There’s always room at the Inn

La Posada Providencia

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The Sisters of Providence first came to the US from Germany in the 1870s, in order to teach newly arrived immigrants in Pennsylvania.  Now, 150 years later, Sisters Terez, Margaret, and Zita are hosting up to 400 refugees in their shelter every year.  Since 1989, they have sheltered over 8,000 people from 70+ countries.  On average, they host up to 300 people per year – but in 2014, they sheltered over 1,000 people.

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The sisters wanted their shelter to reflect Biblical Hospitality, so they named it after the Inn where Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus received shelter when they were travelers in need.  The 24/7 emergency homeless shelter houses refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking.  These individuals have been processed and cleared by ICE/Border agents, but are facing an extremely long court process.  Not only do the sisters provide a temporary home, but they also promote self-sufficiency and emotional healing.  Check them out at https://lppshelter.org/

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The sisters use volunteers to teach 4 hours of English classes every day for every resident – no matter their age, first language, or English skills.  That’s intense!

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The shelter hires someone to prepare meals.  All the sisters, staff, residents, and volunteers have lunch together every day, family style.  A chance to practice English, because it’s not uncommon for all 12 people at a table to speak different languages!

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The children play without a lot of words 🙂  

One of the great things about La Posada Providencia is that they provide more than just shelter.  They provide space for healing.

The refugees which come to them have no where else to go. It takes time – sometimes just a few days, but often a few weeks – to arrange the logistics of a life in the US.  Once ICE releases these individuals, they are often very emotionally traumatized, sometimes also physically injured.  Without a family, or a job, where are they going to live?

The sisters give them space.  They teach English, computer skills, and job skills.  They focus on recycling and gardening, too.

The residents work together to grow food in the garden, to compost and recycle waste, to clean all of the indoor and outdoor spaces, to prepare food, to wash laundry, to study English, to care for the children, and to heal together.

Volunteers have built most of the facilities, donate most of the food and clothing, and lead most of the English classes.  But the sisters live on site, providing help 24/7/365 to whomever needs them for the last 27 years.

Unfortunately, the sisters are aging – they should have all retired at least 10 years ago.  But despite some regular volunteers and paid staff, they’re still doing the majority of the work in this shelter, and there isn’t anyone to take it on when they’re gone.  I wonder what La Posada will look like in the future?

 

New Life

Happy Easter!

Christians around the world celebrated Christ’s Resurrection yesterday.  I hope you got to celebrate with your church family, too.

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Of course, celebrations vary around the world.  Check out this collection of images – and notice how many countries do parades or processions!

No matter how you celebrated, I hope you heard the Good News of Easter: Jesus is Alive!
Jesus conquered death, and so our lives on earth should reflect God’s kingdom promises, and we can look forward to eternity in heaven with God and all believers.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

But I wonder, How does this message sound like if your life on earth feel hopeless?

If you woke up to the sounds of bombing this morning.
If you escaped the kidnappers just to be thrown in prison.
If your parents might die in their house because it’s too dangerous to go outside.
If your asylum case has just been postponed another five years.

God’s Providence

On Wednesday, you’ll see a blog post here about a refugee shelter in Southern Texas called “La Posada Providencia” – The Inn of God’s Providence – run by Catholic nuns.  But today, I want to share a story of Mauricio, whom I met at the shelter.  We got to practice his English and my Spanish for several hours together, and then he told me his story.

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Mauricio was a medical student in Guatemala.  Unfortunately, he was mugged, assaulted, and threatened by gangs regularly on his way to school.  (This is common in Central America – UNHCR profiles the violence here. According to the UK news, someone is murdered in Guatemala every 90 minutes.) The violence led to him dropping out of school – not only was he scared to leave the house, but getting mugged regularly made it difficult to get to class on time, and to arrive with his supplies, and to have enough money to pay school fees.  Also, if he stayed in school, his parents became a gang target – the assumption being that if they could afford school fees, they could also afford ransom payments.  Amnesty International explains how common this situation is.

