Following Jesus’ mandate on the border: Give food, water and welcome
This summer, Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, sponsored a mission trip to the Rio Grande Valley, where they ministered to immigrant refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border. Calvary’s youth pastor, Ali Chappell DeHay, filed this report:
This morning I am reflecting on all I felt as we witnessed what was equal parts heartbreaking, overwhelming, and cause for pause in McAllen, Texas. Here is a short synopsis of our experience at Catholic Charities from one of our youth parents and chaperones, Jodi Heston:
"Today, we had the privilege of serving alongside Catholic Charities at their Humanitarian Respite Center, where we served lunch to about 1,000 refugees here in McAllen. I looked into the eyes of men, women and children who were hungry and scared and saw the face of God in their smiles and gratefulness for a simple meal of rice and chicken and cucumber slices.
"We brought with us shoelaces and hair ties, because those are taken from them at the detention centers. As our youth handed these simple items out, they were again met with gratefulness, joy and smiles.
"I held a 3-day-old baby so her mother could eat lunch; she had birthed her at a detention center and now was sleeping in what amounts to a short-term shelter with a newborn on a mat on the floor.
"There is so much to do here, and the people of God are being faithful. I am leaving here soon, but I will daily pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are here in McAllen, being the hands and feet (of Jesus) day-in and day-out."
Most of our group has been speechless since we left the respite center. We all sat in a circle after we returned from the center and marveled in the truth that each person we interacted with that day is and always has been a beloved child of God. Although this truth is Good News indeed, this truth made our observance of these brothers’ and sisters’ dire circumstances even more heartbreaking.
Many of us longed to communicate with those we were serving, but we did not speak their language. This reminded us how difficult it must be for those who are searching for safety and stability but don’t speak the language of those around them. We wept when people asked us for more bread, because we could only imagine how hungry they might’ve been, and we also remembered we recently complained we had to eat lunch and dinner too close together. We wept again when young children came up to us and said “quiero agua” because we admit we’ve never been that thirsty.
As we handed out chicken and rice, students approached me with concerned faces saying, “We are almost out of food, and there is a long line.” Even chaperones and adults came to me and asked how we would respond when the food was gone and there was still a line. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but as Jesus said in Matthew 14, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” We witnessed a mystical miracle, because the food there was only supposed to feed 500, yet we were able to hand plates to nearly 1,000.
Our group has now realized “standing up” for refugees isn’t enough; it takes seeing them in person, hearing their voices and looking deep into their eyes to truly join them in their defense of dignity.
As Jodi mentioned, we will be praying daily for those in the Rio Grande Valley and all along the U.S.-Mexico border who are living out Jesus’ call to give something to eat to those who are hungry, give water to those who are thirsty and welcome in those who are strangers.
That is Jesus’ charge to us, isn’t it?