By: Leticia Rodriguez
To see the faces of small children, young boys and girls, young women with the children, some scared, others not really understanding why they are here, yet others looking totally lost and hopeless, truly broke our hearts. Can this really be happening? Surely these children and mothers with their young ones didn’t travel thousands of miles, most traveling alone, unprotected, hungry, some barefooted, some as young as 3 years old. They left behind loved ones but also unbearable poverty-stricken communities and areas experiencing rampant criminal activities. But reality is, they did.
They travel in groups, not knowing who they are traveling with. They come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with U.S. families paying an average of $4,000 to $6,500 U.S. dollars to a “coyote” to cross them into the United States, and oftentimes using juvenile boys to help guide them to the border. Many made it to the U.S. border towns, others did not, traveling from these countries to the United States by any means necessary (trains, buses and, yes, even walking, as described by some children). This is a huge risk for them but they were willing to take this risk for the sake of a better life in the United States.
Not really knowing or understanding what our mission would be upon accepting this commitment on behalf of Texas Baptist Men (TBM), God placed in our hearts to be obedient to His calling, and that we did. What an unforgettable and eye-opening experience to this complicated, controversial, political issue brewing in the United States -- the immigration of hundreds of women, children and teenagers into this country. We questioned not why we were there but accepted the opportunity to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of these immigrants.
Children, women, young ladies and boys took turns walking in a line, most with dirty clothes, disheveled hair, no shoelaces (this was not allowed), many without socks. They only knew they would be taking quick showers. Towels were passed out, and then directed to the shower stalls, one by one. The little ones looked scared, some had never used a shower before. As they finished their showers, they were handed a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a hair brush or comb. They had big smiles and showed a sigh of relief and gratitude because they felt clean. In the meantime, towels were being washed and dried, as we exchanged their dirty clothes for clean ones, in anticipation of yet more children to come. This process continued day in and day out. At times, the little ones were given books to read, color books and crayons, and card games to play with while they waited for their clothes to dry. We witnessed to the older ones while they, too, waited.
So many stories were relayed by the children as we talked and listened to them and asked questions. Their stories were sad, most running away from poverty-stricken areas, while others were driven from areas where crime is so prevalent that some children witnessed their loved ones murdered. We were heartbroken with their stories, and a sense of wanting to do more for these children became apparent. Unable to do more was not the answer we wanted to hear. It was not up to us to do more. We were in a secured facility, dealing with highly confidential information, directed by high level officials of the United States government, thus, we had to adhere to their rules and their direction. For the immigrants, merely a shower, freshly brushed teeth, and wearing clean clothes, was more than they ever dreamed of getting while waiting for their next destination. They were appreciative of what to us seemed so little, but to them, it was so much. TBM representatives did their part by showing compassion, giving the children a smile and a hug, and, when the opportunity was there, sharing the gospel with them.
We never thought a shower, clean teeth, and clean clothes could have such an amazing effect on people, but thanks to TBM, its representatives lived up to their commitment to comply with God’s command – that is, assisting in an unusual manner, under extremely unusual circumstances, and under a desperate situation -- to helping these immigrant women, children, and teenagers, anyway, anytime, anyplace! “And whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” Matthew 18:5