Desert Oasis

Stopover in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)

It is a long flight to East Africa.

I mean, I’m thrilled that we can get there so quickly – but we’re still talking a multi-day trip.  In order to break up the trip (and keep costs low), we stopped for about 24 hours in Abu Dhabi, the largest city in United Arab Emirates.

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The UAE is a young country – just declaring independence from United Kingdom a few decades ago.  The country is very safe and economically stable, but most of the people live in a few cities, and spend most of their time indoors (because it was 111 degrees, folks!).  The city of Abu Dhabi is 80% immigrant, mainly people from India and Kenya. (Back when India, Kenya, and UAE were all British colonies, people immigrated between them freely.)

Most Emiratis are Muslim, and wear very conservative clothing (but, since immigrants make up most of the city, they are very multi-cultural and tolerant).  We were both allowed to wear whatever we wanted.  BUT – some private establishments, such as the Grand Mosque and the popular shopping mall, could demand a certain dress code.  I did my best to be covered and still prepared for the heat (that white shirt is supposed to be for athletes in the heat, but I’m not sure it was all that effective).

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Turns out, though, I was dressed like Muslims in Michigan, and not at all like locals.  Most of the local folks wear fewer colors and looser clothing

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Men wear long white robes, with pockets on the side, and white or red and white checkered head scarfs.  Women wear a black abiya over their dress, and a loose black head shawl.  Men working outside wear pants and western uniforms with hats.

So, nice try.  But I still failed miserably.

They have huge shopping malls, full of people walking together, because there isn’t any kind of ‘downtown’ or outdoor place to gather because it is SO hot.  We walked and got some dinner at the mall.  Great place to people watch!    The American tourists in shorts and tank tops did look ridiculous, so even though I wasn’t wearing the right thing, at least I wasn’t wearing the wrong thing.

The best part of the layover, though, was stopping at the Grand Mosque.  We were there in time for evening prayers.

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This is actually a modern mosque – just completed in 2007 – designed by the President/ Head Emir to represent modern Islam.  It can fit 41,000 people for prayers at the end of Ramadan gathering.  Only about 10,000 of those folks can fit inside the air conditioned part (which has great carpets, too.)  I wouldn’t want to be praying outside in that heat!

Starting the trip with the hottest temps was a good idea – nothing else will be quite so uncomfortable.  But, starting the trip with a visit to the Grand Mosque was also amazing.  Abu Dhabi is proud of its Muslim heritage and Islamic traditions.  But they are very tolerant and welcoming.  It felt just like visiting cathedrals in Europe, or Buddhist temples in Asia.  It was encouraging, and interesting.

Next Stop:  Kenya!

The beginning in the End

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Dear Readers:  Thank you for your patience.  Since my last post, I have continued working with Refugees and Immigrants in Michigan, mainly with LIRS,  Samaritas, J-FON, and WRW. But, we were mainly planning for two new things I’m sharing today:

We’re moving to Wisconsin!

I received a call to pastor two congregations in the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA, and David will be leading a new Innovation Center at a school in the area.  We are very excited about this new plan God has for us.  I just wish that I could somehow have all the new experiences while still living in Ann Arbor!

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Oregon Trail stories.

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I seemed to think that traveling on a bumpy road in a wooden cart was more romantic and exciting than the summer RV trips my family took across the USA. (We had visited 45 states by the time I was 20).

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Now, as an adult, that entire plan seems ridiculous.  I can’t imagine trying to fit my entire family, and everything we *might* need for the rest of our lives in a strange and foreign land, into a tiny little wagon.

As it is, we’re trying to downsize from a medium-sized US house & garage to an average apartment with parking space.  It means leaving behind half of what we own.  Not nearly as difficult as packing a Conestoga wagon.  And definitely nothing like what the refugees and immigrants must do.  Most refugees have only 60 seconds to pack a bag – or, even if they have more time to plan, they can only bring what they can carry.  Check out these photo galleries to see pictures of what they’re bringing:

http://jamesmollison.com/photography/timemagazine/ 

http://time.com/3647891/undocumented-immigrants-bags/

In the meantime, I have the very first-world problem of fitting my life onto small traveling Pods:

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I suppose that’s the modern version of a cross-country wagon, right?

