Author: Mary Poteat
As a 16 year-old in Mobile, Alabama, hearing terrible stories of what is going on at the United States-Mexico border motivated me to do anything I could to help. In October of 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to Brownsville, Texas with ten amazing Episcopal women to witness the crisis with our own eyes. Many of us had never met before this trip, but the bond we formed in those few days serving alongside each other made it seem like we have known each other for years.
The border journey began at the Harlingen, Texas airport on Thursday. Our amazing friends and family back home had donated more than $6,000 that enabled us to purchase enough food to feed 600 asylees for two nights. We hit the ground running on Friday - collecting pallets of supplies from Sam’s large enough to fill both our rental 14-passenger van and SUV. We loaded them up with two nights’ worth of dinner supplies and drove to Good Neighbor Settlement House, a homeless shelter that partners with Team Brownsville allowing volunteers to cook in its kitchen between meals. Our strong team bond allowed us to prepare our meal in record time! When it came time for us to depart, we loaded the cars again and headed to the Brownsville Bus Station where we would meet Andrea Rudnik, a co-founder of Team Brownsville. We carefully assembled 24 trays of casseroles, as well as gathered many yoga mats, tents, diapers, and baby formula, placing all of it inside 14 wagons that we would use to cross over the bridge to Mexico. Because of heightened Mexican security, we had to hide our other supplies underneath trays of food so that they wouldn’t be confiscated. Our team lugged the wagons across the bridge to Matamoros and prayed that we wouldn’t get caught trying to bring supplies to the migrants. These people couldn’t afford to have anything else taken from them.
It was a different world once we stepped into Mexico. Their tents lined every inch of space in the Plaza where we would serve. Crowds of loving children flooded toward us, reaching out their hands hoping to feel the touch of another. “Hola! Hola!” they shouted, welcoming us into their home. The mass of people literally parted the way for us to come through and set up the meal we prepared. Two unending lines, one for women and children and the other for men, had formed before we arrived. It would take those at the end of the line at least an hour before they would be served dinner. There was no pushing or shoving; not once was anyone anything other than patient and kind. Our food that we had to offer them would only feed them for one night.
Our presence in that moment let them know that we see them, they are God’s children, and they are loved.
A small group of us went back over on Saturday to distribute Spanish New Testament Bibles we had purchased and walk around the Camp to see what we couldn’t in the dark. We began to notice the flies and the stench of feces in the air. There were only five port-o-lets for more than 2,000 asylees, which overflowed the encampment area. Clothes blew in the wind, drying on the barbed wire fence line separating the US and Mexico. People slowly headed toward the Rio Grande to bathe and wash their clothes.
I will never forget the connection I formed with those I served and spoke with in Matamoros. Although we are not fluent in Spanish, our smiles told them all of what we needed to say. I will never forget the impression one of the asylees made on my heart. His name was Darwin, a 12-year old asylee from Honduras who had come to the camp with his mom. He spoke into my Google Translate app a message I will never forget. “Tell them we are suffering. I swear it on my life that I will never separate myself from you.” Their hugs still warm my skin. Their smiles consume my thoughts every day. The guilt I felt when I got back into a soft bed, drinking clean water, bathing in a warm shower, was unimaginable. It pains me daily to think of our friends suffering in these cold winter months, sleeping on concrete in tents meant for weekend camping trips. The impact serving these amazing people has had on my life is so much greater than anything I could have given them. I will never forget the incredible experience of this mission. I am so incredibly blessed.
“If our reaction to someone is rejection or condemnation, we probably don’t know enough about them. If we did, we would find mercy in our hearts for them.” ~ Curtis Almquist
Pictured above: Team members purchase supplies to feed hundreds of asylees at the border.