By Alex Murashko —
To a Tijuana pastor, whose church and congregation reside on an old landfill dump, the Central American migrant caravan that’s camped just down the hill is viewed as nothing close to the political football it has become.
Whether they be Hondurans, Guatemalans, or Salvadorans, or whether they are saved by God or sponsored by the devil, Pastor Albert Rivera of Iglesia Agape Mundial looks at these people as the very strangers Jesus calls his followers to feed and shelter.
Less than one week after their arrival, as a rainstorm began to gather and fall over their encampment, swelling to 5,000 migrants close to the U.S-Mexico border, Rivera went down the hill to lead an outreach and give food. He said “yes” to a family’s request for shelter, not knowing that the number of families he would take into his church would exponentially grow to four, and then to a total of 40 individuals, including children, in just a few days.
“Forget about politics,” Rivera told me during a break of a Christmas event held at his church on the first day of December. Some of the more than 450 people in attendance included the 40 migrants from the caravan. “The Lord said to the people of Israel, ‘Don’t forget about the strangers because you were captive before as well.’ Basically, it’s a commandment from the Lord, and I believe every church and every Christian should know that the day is coming when He is going to say, ‘Well, I was hungry and you let me down.’”
It’s not that Rivera steers clear of politicians and government agencies. In fact, he is part of a group of concerned non-profit leaders in both Mexico and the U.S. who are in talks with officials to seek permission for the delivery of provisions into Tijuana.
“We are now negotiating with the president of Mexico to allow non-profit organizations” to maneuver inside the country and help, he said.
Rivera knows that the stories are many (both true and false) about the migrant caravan, but he cares mostly about the fact people are in sincere need.
“Some really want to stay here and some want to go to the United States,” he said. Rivera retells what one male migrant told him after the the first push over the border walls by 500 people. The refugee said, “I heard that Mr. Trump says that we are not wanted in the U.S., but I really did not believe it. When we got real close to the gate at the border and all of a sudden they started shooting (tear gas) I found out that I’m really not wanted. And so for my own security I decided I’m going to stay here in Mexico.”
The man now stays at Iglesia Agape Mundial.
Although Rivera is not afraid to dialogue with Mexican or U.S. officials, he tows the line with current regulations as he tries to help the people staying under his shelter.
“The government (agencies) say they are going to work with us,” he said. In some cases, “it’s about 60 days to process. We call up and ask what number they are on.”
Rivera assured me he is following U.S. government protocol for the people under his charge. “They are way in the ‘back of the line,’ just like Trump says.”
Then, he added something that could be looked upon as an intangible. The agencies involved with processing asylum requests want “to make sure they (applicants) are fearing for their lives.”
Judging from a few conversations and a walk in and out of one of the migrant caravan encampments, there is no shortage of fear.
Alex Murashko is a journalist and founder of Media on Mission, an initiative to bring awareness to another side of media you may not have heard about. Permission granted to republish with proper attribution and link back.