In late September, as I perused the Women of Welcome public page, I noticed under the ad for the documentary Who Is Welcome Here? that a lovely strawberry blonde woman, from Fort Collins, Colorado, had responded with a comment tagging her friends and asking if they’d be interested in watching it together and going through the discussion guide. I smiled. This is why we do what we do at Women of Welcome..
I messaged this lovely lady and introduced myself as an Ambassador with the group and asked if I might be able to sit in and observe the conversations, with the goal being learning what women are saying both about the documentary, but also what they are feeling concerning the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border.
Heather, who is quite organized and very handy with all things tech, quickly put together a Facebook group and added all who voiced interest in getting together. On October 21, she launched the very first Zoom meeting.
Most of the things I have done are very small, and they’ve been scattered over a decade. And so, when I look at myself, I don’t see someone making much of a difference in the global refugee crisis. Usually, I just see a mama who is busy, somewhat frazzled, and sometimes a little disappointed she can’t muster more energy to do something more meaningful for refugees.
I focus on my limitations; not my agency.
Here in San Diego, I live only miles from the border. Some years back, I put in a lot of effort to save enough money to get passports for my kids. It wasn’t that I just dreamed of exploring and vacationing with my family around the globe (which still hasn’t happened). But I wanted my kids to see The Wall from both sides, to walk it; drive it. To be able to talk to people on both sides. There is nothing else quite like experiencing two different worlds in the space of a mile--including the privilege of walking by men with machine guns, while other children sit nearby in the dust.
I’m just an ordinary, everyday mama. But I can still do something about the global refugee crisis.
Our eyes grew wide in disbelief at the yelling, shoving crowd. We had been warned, to be fair, that our trip to the Mogamma, the towering government building in Tahrir Square, would be difficult. But this was something entirely otherworldly. We clutched our passports to our chests and braced ourselves against elbows to the ribs. Everyone there needed to get to that one plexiglass window at the front of the room. On the other side were the stamps that would allow us to stay in the country.
We came to Egypt on tourist one-month entry visas in faith that the system would work and we would be allowed to stay. We didn’t act like there was any other option when we signed a two-year lease and enrolled in Arabic classes. But we needed someone on the other side of the mob to take our papers and give us final permission.
We tell our immigration stories fondly now from the other side. They felt like harrowing experiences while we were in the middle of them though. Years after we moved back to the U.S., we went through the process again. We hounded the guy at the Bangladeshi Embassy daily. He could have denied our visas because of a changing rule we didn’t know about. Instead, he gave us a call and a chance to make it right. Our entire life was already packed up in ten suitcases and the one-way plane tickets had been purchased. Yet he held the power to deny us entry into the new life we sought. In the end, we got the highly-coveted five-year permission that others told us they were jealous of. “How easy it was for you,” they would say.
I’ve been an immigrant twice and I’ve served with an organization that worked in relief and development amidst one of the largest refugee crises of our time. I’ve helped bring aid to those who fled. I listened to and wrote stories so that donors would hopefully continue to help. I stood looking over the vast rolling hills of the world’s largest refugee camp and thought I knew something about the vulnerability of a transitory life. I knew nothing.
This year we hosted twelve webinars to bring you up-to-date information, diverse perspectives, and on-the-ground wisdom from people of faith living out Christ-like welcome. Here is a roundup of the interviews that taught us so much this year, in case you missed any. Thank you for being with us as we seek to learn, engage, and grow to be more like Christ in our welcome toward the sojourner.
Truly understanding a migrant’s journey can be difficult, but the simple truth is that their journey is often perilous, especially for unaccompanied children. Our team met three unaccompanied teenage girls trying to make their way to the United States.
These young girls were staying at a makeshift shelter in a remote location near Tijuana, which housed both adults and unaccompanied children together. The shelter was little more than a compound of dilapidated and unfinished buildings. One of the girls, who was just 15 years old, was over four months pregnant.
