On January 18 – 20, a group of 9 people from the Methodist Federation for Social Action in Austin went to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) on an immigration education tour. Steve Hamlett, Kenneth Henry and Deana Henry are from Trinity Church Austin. Anne Mund, Rowland Curry, Al Lindsay, Pat Stewart, Patsy Hickey, and Lyn Loeffler are members of Saint John’s UMC Austin. Our guide for the tour was Susan Hellums, Border Area Mission Coordinator for the El Valle District from First UMC McAllen.
A more detailed description of our visit will soon be available on our website.
On Thursday, we attended a presentation in San Juan on the RGV Equal Voice Network, which has several components addressing the following issues: health care, education, wages and jobs, housing, and transportation. The housing initiative, Proyecto Azteca, was founded in 1991 by Cesar Chavez, is similar to “sweat equity” programs like Habitat for Humanity, and has 4,000 families on its waiting list.
Friday, we traveled to the Hidalgo County Park to view the Rio Grande River, Mexico, and portions of the border wall. We then went to First UMC McAllen to hear a presentation on the Tamar’s Tapestry program by Tracy Hughes. We were joined by Robert Lopez, Superintendent of the El Valle District. Tamar’s Tapestry provides intervention, education, and restoration for victims of human trafficking in the RGV. Data is horrifying; there are an estimated 79,000 persons in Texas that are victims of commercial sex trafficking.
After this presentation and lunch, we drove to San Benito to visit La Posada Providencia, a short-term shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers. While it is a Catholic charity, La Posada receives help from the UMC in many ways. Deaconess Cindy Johnson was our guide at La Posada as we visited with the Sisters and others. We were introduced to a group of about a dozen immigrants from Central America, Cuba, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
Saturday morning, we toured the Humanitarian Respite Center, sponsored by the Catholic Charities RGV, where refugees in transit are provided with information, food, clothing, hygiene products, and other assistance before boarding a bus to join family, friends, or sponsors in other parts of the country. Our group then volunteered to do a short service project, sorting donated clothing for the refugees.
Before heading back to Austin, we drove through a Colonia near Edinburgh to observe the conditions that we had heard about in several presentations.
This MFSA road trip was extremely enlightening and educational, and we hope it will guide us in pursuing further mission opportunities related to immigration. Our plan is to present an in-depth report on this trip at a future meeting, most likely in April.