Student relief team aids migrants at southern border
Every day, migrants make the journey to various ports of entry along the southern border of the United States. Here, asylum seekers await authorization for legal entry. Upon entering, some will find their way to respite centers and relief ministries where volunteers serve by meeting their physical needs.
That is where LU Send Now, Liberty University’s disaster relief initiative, steps in.
In July, LU Send Now sent eight students and five leaders to Brownsville, Texas, to serve alongside Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville (West Brownsville Baptist Church). Brownsville sits on the southernmost tip of Texas where the Rio Grande separates the U.S. from Matamoros, Mexico.
Iglesia Bautista houses a part-time respite center that provides lodging, meals, showers, fresh clothes, and hygiene products to immigrants who have claimed asylum in the U.S.
“I am so thankful to LU and President Jerry Falwell for fully funding and empowering LU Send Now teams that are dispatched to crisis-stricken places around the world,” said David Nasser, Liberty's senior vice president for spiritual development. “This year alone, our teams have served refugees on multiple continents.”
Liberty’s team assisted the center by managing the shower facility, helping asylum seekers contact their families, and coordinating travel plans to the immigrants’ final destinations. They also ministered to children by engaging them in art projects and teaching them English.
“The students and staff who go on these trips might have different political and philosophical views as it relates to the refugee and immigrant crisis, but they set those secondary issues aside to simply show up and serve people and to share the gospel,” Nasser said. “We plan to send additional groups to the border in the near future.”
LU Send Now team member Carlo Trombley, a rising senior studying international business, immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica as a teenager.
“A lot of our team members are Spanish speakers and we would often sit down with the people that came in to talk and even get to share the Gospel with them,” Trombley said. “Those who were not Spanish speakers loved asking one of us for translation help and doing just the same. It was an outpouring of love that had no language barriers.”
Due to his background, Trombley said he understood how the immigrants felt coming to a new, unfamiliar country.
“I don’t think I have ever seen God more present than in this week serving with the LU Send Now team,” he said. “It was beautiful to see how passionate everyone was about sharing the Gospel and coming together in fellowship for the migrants. Everyone involved in this mission encouraged me in one way or another to continue to grow in my walk with God.”
Fellow teammate Isabella Quiroga Torrez, who grew up in La Paz, Bolivia, and graduated in May with a degree in international relations, said the team was able to impact many people.
“I was very thankful to the university for trying to reach and serve people from these parts of the world,” she said. “God calls His people to serve and be the salt and light. This is exactly what we did in Brownsville.”
The team members said they did not fully know what to expect before arriving in Brownsville. The immigrants they met had just completed processing at an overcrowded border detention center with limited resources. Most had not showered in days, they said, arriving in dirty clothes and weary from their long journey to the U.S.
“When they would get out of the vans that brought them to the church, they would look tired, scared, nervous, and even mad,” Trombley said. “Their eyes were filled with pain and suffering brought by the experiences they had during their travels. For them, stepping into this church would be one of the first times they experienced care and love from others in weeks. When it was their time to leave, men, women, and children would be filled with nothing but joy in their faces and hearts.”
“I wish more people could see the drastic change in their faces so they may realize what a blessing this church is through their ministry,” Trombley added.
One of the immigrants they helped was Dimas Reyes, an asylum seeker from Honduras. He came to the U.S. with one of his daughters, leaving his wife and other daughter behind. The pair traveled for 20 days to reach the U.S. border.
“We had more sad experiences because (the smugglers) had us in cellars where it was very hot and the children were suffocating. So when we were able to, we banged on the door and our guides came and (would eventually let us out),” Reyes recalled about his time in South America before reaching the U.S. “There were some places where they would treat us well, plenty of food, everything was very good. But other places, the conditions were terrible. They were inhumane, especially for the children.”
Reyes was grateful for the Liberty students’ help.
“With what we’ve been through, we feel glorious, always thanking God. And we give thanks to all of you who have supported us and offered us a helping hand. Thank you with all of my heart,” Reyes said. “We came to this country not to take jobs away from Americans, (but) to always work and to help our families advance back in our home countries. That’s why we make the decision to abandon our families, (which) is extremely painful.”
The team’s compassion for serving others drove them to sign up for the trip to Brownsville.
“If I could summarize this entire trip with one word, it would be ‘love,’” Trombley said. “Our leaders encouraged us to go out and serve the migrants, but above all, to show them Christ’s love.”
“Liberty is full of opportunities to grow in our walk with God, but you have to be willing to look for these opportunities of spiritual enrichment,” he added. “The professors I have had at Liberty are not only wise and filled with knowledge, but their love for the Lord surpasses all intelligence. The love that these professors have for us students is immense, and sometimes we forget that. The love I have seen from them is the same love that I wanted to bring to the men, women, and children we served.”
Iglesia Bautista and other part-time respite centers are dependent on volunteers and humanitarian aid organizations. Those interested in helping respite centers can donate clean clothes and hygiene products like deodorant, toothbrushes, diapers and soap to centers located along the Rio Grande.
“When they step into this church, they see and feel that God’s love is enough to make them forget everything that they have been through,” Trombley said. “I encourage believers to serve the migrant community so they may see firsthand how God’s love can make an immediate impact in the lives of those who need it most.”