Judy Kading of Des Moines, Iowa, has heard the heartbreaking stories of child refugees at the border and is taking action to do something about it. As part of an effort through United Methodist Women (UMW), she is now in Laredo, Texas. She is there to help with humanitarian relief effort, as part of the Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team.
Judy has long been active in immigration issues in her church. Right now, she is working at a Laredo homeless shelter helping families, individuals, and travelers associated with the crisis. The shelter offers breakfast, lunch, or supper. She is also working with a UMW mission where trailers are equipped with showers and available. Children have clean clothes available to them and playground, created by Save the Children. The center also offers health and hygiene bags that contain underwear, a hygiene kits, snacks, diapers, and other items needed for bus trips and travel.
She is also blogging about the experience, to help those of us here in Iowa and the Midwest better understand what is happening.
Faith Community Response Reveals Cooperation
Here in Laredo I am so impressed with the faith community’s response to the needs of people who are migrating from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua and pass through from apprehension by the Border Patrol to wait at the bus station.
Leaders from the United Methodist Church, different Baptist congregations, the Catholic Church, Save the Children, and other faith traditions I’d never heard of were united in their concern for doing the best in the short period of time that the travelers stop at Laredo on their journeys. All groups came to the meeting with something to offer and a real willingness to share their resources and to serve.
Depending on the time of their arrival, there is breakfast, lunch or supper available. In the morning showers are taken at Bethany House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen of the Catholic Church. After lunch, the showers move to the Holding Institute Community Center , a mission institution of the United Methodist Women. The showers are provided by a trailer built just for that by the Baptists and situated on the Holding property. While parents pick out clean clothes, the children have a play space created by Save the Children, which is finishing up a new play ground, sure to be a hit for years. Adults come back in to the Holding Institute Community Center for a bag with undies, a hygiene kit, snacks, water, diapers and other items for a bus trip. At the Greyhound bus station an employee of the Mexican consulate is coordinating serving meal in the evening. The company is allowing people to sleep on the buses that aren’t in service until their bus departs.
The faith communities are shining in their willingness to cooperate with each other for the good of all. This is an example our political leaders could follow. In cooperation and open communication solutions can be found to benefit everyone. Everyone is bringing something to the table–people even walk in to Holding with donations off and on all day.
Compassion, communication, cooperation–all important community values that the faith groups I have met are exhibiting.
This past week has seen a significant reduction in the number of refugees coming into Laredo. At Holding Institute Community Center we have had only about 20 adults all week. We continue to see mothers with small children. They still come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, though few from Guatemala.
One young woman from El Salvador said that her reason for leaving was threats from a gang. Her older sisters live in the U.S. and send money to the family. One day several gang members came to the home, pulled a gun and held it to her head. They threatened to kill her if she didn’t pay them $10,000. Her sisters told her it was time to come to them. She is also pregnant with a due date in October.
A Honduran woman with three daughters explained that she had been separated from her husband for five years and wanted the girls to know their father. She wanted the girls to have a better life and a chance to go to school. She and the girls had been on the road for over a month, walking many days, as well as taking the train.
Another Honduran woman who came yesterday with her one year old daughter was able to ride the bus, while her companion with a seven year old had used the train–La Bestia–riding on top in Mexico.
A Mexican pastor of a Methodist Church in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, shared information with us about the slow down in numbers. His observations are that there are many Central Americans in the city who are looking for the opportunity to cross over. They have heard now how single men and single women are being kept in detention and deported more quickly. Either they are out of money to pay the coyotes to cross the river or they simply are waiting for a better chance. Earlier in the week there was a large train derailment that caused quite a bit of delays for those that ride on the top of the train. There were people hurt and people who were then on foot.
The city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has put up some simple shelters for the migrants, hoping to keep them in one area while they wait. This particular Mexican Methodist Church is serving food, going out at midnight in the streets. At first it was risky, but now the Mexican police and the Zetas, a gang in control of much border territory, recognize them and leave them alone. We would like to help them with extra food and clothes, but there are border restrictions about carrying certain items across. We are impressed with the pastor’s maturity although he is only 26. In the early evening he has been bringing several of young adults of his church with him to help in tasks around Holding Institute Community Center. Mercy and charity seem to seep through borders.