In Telling a Better Story

Re-posted with permission, originally posted here:


One chilly December day after school in 2004, Juan Terrazas walked through the front door of his home in Dallas, Texas, and found his sister Alma and cousins huddled together on the couch.

“Your dad’s in jail,” they told him. Their voices were grave.

The 14-year-old boy smiled. “I thought they were joking ’cause they tried to play a joke on me like that before,” he said. They knew Juan looked up to his dad, who migrated to the United States from Mexico in 1995 and worked hard to take care of his family. He always pushed Juan to become a better man.

Juan noticed the tears streaming down Alma’s cheeks. He looked from face to face. He saw the seriousness in their demeanor. And that’s when he realized — as a stone formed in his stomach — this was for real.

His dad wasn’t coming home.

Juan had never understood why his parents had always been harsh with him when he and his friends acted like the rowdy pre-teenagers they were, getting into trouble, until now.

The confrontations in the kitchen, “What are you doing? Why are you trying to get in trouble? Do you want us to get caught?” — they all made sense now. He shuddered.

The night before Juan’s father was deported was a normal night. He had gone out with some friends despite the pleading of Juan’s mother to stay home.

“We woke up the next day, and he hadn’t come back,” remembered Juan. When Juan came home from school and heard the news from his crying sister and cousins and saw the worry in his mom’s face, he knew something had happened.

One of his last memories of his father is of him standing in an orange jumpsuit during one of their final visits. He looked at Juan through the glass window while he sat on his chair across from him. “You’re the man of the house now,” he looked his son in the eyes. “I want you to take care of the family.”

After a month of sleepless, tearful nights, Juan’s mother returned to Mexico to be with her husband and care for her dying father. She left her children in America knowing they would probably have a better future with more opportunity if they stayed behind.

Juan and Alma were left in America, alone.

“Alma and I lived with our cousin after our father’s deportation, but without any immediate family, that situation didn’t last long, and Alma and I soon had to fend for ourselves. Essentially homeless, we bounced around from place to place and hoped that someone would be kind enough to bring us into their family.”


About the same time in 2007, Jim and Melinda Hollandsworth, a middle-aged husband and wife who lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, volunteered to deliver Christmas gifts to a primarily Hispanic mobile home park three miles down the road.

“Those three miles changed our lives forever,” said Jim.

Just before they delivered the gifts, Jim and Melinda had been going through a faith crisis. They were questioning if their typical middle class suburban way of Christian life was what it should be. “We were like, alright, this can’t be all there is,” said Jim. “There wasn’t this fulfillment on this journey.”

When the Hollandsworths entered the mobile home park called Gwinnett Estates in Loganville, Georgia, they met a family of first and second generation immigrants from Mexico. Having been to Latin America before, Jim and Melinda struggled in broken Spanish to distribute the gifts and spend time with the kids. The experience wasn’t perfect, but it sparked a genuine relationship that day.

“We recognized that there’s a whole different world and community in our backyard,” said Jim.

Despite the unfamiliarity of the mobile home park just down the street from their home, the Hollandsworths kept going back. They felt alive.

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