It also means that I’ve spent much of the last 6 weeks saying good bye to friends and family and co-workers.

Farewell dinner with WRW steering committee, and Final Chapel with St. Paul school

We’re going to Africa!

Along with selling our house, packing our things, and moving to a new state, we’re also packing for our final trip of the Graduate Preaching Fellowship:  East Africa!  We will spend 3 weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania – learning about refugees, refugee work, and churches there.

Packing for that is something I have practiced before!  We’re re-using lots of shoes and clothes and backpacks we’ve used before, but we also had to spray our clothes for mosquitos and pack super light for this trip (because we are on some small planes).

So, even though we had to leave Miel behind (don’t worry, she’s still very happy at home)

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and my favorite shoes needed repair before we even got on the plane
(which of course, David could do without even a tool kit)

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We are really excited to visit Africa!  Stay tuned for more regular updates in the next few weeks!

This is what Democracy Looks Like

Three Pastors walk into the Capitol…

It sounds like a not-so-funny joke.  In reality, it was a great opportunity to be very serious.  While most of the activists at the State Capitol last week were really surprised to see us, several Lutheran and Methodist pastors came to publicly support immigrants, students, families, and the environment.

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Lutherans from SEMI synod, at Michigan United’s Capitol Day, May 2017 

I was really proud to be a part of the efforts that day.  I was the only female pastor there in a clerical shirt.  This made a lot of people turn their heads.  But it was amazing to be one of hundreds of Michigan residents from all around the state come together.

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We asked for increased funding for schools, to support students and teachers.  We asked for a study to determine if we can fund at-home caregivers (parents caring for children and children caring for parents).  We asked for safety for immigrants and their children.  We asked for clean water for Michiganders.

All in all, it was an amazing day of quiet democracy.  I was so proud to be an American.

I got to meet with my own representative about Immigrant Rights.  I asked for statewide recognition of municipal (city or county) IDs, which show residency but not citizenship or driving permission.  I asked for more money for English language classes for immigrants.  I also asked him to work with other legislators to defeat the current anti-sanctuary bills.  He was in favor of all our requests!

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This is a big deal.  While Rep. Zemke is fairly  progressive, he didn’t know everything we presented.  For example, MI’s current ESL funding is so inadequate that it would take 50 years to give every immigrant in our state English classes.  With only 1 million extra dollars, we could give everyone an English class in only 5 years!
Even though Washtenaw County is leading the way in providing a safe space for immigrants (news link) many of the people in our area can’t drive or visit anywhere else in the state, because they can’t get driver’s licenses and their county IDs aren’t accepted in other locations.

BTW:  Rep. Zemke was totally unfazed by my ‘look’.  Which speaks to either his progressive-ism or his professionalism.  🙂

But, the Ann Arbor folks with whom I carpooled were totally shocked by my entire story.

You do WHAT??!! 

None of the other people I met that day went to church or temple.  They didn’t know anyone who did, either.  They weren’t sure what a pastor does at a church.  A few were fairly aware that we did weddings, funerals, and maybe baptisms.  Even more assumed we led something on Sundays.  They were very unsure why anyone would go to church.

Friends.

We are failing our neighbors.

If the only people we talk to about our faith are already at church, how is anyone going to know more about Jesus?  How can we connect with people in other areas of our life – community groups, sports clubs, volunteer organizations, and other things that aren’t work or school?  I don’t mean that we hand out pamphlets on street corners, but how come our neighbors don’t know anything about what we do on Sunday?