People around the world are fleeing violence, oppression, and poverty. U.S. asylum law states that any individual arriving in the United States is allowed to request asylum, whether or not they have arrived at a designated port of arrival. Anyone wishing to claim asylum has historically been referred to an asylum officer who could then process their claim.
In 2018, however, things changed. The government instituted an informal immigration process known as metering. Under this metering process, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents are stopping families and individuals at the border, assigning them a number, and returning them to Mexico to wait until their number is called. Once their number is called, only then can they claim asylum and begin the immigration court process. Hundreds of immigrants and asylees wait months in Mexico, with no way to know when their number will be called or if their request will be approved.
When we needed to have some things done around our house a few years ago, we were given a few referrals to some men who reportedly did great work. While they were at our home, we engaged in conversations with them about their lives and families. We invited their families over for meals and learned more about the tight-knit Hispanic community within our larger community.
Communication was definitely a challenge (we don’t speak Spanish), but we stumbled along and grew to care deeply for these families who emanated joy and hospitality despite having very little as if it was their privilege to care for us. We went to a baby shower (essentially a church service and party) at their church with about 100 people and we were the only white people in attendance. Still, our friends had everything translated to English so our family could understand.
I decided to ask a few of the women if they would be interested in learning English together. We started meeting weekly in my home and it was the highlight of my week! There was a lot of laughter as we shared, learned, and grew together. Over the summer, we held potlucks at a local park which brought out their families and friends’ families as well as others who wanted to come alongside and get to know these neighbors. The food was amazing.
We also held an official ESL Training for volunteers through Ministry to North America. We were excited to launch an ESL Ministry at the Mennonite Church in September 2019. We put flyers up around the community and had about 35 adults (and lots of kids) come through our doors on registration night. We held three levels of classes on Thursday nights as well as Wednesday morning women’s class. The church gym was bustling with kids on Thursdays, and we had volunteers that led them in activities, crafts, and games. It felt like a taste of heaven where cultures, races, languages, and people made in God’s image connected and built bridges.
The tug to get involved with immigrants in my community came from a deep desire to experience other cultures, to be connected to people, and to use the gifts God has given me.
I grew up in a family that traveled a lot but also had deep roots in our Mennonite community in Pennsylvania. We were taught the virtue of serving others, of listening to and identifying needs, of respecting another’s culture and way of life, and of always helping those with the least in society. I grew up knowing that we were “privileged” and that God wanted us to use what He’d given us to bless others. My parents modeled that, not with obligation but with joy. The ability to sacrifice was a gift.
Africa always intrigued me, and I imagined that someday I would move there to work in an orphanage. A part of that dream became a reality when we adopted our first son from Ethiopia in 2010. Unbeknownst to me, adopting Daniel also resulted in falling in love with the Ethiopian culture and people, which has indelibly become a part of the fabric of our family. I have traveled back several times over the last decade, and we added a teenager from there to our family as well.
Pedro is a 14-year-old boy who has grown up in a Central Mexican town ruled by a violent drug cartel. The cartel operates above the law and the town’s police force is powerless to control their criminal activity. And for boys like Pedro, joining the cartel isn’t just an option, it’s mandatory. Anyone who dares to resist recruitment by the cartel faces torture — even death.
Pedro’s attempts to avoid joining the cartel were met with severe violence. Then the cartel started to threaten Pedro’s brother and mother as well. So, Pedro’s mother had to make a critical choice: stay with her friends and family in the town she loved, or leave everything to protect her two young sons.
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Ruth 2:10
The day I became a citizen was hope deferred that turned into hope assured. It was a day I had waited for my entire life! But the context of my story is steeped with bitterness. Why would I feel shame over something that, in our society, is valued as the ultimate dream?
My parents are both from impoverished parts of Mexico and Central America. They both sought to dig themselves out of poverty, trauma, and hunger. They met at the border of California and Mexico at a factory, where they fell in love quicker than expected and soon found themselves pregnant with me. While I was still a newborn, my parents decided that they wanted to cross the border to offer me a better shot at life. They crossed the border in the only manner they understood—without documentation.