Finally, Mauricio and his family made a very tough decision – to send him to the US.  It is currently a 17-23 year wait for a refugee visa from Guatemala, if one can afford the legal fees to prove your case.  That isn’t going to help him or his family.  His parents have Diabetes, and without access to their medicine, they won’t live long.  He tried to get to the US, to find his brother in Los Angeles, and see if he could get a job here, earn enough  money to buy his parents’ medication, and then return home in a few years when things are better in Guatemala.

But that didn’t happen.

Mauricio was kidnapped by gangs in Mexico.  They held him in a locked room, without food or light, for nearly a month.  He was beaten regularly during that time.  They tortured him to get contact information for his family.  They threatened to kill his parents and his brother.  Eventually, he escaped from them and made it to the US border, where he was processed by ICE, contact his family, and released.  In the meantime, his family is receiving weekly threats from international drug cartels/ gangs – based on information he divulged under torture.

But, thanks be to God, Mauricio was released to the Sisters of La Posada Providencia.  He is safe there, and he is learning English as fast as possible.  (It’s his 4th language).  He’s making friends, and learning job skills.  He really wants to be an EMT or nurse in the US – and he might make decent money as even a nursing aide – but it’s likely going to be years before his case is ‘settled’.  His asylum case will take years to process – not weeks, as his family had hoped.

Faith is Hope in the Unseen

When Mauricio told me his story, he kept saying, Espero en Dios “I hope in God”.  Mauricio also heard an Easter Story this weekend.  I wonder how it sounded to him?

What does Hope feel like when you are afraid the gangs will murder your brother?  What does Hope feel like when you aren’t sure whether your parents will get their medication?  What does Hope feel like when you have no idea what the future holds for you?  What does Hope feel like when you can’t sleep at night without remembering the month you were held captive?

I can’t speak for Mauricio, but I think he was trying to tell me this:  Hope feels like the moment you escape from the kidnappers.  Hope feels like Sister Terez teaching him how to compost garbage into fertilizer – and watching something new grow from something old and dead.  Hope feels like a volunteer arriving to teach him English.  Hope is making a new friend who also survived gang torture, and living into their future together.

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I prayed with Mauricio.  I also have Hope in our resurrected Lord.  I have hope that I will see him again in heaven.  But I also am hoping that humans here on earth will live into their potential – to see Mauricio as a child of God, to end the violence in Guatemala so that he can return and go to school, to welcome him to the US and offer him safety and security.

No matter how we preach the Gospel message this Easter season, I want to be sure we are preaching true hope.  No matter how hopeful we are, very bad things still happen to people every day.  Our hope is in Christ’s victory over death – our ultimate salvation – and our hope is that Christians on earth will fight to liberate one another from the sin that holds us captive.  Let’s work together to make this a world where Mauricio and his parents have hope in a tomorrow.

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Passover is a Refugee Story

Moses was a Refugee

The Biblical story is one of people on the move.  Moses led the Hebrews out of Slavery into a refugee camp in the desert.  Today, Jews around the world celebrate “Passover” and remember the time when they were refugees.  Many Passover celebrations this year will include a direct connection to the current refugee crisis, like this example:

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Some Temples are encouraging families to use the above PDF as part of their Passover celebrations at home (it’s several pages long, and can be found here).

Other temples are going further, and hosting a group Passover celebration:

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(More information about that temple, here.)

And while many of us are ignoring the world-wide refugee crisis, Jewish communities cannot forget the last worldwide refugee crisis:  the European Holocaust of 1940s.

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(More information about that Temple, here)

Christians in North America often take our freedom of religion for granted.  But our Jewish brothers and sisters annually remember their refugee history.  Jewish groups across the country resettle refugees in the US, and also advocate for more humanitarian responses to the refugee crisis.

So, this year, Jews around the US are adding a banana and a pineapple to their Passover Tables.  They’re putting empty shoes at the door, and inviting new neighbors to join.