I’m not sure how exactly our church can be more relevant, but I hope that participating in democracy is one step in that direction.  The new friends I met that day were intrigued, and wanted to know more about church, and religion, and why we bother.  I am hoping the Holy Spirit uses others in more ways to share the Good News with them.

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Love

When I was little, my mom would tell me that she loved me and my brother so much that she would do anything to keep us safe.  She would do anything, even if it meant that she was uncomfortable or unsafe or even in trouble.  My  mother’s love gave me a lot of confidence to try things, because no matter what happened, she would still love me.

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Most of the mothers I meet in my work with immigrants and refugees are a lot like my mom.  They love their kids, and will do anything to keep them safe – even if it makes them uncomfortable, or unsafe, or even criminals.

A woman in active labor arrived for her immigration court appearance in Los Angeles the day we visited in February.  She came to the US to escape her abusive husband in central america, and she hopes her child will have a safe future in the US.

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Another mom came to the US to keep her children safe, and fed, and warm, but then was deported – but her daughter stayed safe in the US.  They meet on Mother’s Day at the border fence.

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Shorah brought her family from Iran to Germany so that her daughter can be raised in a country where she can publicly practice her Christian faith.

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In the book of Matthew, Mary and Joseph snuck baby Jesus into Egypt in order to save him from Herod.

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Among the refugees which arrive in the US, nearly half are children.  This means that moms and dads are applying for refuge in the US to keep their children safe.

Today, I got to meet with the wonderful women of Dixboro United Methodist Church near my home in Ann Arbor, MI.

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We had a great conversation, but somehow my presentation didn’t load correctly!  So, I didn’t have all the information I wanted to show them.  That church is doing a lot of great work locally, and sending money internationally to help lots of immigrants and refugees.

1. Pray for Refugees / Immigrants (check out this prayer online)
2. Tell the truth and share the facts (UNHCR, ORR)
3. Call Michigan elected officials
4. Attend Wash. Co. Bd. of Commissioners Vote on Immigration Resolutions on May 17 at        6pm at the Washtenaw County Administration Building.
5. Support the Sanctuary movement, like Central UMC in Detroit (story here)
6. Connect with WICIR:  Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
7. Follow Washtenaw Refugee Welcome on facebook
8. Sign up for action alerts at  lirs.org/act/  (click “sign up now”)
9. Volunteer with Samaritas (refugees) or Michigan United (immigrants)
10. Donate to Samaritas (MI), Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services (USA), UMCOR

Maybe, this year, for mother’s day, you will honor your own mom by supporting lots of other moms around the world, who are trying to keep their families safe and healthy.

 

On the Road Again: Refugees, Emmaus Road, and Florida friends

Emmanuel Lutheran in Venice, Florida!

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I got to preach with the palm trees this weekend!
Thanks to a recommendation from a snowbird friend (Thanks, Marj!), I got to visit with some great folks at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Venice, FL.

Thanks also to their amazing tech guy, Dan, you can hear my sermon on their homepage and click on “listen to this week’s sermon, or read the short summary below.

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Bible Study and Links

For many of those who just met me yesterday, this was their first time hearing about the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in the USA and Lutheran World Federation across the world.  The church donates a lot to Lutheran World Relief, including school kits, baby kits, quilts, and financial donations which help refugees in camps around the world.

I also got to share a Bible Study with the congregation.  Here is a summary of the information I present in the Study:

 

Please consider donating money, volunteering, or signing up for advocacy alerts from one or more of the following amazing organizations:

  • http://lirs.org/  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (USA-wide)
  • LWF Lutheran World Federation is the UN’s 5th largest refugee partner worldwide, helping 1.3 million refugees
  • Lutheran Services of Florida serving over 200,000 refugees and immigrants in Florida since 1982!

Beach Stop!

Of course, I couldn’t go to Florida without seeing the beach!  I got to visit Venice Beach at sunset and again in the afternoon.

Thank you to Wes, Marj, and Pastor Rob for welcoming me to Emmanuel, Venice!

Continue reading

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!