El Valle and Coastal Bend District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez, recently experienced a ride-along with border patrol agents. The patrol took a route along the border very near his home. What he experienced continues to shape his understanding of our common ministry at the border.
He shared the following message with some of his colleagues later the same day:
It was one of the most meaningful and impactful experiences I have had in ministry. I am still processing everything I saw, but I came away having a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complex and multi-layered aspects of what is happening here.
I saw the apprehension of 2 coyotes, young men who bring folks across and usually have little interest in the well-being of those they bring. I saw a group of four come from El Salvador and Guatemala, and as we sat on the dirt road, I was allowed to talk with and listen to a mom and her 15-year-old son who cried as they shared about their 30-plus-day difficult journey through Mexico to Mission, TX. When I began to tell her in Spanish that God has not abandoned her, she quickly and emphatically agreed. Her son remained silent, but as I tried to encourage her, her words somehow became inspirational to me.
I saw border patrol agents drenched in sweat as they maneuvered the sugar cane fields, which are thick and disorienting. One agent felt fatigue and had to be pulled from the field to receive some medical attention. This is dangerous work. It is intertwined with asylum seekers (who legitimately are refugees) and human and drug trafficking. I believe I saw 10-12 folks apprehended today, all about 10 minutes from my home.
In response to his time with the border patrol, Lopez felt a continued calling to walk with immigrants and the most vulnerable in our midst. He also developed a renewed awareness for the federal agents at the border, whom he saw administering law enforcement as well as providing humanitarian aid. In the midst of this complexity, Lopez believes the church has an important role to play in the discussion around immigration.
"I think there is something about the church providing safe places and spaces to process and engage what is before us, not speaking past each other, but listening and working together," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to offer our very best as the church – to offer civility and compassion, and not name-calling or demonizing of groups.”
El Valle District is engaged in the following efforts in response to the immigration crisis at our border:
- Developing a new ministry relationship with Upbring/New Hope shelter in McAllen
- Joining with First UMC Brownsville and Good Neighbor to work with Catholic Charities in Brownsville in creating a new shelter
- Developing border experiences for experiential learning around border issues for clergy and other church leaders
- Raising up 70 lay leaders to attend the new El Valle Spanish Academia for leadership development
- Developing new relationships with key community players involved in the border crisis