December 15, 2020
By: Joel Tooley
A partially inflated soccer ball made that half-empty “thud” as the eight-year-old boy’s foot met it with the force of a kick from the two-time World Cup champion, “El Tigre.” The arid dust that was as much a part of the landscape as it was the dry air breathed by the migrants who were settling in at the Matamoros refugee camp, rose just as the ball left the boy’s foot to attack his opponent’s stance; readied to score a goal at the other end of the small area where the clusters of children were relegated for their playtime.
These two bronze-skinned, jet-black haired amigos had just met the day before. One arrived with his baby sister along with his mother and father, pastors who had fled their mountainous community in Guatemala after members of the area cartel had made repeated threats against his father – extortion, kidnapping, “accidents.” And this young aspiring world-cup champion had arrived two days earlier with his 22-year-old mother, a young Honduran girl who had been victimized by gang members fourteen years earlier.
What they had witnessed, these two babies – both just eight years of age, no child should ever have to experience. One had witnessed his neighbor’s house wash away in a flood in Honduras; the other had witnessed masked men pushing themselves into the front room of his house, guns pressed against the foreheads of his mother and father. Poverty, despair, violence, disasters – these little men were perfect candidates for relief, for hope. These stories are the kinds of stories that are told each day along the US border with Mexico.
Recently, Sister Norma Pimental, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, tweeted photos of a birthday party for Chuyito, a little boy at the refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico – directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Two images stood out to me in these beautiful snapshots: 1) the image of JOY on the face of Sister Norma as she was surrounded by children who were on the very edge of Advent hope – children whose parents made the bold choice to flee danger and head towards refuge; and 2) the image of JOY on the faces of Chuyito and the surrounding children who were in a place of refuge by no choice of their own but by the protective, nurturing care of parents who carried the dream that one day they would stand free from fear; free from oppression.
As we walk through this season of Advent – may we share in the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that these neighbors of ours are holding on to as they journey in faith. May we stand in the gap for these who are longing for a miracle. And may we not rest until we have seen these children arrive safely home.
Joel Tooley is the Lead Pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Melbourne, Florida. He is an immigration advocate and also serves as the Executive Director of Mosaic Compassion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care and support for vulnerable populations through education, advocacy and awareness, and community development.