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As Christians also celebrate our Holy Week – even as some Christians are martyred for worshiping in their church – maybe we also need to remember our Refugee history.

You are no longer foreigners. You are citizens in the family of God.
– Ephesians 2:19

Jesus died for the sin of the whole world – the sin which causes wars and famines and refugee crises.  The sin which causes fear of refugees and resentment of immigrants.  Jesus’ rose again to create a new kingdom – one in which my adoption into God’s family is more important than my citizenship in a political regime.

How can my holy week reflect God’s ongoing work in the world – including the work with refugees, immigrants, and people on the move?

 

Border – Disaster

Managing the “surge”

While we were in Texas, we crossed the border with papers.  But, we also met with refugees who are trying to receive asylum in the US, even without legal documents.

In 2014, the US news was full of images of children crossing from Mexico to the  US.  Those numbers decreased in 2015, and we started to see images of children crossing from Turkey to Greece.  But in 2016, the US news was full of election coverage, so we didn’t see what was happening – another huge surge of refugees crossing into the US via Mexico and asking for refuge.

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Almost all of those children and families are not “sneaking” across the border.  They are voluntarily turning themselves in to Border Patrol, who then either immediately deports them OR  turns them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  If ICE believes that they have a potential Asylum Case, they can be released to family in the US.

But… how does that really work?

The interesting thing is the logistics of how.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of Central Americans were approaching US Border agents each day.  It might take a few hours, but likely a few days before their case can be sorted out. According to Saul, the Catholic Disaster Response director for the Rio Grande Valley, here’s basically what happens:

  • Individuals arrive at the Mexico side of the US-Mexico border.  They approach border officials and ask for help.  If they do not have paperwork to legally enter, they must be detained by ICE (arrested).
  • Children from Central America who arrive without a parent are sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. I’ll share more about them in another post.
  • All items are taken from them.  Soap, cell phones, water bottles, shoelaces, rosaries.  Normally, they never get the items back.
  • ICE will release the refugees once several conditions are met:  they might qualify for refugee status in the US, they have a family member who promises to take care of them, and they agree to appear in US federal immigration court.
  • Finally, ICE drops the released refugees off at a tiny bus station in McAllen – without shoelaces, or water (it’s 100 degrees there), or a map, or a cell phone.

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Sacred Heart Catholic Church is practically next door to the bus station.  So, Sister Norma – and Catholic Disaster Response – stepped up.  National Geographic did an article on this location a few years ago:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140805-immigration-minors-youth-central-america-religion/

The main goal isn’t a political decision – it’s a humanitarian response.  
When 400 people – mainly women and children –  are sitting in 100-degree heat outside your church, you might want to help them.

Lutheran Social Services – now called Upbring – is partnering with Sacred Heart Church and Catholic Disaster Relief to help people.  Literally thousands of individuals in the last 3 years.  We got to visit last week, and it was really interesting.  Check out my video with Upbring’s Kari Rogers:  (it’s 7 minutes long, but fascinating)

Catholic Charities Disaster Response can use donations – specifically of shoes, jeans, water bottles, and drawstring backpacks – and volunteer groups who can speak Spanish.

We saw first hand how this work is helping. People were given maps and explanations in Spanish as to how to use the bus to get to their families.  They had a chance to borrow a phone to call families and check in.  They got a meal, new clothes, hygiene items, and a shower.  Kids got bottles, diapers, and a chance to play.  Individuals met friends and were welcomed warmly by US volunteers.  All of that makes a difference.

If I am ever a refugee – I hope someone welcomes me like that.

Border Crossings

Neighbors and Friends

I live in Michigan, so to me “border crossing” looks like the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor:

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When I was little, crossing the bridge was actually tougher than crossing the border.  We had to line up our cars to pay a bridge toll, and that could take a few minutes.  But we didn’t have to show anything to get into Canada or back into the US.  We just smiled at the border agents 🙂 and sailed across.

