By Judith DeRolf
This is the third of four blog posts from participants in the recent Immigration Immersion Experience hosted by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. See bottom of post for information about another upcoming opportunity.
As we crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana, I pondered what I would experience in the days ahead in my week of “Immigration Immersion.”* Winding through the streets of a city that had grown from a population of 200,000 to one million in less than ten years helped begin my journey to understand the depth of the difficulties that people living here encounter.
Driving nearly an hour from the border through windy and bumpy streets, making nearly a U-turn onto a narrow path and up a sharp hill to a locked gate, our group had finally arrived at “Deborah’s House.” Beyond the gate were several buildings and a play area for children but no signage to inform the public what “Deborah’s House” was: a home for women and children who had experienced domestic abuse. For the safety of the residents, there was no sign with the name of this small community doing miraculous work assisting women and children towards a better life.
Most of our group spoke very little Spanish and the women we met didn’t speak much English, but we did our best to become acquainted. Even though our language was limited, we were able to communicate with our hearts and share God’s love with hugs and smiles. The children were lively and friendly, always ready to assist us in communicating as best as they could and often indicating their own need for attention and love.
Meeting with the women one day, we were able to hear their stories one by one with American Baptist missionary Ray Schellinger translating for us. There were many tears shed, both by those who spoke and those who listened. Some of the women had recently arrived for help but others had been at Deborah’s House for some time, and we could see and feel a big difference in their ability to share their life stories. The newly arrived had much more difficulty sharing their experiences. After one newly arrived woman left the group crying, not able to share, another woman who had been a resident for a longer period of time followed her to console and give support. What a beautiful expression of love in the midst of their own pain.
Later that same day, we were privileged to meet several women who had been residents of Deborah’s House in years past. Hearing how these women came to Deborah’s House with no hope in their lives, and to then hear about their lives now, was to hear God working in each of them. What a blessing to hear these women share their stories with the women in residence now, and to understand the difference being at Deborah’s House made in to them. Each woman talked about having a job that they trained for while living at Deborah’s House, and/or about being in a good relationship with a new husband. One woman told how she is now employed at Deborah’s House helping minister to new residents.
As I listened to these brave women talk about their survival and healing, I tried to imagine walking in their shoes but it was next to impossible. Then I began to look back on my life. I realized I, too, have had suffering and pain that led to healing. Thanks to the grace of God, I have been blessed with God’s love and mercy that these women will also find at Deborah’s House.
*Even though this experience wasn’t directly connected to immigration, it was indirectly related because at least one of the residents had tried to cross the border without papers, been caught and imprisoned for four years prior to her time at Deborah’s House.
American Baptist Women’s Ministries is hosting a second Immigration Immersion Experience in August/September, 2016. Click here for more information.