NM Conference Churches Respond
Holy Collusion – Backpacks of Hope
History – Annunciation House in El Paso has been serving refugees from Central America since 1976. In recent months, Central America has experienced an escalation in violence, drug/sex trafficking, and extortion of families. The number of refugees coming across the El Paso border has increased dramatically from 200 – 300 to 600 -1000 per week. Running short on resources and not able to serve the influx, Annunciation House Director, Ruben Garcia reached out to churches near El Paso. Without adequate temporary hospitality locations, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) has no choice but to drop families off on the street after they have been vetted.
Local UMC Response – Rev. Nema LeCuyer, Pastor of El Calvario UMC in Las Cruces heard of the need from the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces. Deacon Lonnie Breseno of the Catholic Diocese had been recruiting host families for the 24 – 72 hours of housing needed before the refugees were transported to their sponsors. Members of several United Methodist Churches including El Calvario and University answered the call. After hosting two families, Nema recognized a need for a way to carry supplies as the refugees traveled by bus or airplane to their sponsors. “Backpacks of Hope” or “Hope Packs” was born. Nema’s church collects donations of non-perishable food, snacks, toiletries & toys and meets to put together the backpacks every Tuesday afternoon. This particular program serves about 20 families (about 40 – 80 people) on Tuesday nights.
Trial Run – The introduction of “Backpacks of Hope” was December 13th. The immigration services bus arrived at a non-denominational church in the evening as a full moon was rising over the Organ Mountains. Usually, no one is allowed to be at the bus door but Pastor Nema goes where God calls her to be and the other volunteers followed suit. The refugees were welcomed by hug after hug as they walked toward the building to be registered, given any needed clothes, and assigned a host family. They murmured “Gracias de todo” over and over. There were approximately 50 people from deep in Guatemala of predominantly Mayan decent – mostly single or both parents and one or two small children or babies. Some carried plastic bags with clothing or diapers. All looked exhausted and wore clothes they had not changed in more than a month. El Calvario had made a backpack for parents and another for the children. They discovered that they needed to scale back their offering for the following weeks. These people were small in stature and many had to carry children in fabric satchels or merely in their arms. One backpack would be sufficient. As they walked with their hosts into the dark parking lot, the refugees expressed their gratitude with shy smiles or great big grins. Their long journey would end in either Los Angeles or Virginia.
Interfaith Extreme Hospitality – After all the refugees had entered the building, the Immigration Agent approached Nema with tears in her eyes and hugged her. She had never witnessed refugees being cared for and welcomed with so much love. Several denominations in the Las Cruces/El Paso area have joined forces to serve these strangers in the most beautiful way. The global refugee crisis seems enormous and never ending but this is a need that we can respond to in our own community.
Protocol – As in the example of the “Good Samaritan”, God calls us to recognize suffering and respond without considering consequences, but it is still important to be informed about the humanitarian and logistical process of how refugees enter our country. ICE has a system of protecting the U.S. from possible terrorism and keeping refugees safe. Once across the U.S. border, refugees are detained and vetted to ensure that they are not a threat to the U.S. and that there is a credible threat against their lives if they remained in their country. These people have sponsors who pay for their transportation in order to travel and initially live with them. Refugees must wear ankle bracelets to ensure that they arrive at the agreed upon location. No photographs are allowed once the refugees disembark from the ICE bus.
How can you help? The needs of the refugees are safety, rest, sustenance and general hygiene. For the Backpacks of Hope, non-perishable food, snacks, shoelaces, coloring books/crayons, travel-size toiletries and many other items are needed.
The Annunciation House website provides a list of needs and donation ideas for their hospitality location: https://annunciationhouse.org/
If you and your church would like to donate money, supplies or volunteer on a Tuesday afternoon to put backpacks together or perhaps create a mission opportunity for your church with Annunciation House, contact Roselie Johnston, NM Conference Mission & Program Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-255-8786, ext. 101.