In fact, when I was in high school in the late 1990s, crossing from California to Mexico was just about as easy.  We waited in our cars, and talked to border agents, but we didn’t need to show any passports, birth certificates, or even driver’s licenses.  It looked something like this:

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Until about 2005, we didn’t worry too much about illegal crossings.  The idea was that if you were a drug dealer, you’d be arrested for that crime.  If you were sneaking, the border patrol would find you.  And otherwise, you’d probably just re-cross eventually.

Of course, 9/11 attacks changed all of that.  For a lot of good reasons, we had to increase border security, and everyone, even citizens of Canada, US, and Mexico all had to show passports or an “enhanced” ID.  Now, it’s tougher to cross the border.  This change in policy 12 years ago has led to a change in how many people actually cross over without paperwork:  today, the number of persons crossing the southern border without paperwork is only 10% of what it was in 2005.

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But, if you have paperwork, it’s still pretty easy to cross the border.  Especially if you don’t mind walking across!  (the car lines are a little long).

Two different Borders

First, we went to a great local park.

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Friends, we are standing on the US side, and you can see the Mexican park on the other side.  It’s less than a football-field length away.  On weekends, boats can be launched from docks on each side, and everyone parties together on the Rio Grande River.  There were some police around, but they were very casually enjoying their day in the park.  Not scary, not threatening.  Birds and fish cross from one park to the next.

The current border fence proposal would put a fence in the middle of the river.

This seemed so obvious to both of us – the current border patrol efforts seem pretty effective.  I’m not sure an expensive fence would help them much.

Then, we decided to officially cross over into Mexico.

First, we parked our car in a lot near the border.  You can see the border by the big fence.  I found it hilarious that the “big” fence is so short…

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Then, we walked from McAllen, TX to Reynosa, Mexico, via a pedestrian bridge over the Rio Grande River.

There’s a pedestrian lane on both sides of some car-friendly lanes.  There is another bridge for cars going the other direction.  Underneath us is the Rio Grande.  I costs $1 to cross from US to Mexico and $0.25 to cross from Mexico to the US.  The bridge is shared by the two cities collectively.

Once we got into Mexico, we immediately saw blocks of Dentists, Doctors, and Pharmacists – likely charging much cheaper prices than their TX neighbors:

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We walked into downtown to see the local Catholic Church

Take a Selfie in the Plaza Centro

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And eat too much lunch (for way too little money).  We walked back to our car when we were done, and were back to our air b&b for a siesta during the intense heat.

No Sneaking

Honestly, folks, there wasn’t a good way to “sneak” across.  Not here.  The border patrol uses a variety of tactics on both sides of the border, and it’s pretty easy and cheap to cross legally at several different places.  People who arrive at this location are hoping to turn themselves in voluntarily to border police, or they have paperwork to cross.  I’m not sure where someone would try to sneak people, drugs, or guns, but it isn’t here.

We did other fun things in the border town – stay tuned for more updates all week! 

Immigration Links

Curating Resources

Last week, my brother asked me, “So… what can you tell me about immigration?”  It’s all over the news right now, but even though he’s highly educated on all things news and politics, it wasn’t an issue he’s spent a lot of time researching recently, but I have.  Maybe you’re also wanting to learn more about immigration – check it out here!

NPR investigates:  How did we get to 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US?

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The NY Times also collected data to explain the current situation (politics-free).

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If you want State Specific Data, check out this link and click on “Map the Impact” to get info on immigration in your own area.

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If you’re more of a podcast person, check out part #1 & Part #2 on the sanctuary movement.

Maybe you’d like to connect current immigration trends with historical information on Ellis Island (especially with great pictures!)

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Do you know the Dreamers?  This group of young adults were brought to the US by their parents, but they are now facing the consequences of their parents’ choices.  This video tells true stories, and gives some background.

Maybe you want to know how to talk about Immigration with your congregation?  I always recommend Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.

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No matter what you think, it might be hard to combat the attitudes of others.  LIRS’s Mythbusters are great!

What if your pastor was facing deportation?  

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Finally, some great quotes about immigration, from a variety of sources.

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