Border Perspective Report – South Texas Trip (June 17-25, 2023)
By Pastor Paul Olson
They say “everything is bigger in Texas” and indeed, walking along side the border wall comprised of massive 30-foot brown steel beams jutting upward into the blue Texas sky makes you feel downright tiny. These high border walls designed to deter illegal crossings are a visual reminder of the massive challenges we face with immigration and our southern neighbor. But that’s why we wanted to go — to serve and learn in south Texas alongside an organization called Border Perspective. After months of preparation, and a week of travel it was evident to all of us that despite these challenges, God’s people are at work in this difficult place, meeting needs, bringing hope and sharing the love of Jesus.
“I never knew people cared so much” said John, the youngest participant (12 yo.) at the end of our week long Border Perspective camp experience in South Texas. For other less fortunate 12-year-olds (and younger) they’ve spent months traversing the jungles of Panama and Guatemala to escape their home country to come to the American border in hopes of a better life with their families. With little resources, food, shelter or clothing, corrupt cartel entities seeking to exploit them, not to mention the sweltering 108 degree heat temps in south Texas, you have a humanitarian crisis unfolding each and every day in this part of the world. We learned that people from more than 160 countries, including China and Ukraine have been showing up at our southern border.
“Without my children being with me, I never would have made it”, said one Venezuelan mother as she spoke in Spanish to Jocelyna, one of our trip members from Espiritu Santo Church in NE Minneapolis (a ministry plant of Mill City). This family, having traveled for 3-months through South and Central America had finally arrived legally in the United States on a technicality — border officials had intercepted their caravan at the border, but their child had already gone ahead of them to the other side. They pleaded with the officials to let them find her, and in moment, they were granted seconds to find her, and cross over to the US side. Stories like this are common, but too often end in separation or even trafficking. For Jocelyna, an El Salvadorian immigrant herself at the age of 11, this moment was one of the most impactful things she’s experienced. In a moment of faith, she was able to pray and bring comfort to this family that had been through so much and still has far to go.
Followers of Jesus have had a long history of working at and in between the borders. On what was a most memorable Juneteenth (June 19th), we visited a church founded at Jackson Family Ranch, a historic spot on the southern version of the Underground Railroad. In this place, slaves were smuggled from the slave state of Texas into the Mexico territory where they would live free. We visited another Spanish mission, known for its hospitality for travelers. Both churches were located in ‘no-mans land’, deemed a flood plain it was a place between a piece of unfinished border wall built by former President Trump and the center of the Rio Grande River.
We also had the opportunity to meet an active U.S. Border Agent who gave us a multimedia presentation about the work of the U.S. Border Patrol. Jen Moya, Regional Director of Border Perspective has been cultivating the relationship over the past 3 years. Agent Maury shared incredible stories about rescuing children from trafficker “stash houses”, and working to stop the flow of illegal drugs. He also detailed the difficulty of human suffering he encounters on a daily basis. At the end we were able to pray him, for our Mexican neighbors to the south, our neighbors in surrounding county, and pray for peace and justice in the 1000s of interactions officers will have with migrants every day in south Texas.
We spent many hours and days together learning and serving and we feel we have only begun to understand the plight of hundreds of thousands of people including children who have taken this journey to the various border towns in south Texas. Sydney said she struggled when she learned just how difficult it is to legally enter the country. She wrote, “The long journey. The long wait after the journey. The difficulty of even getting an appointment. Paperwork that isn’t in their native language. The possibility to get sent back and have to wait an incomprehensible amount of time for making the smallest mistake.”
During this learning and service trip we had the opportunity to serve along side Team Brownsville (a resource warehouse), Catholic Charities (a respite center for migrant families), Frontier Mission (a food distribution ministry) and experience meals and a worship service alongside the founders of Border Perspective local home church, La Iglesia Misionera Cristo Vive (Christ Alive Missionary Church) where we heard church founder Eunice Moya preach a powerful message of Gods provision. Sheryl wrote, “One of my favorite things is to attend worship where I don’t understand the language because it helps me remember that Jesus is everywhere and I can worship Him whether I understand what is being said/sung or not.”
During our trip we met people who were helping in amazing and practical ways like 75-year-old Kathy, who collects and processes thousands of donations of clothing, shoes, hygiene items and stocks the shelves of the welcome centers and when possible, delivers items to the large encampments of people on the Mexico side. We met staff at Catholic Charities in San Juan, who run an amazing respite center for migrant families — a clean and bright facility for children to play while their parents fill out paper work and arrange for their next steps as legal residents in the US. We met Mario, the charismatic leader of the Frontier Mission, who invited us to attend a renewal of vows wedding ceremony attended by more than 300 people! It was a great celebration.
In our training materials we were moved by this paragraph, that reflects a bigger aspect of immigration at work: “As followers of Christ… immigration may actually present a beautiful missional opportunity for the Church. According to Asbury Theological Seminary president Tim Tennent, “The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.” But, according
to LifeWay Research’s poll, most evangelical Christians do not see this opportunity: only a minority say that the arrival of immigrants presents an “opportunity to introduce them to Jesus Christ.” (Wr, guide to welcoming the stranger, pg 6) This sentiment was shared by many in the local hispanic border church whose testimony reflects this same reality.
The team wants to thank all of those at Mill City and Espiritu Santo who supported and prayed for us during this trip. Without you this would not be possible! Thank you to Sheryl Hjelming for making the initial contact with Border Perspective and for Yonathan Maya who came and shared with us in person about their efforts at the southern border back in March. I am thankful for each of our team members. Our team worked hard to prepare and to make this trip a very successful effort! We all highly recommend that others take this trip if they have the chance and feel called to go.
Look for more opportunities to learn and respond on this issue and to take action!
Paul Stephen Olson
Pastor of Global Impact and Adult Ministry