How did I meet them? A dear dear friend of mine, the absolutely amazing, full-of-love-and-spirit, the Rev. Frannie Hall Kieschnick, and I travel every year to volunteer with a humanitarian organization somewhere in the world. Frannie and I are supported by a multitude of friends who generously give us donations to buy supplies for as many people as we can and help fund the nonprofits with which we volunteer.
In 2019, we volunteered with Team Brownsville to serve meals to the 2,300 asylum seekers in the Matamoros camp - which was designed to hold far less. To give a sense of the growing problem - in July of 2019, there were less than 500 people. By November, it had grown to 2,300. The border was locked and sealed...
As we volunteered, there was this very sweet little girl with a shy smile who watched us and always came and stood next to us. This little girl is the Elia I mentioned above. Of course, I fell in love with her and had to meet her parents. As her new "American grandmother," I knew I had to do more. I retained an immigration lawyer for them who helped fill out the necessary paperwork and help with the process. In February 2020, their court case came up, and it was a brutal experience. The court system by this point was overloaded with cases and the system was designed to turn people away. I received a tearful call from the lawyer and Mr & Mrs. Lopez - their case was denied. An appeal was filed.
In February - right before COVID changed our lives - Frannie and I went back to Matamoros with other friends to volunteer again. We were only allowed to stay a few days as COVID suddenly took over our lives AND the fear was we would bring COVID into the camps. My reunion with the Lopez family was very brief - long enough for me to give them some money and supplies - and a huge hug for Elia.
In August, they received their passports - another piece of their puzzle was getting their Honduran paperwork as they, like many, fled their countries in fear and in the darkness of the night without anyone's knowledge.
Also by August, news of the increased crime and violence of Matamoros made the news. Other news from Matamoros was the clampdown by the Mexican government to deny humanitarian efforts access to Matamoros and some essential needs. The situation became even critical than it had been. Mr. Lopez had been making a meager salary assisting one of the nonprofits and with the shutdown, those funds evaporated.
Mrs. Lopez wanted to swim across the Rio Grande - pregnant and in fear. We begged her not to. They wanted to send Elia over alone - as so many parents are desperate to do as they believe their children will be better off, and we begged them not to. The lawyer and I begged them to consider going to Costa Rica as the immigration policies are more accepting than those of the United States. The Lopez family wanted to be here and kept telling me, "God will take care of us."
They were right. On December 21st, they were allowed to cross into Texas. And here we are...at the beginning of what you have already read.
Please, let me add... I KNOW there are thousands upon thousands (actually millions) of families with similar stories. I KNOW the thought of "there are so many families to help, I can't help them all." I KNOW the thought of "why this one and how much can I really help?" I have had the exact same thoughts. And, in full honesty, my giving rarely is to one specific person, as I usually donate to a nonprofit in hopes of maximizing my desire to be a citizen of the world.
AND - there are times in our lives that another switch is turned on. That happened to me. All the years of volunteering and seeing human suffering up close and personal have left their mark on my heart, head, and soul. Holding Elia in my arms, our exchange of hugs and kisses, was not random - I do believe it was divine intervention. The decision to help this family (and one other) was as natural as breathing.
FINALLY - this is a full-circle moment. In the early part of the 20th century, my maternal grandparents fled Russia and arrived at Ellis Island with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their papers...and my grandmother was very pregnant, about to give birth any day...
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