In desert cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, thousands of migrant families hunker in shelters. Access to education is a challenge. So area religious shelters are stepping up to help.
In Ciudad Juárez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas, the Mexican government operates just two of more than a dozen migrant shelters. Protestant and Catholic church groups run most others. Those ministries have developed a network offering shelter, food, clothes, and other essentials.
Religious leaders and volunteers recognize schooling as crucial to young migrants’ futures. They partner with educators to either bus children to schools or bring teachers to the students.
The programs aren’t openly religious. Yet most agree that faith clearly motivates these educators and their projects—examples of how Jesus would have them love their neighbors as themselves.
Casa Kolping is one such border school in Ciudad Juárez. Teacher Teresa Almada runs Casa Kolping through a local organization funded decades ago by Catholic laypeople. “[The children] get integrated in the educational system so they can keep gaining confidence,” she says.
Faith-run programs provide secure transportation, as does Casa Kolping, or bring instructors directly to the migrants. That’s the case of another shelter, Buen Samaritano, Spanish for “Good Samaritan,” run by a Methodist pastor and his wife.
About three dozen children from two religious-run shelters attend Casa Kolping. Victor Rodas is one of them. The 12-year-old has an advantage over many others who, fleeing poverty and violence, lose months or even years of schooling on their journeys.
Instructors must catch students up who arrive unable to read or write. “We are faced with all kinds of falling behind,” says teacher Yolanda Garcia.
Victor’s oldest sister, Katherine Rodas, fled death threats in Honduras. She brought along Victor and two other siblings she raised after their mother died. Fearful of gangs, Rodas and her husband never leave their Catholic-run shelter. But she wanted her siblings bused to Casa Kolping for classes.
“They say the teacher always takes good care of them, plays with them,” Rodas says. “They feel safe there.”
Like most migrants in these border towns, Victor hopes someday to cross into the United States. He imagines schools there will be “big, well-cared for”—and help him reach his goal of becoming an architect. He already practices drawing detailed houses when he can find paper.
Norma Pimentel works with Catholic Charities in South Texas. Her shelters accept anywhere from 400-800 migrants per day, mostly parents and children. “They’re human beings,” she says. “They’re here in my community, and they need help.”
Why? Giving aid and shelter to others is both loving them and enacting an aspect of the “Golden Rule” of Matthew 7:12: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
Pray for migrants and immigrants seeking refuge from persecution and/or a peaceful life for themselves and their families.