospel come to life. I saw these women resurrected. I saw the Spirit of God working in and through YOU. Thanks be to God.