Have you ever felt like giving up?
I was having one of the hardest weeks of my life. We had just completed and dedicated the second story of our main shelter building and I was exhausted enough from that. I had been getting everything ready and I had not slept in two days. But it seems that it was finished just in time, because the very next day, new families began arriving to fill it up. The first came just after midnight, a woman, bruised and battered with 4 traumatized children in tow. The two youngest boys were crying incessantly, inconsolably. When their mother asked them to stop, they left their room and sat outside my door, wailing loudly. I awoke, tried to calm them down and help them to return to their room to sleep. 20 minutes later, another knock at the door, another hour spent helping them to get back to bed. This happened 5 times, until morning arrived.
The next day began even worse, as I had to try and get the belongings of another resident from the house where she had lived. I had to meet her abuser and try to calm him down while getting him to agree to allow me to take all her things. I have met with, counseled, and confronted many of these men in the past. Almost always, once they get beyond their immediate anger, they melt; they long to be listened to, to have someone to talk with and cry with. It is amazing how often they let us in to see the small hurting child locked within the facade of anger and pain. Not this time. This man scared me and filled me with a sense of dread that made me shudder inside. He was so calm and calculating, and outwardly cordial. As I was leaving, he placed an arm around my shoulder, made a thinly veiled threat against the woman who had escaped, and told me to "watch out", as he formed a gun with his other hand and winked at me.
As I returned to the shelter, I had to deal with several more internal political issues, relating to staffing and convention politics. Sometimes I am more comfortable with the abusers and violent families than I am dealing with the conflicts that rise within church organizations. It is a dangerous thing when a bunch of us Christians all get together and each think that we know what God wants.
I hadn't slept in 2 days, and I was anxious to rest and try to take a nap. I returned to my computer, and opened up my e-mail. On top, the first message I saw, was about the current state of our missionary support. It is dismal. I don't know how to ask for money. There are times like this day when it is hard enough to do my job, but to think that I have to raise the money in order to do it in addition to all else was almost more than I could bear in that moment.
I sat on my bed and I cried. I asked, pleaded with God, "Is this where you want me to be?"
I was exhausted. I felt like giving up. Never in my life have I felt more like giving up.
A knock on the door. "Ray, we need you to go pick up three more families that are being sent to our care!" "Seriously? Really God? Now? Isn't there anybody else?" Somehow, I found the strength to drive across town and pick up three more women so they could come to Deborah's House. This is what we do it all for, this is what motivates us, this is why we have spent every effort to build the best place that we could make, so that those who are weary can come and find healing and rest.
These three women moved into the new floor and were immediately surrounded by the loving embrace of every volunteer who encompassed that space with framing lumber, drywall, paint and art. Just as with all the families that come, they are tired, afraid and timid, but you can see the change in their faces as they adapt to a place where they will not be put down, beat up, or broken any more. The shelter exudes grace.
As I helped them get settled in, I had the opportunity to listen to their stories. Of the three women who came, one is pregnant with her second child, and the pregnancy is at great risk now because of the abuse she received. Another has special needs, and has had her children taken from her by the state because she has been deemed incapable of mothering them. She wants to fight to get them back, but it will be a hard struggle. The third is from Eastern Europe, speaks 4 languages and shared her story in English.
She had come to Mexico from Europe with a man from the US, who had promised her to help her get her papers to legally enter the US from Tijuana. But as she arrived in a section of the city overlooking the border wall, she realized that this was all a lie. He had brought her here so that he could traffic her. She was so close to her dream and yet, she was so far. He beat and raped her, locked her up and tried to bend her will to resist. She fought back at every turn. She told him she would never give in and told him just to kill her. Finally, after a month of her imprisonment, she broke free and looked for help. She told us that she had no where to go and that no one would help her. She went to the border wall where San Diego and Tijuana meet the ocean. As she looked across to the San Diego skyline, it was as if it was tormenting her. She said she was planning on throwing herself into the ocean and ending it all.
She said she felt like giving up. Never in her life did she feel more like giving up.
But as she walked along the border, some of the graffiti on the fence spoke to her. She said that there were some things written there that gave her some encouragement, that let her know that someone, somewhere cared. So she decided not to give up hope, and to keep looking for help. After hours of begging for help she found someone who took her to a Christian ministry that they knew about, and that ministry called Deborah's House.
As she told us her story, sitting in the new living room, I asked her, out of the thousands of messages written there, what had she seen on the wall that encouraged her. She responded, "There were two things: First she saw 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me" -and it was signed 'Jesus', Then nearby, she read 'No wall can contain my heart.' She said that these words spoke to her, and gave her hope. She wanted to find the people that wrote those messages.
I started to cry, as I am now writing this, as I told her that a month earlier, I took a group of students from Palmer Seminary to the wall, to reflect on the meaning that it has for us. I bring people there because I want them to see and understand it first hand, to understand how overwhelming it is from the other side. I bring people there to read what Mexicans have written, and on this occasion, to give these students the opportunity to write something themselves, to add our voice to the chorus of poetry, philosophy and opinions written there.
Of the messages that we wrote that day, one person from our group wrote from her heart, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me- and she signed it 'Jesus". I wanted to write something on the wall that would let my Mexican brothers and sisters know that there are some of us who are dedicated to building bridges, even when it seems that so many others want bigger and bigger walls. I wanted to let them know that as intimidating that this wall might seem, God's love and our love as Christians still breaks through. So I added in my own hand, "No wall can contain my heart."
As I told this young woman that we wrote those messages, she wouldn't believe me, and she told me so in very colorful and perfect English, "No -------- Way!" Yes, Way! I answered back. And I showed her the pictures of us doing it.
She said that now she knew that she was where God wanted her to be.
Never had I imagined that I would hear so quickly that anything we wrote on the wall that day would have such an effect on someone's life. She was so close to giving up.
Never could I have imagined that I would hear so clearly the answer to my own anguished prayer. I felt so close to giving up, but I too learned in a powerful way that I am where God wants me to be.
I can read the writing on the wall.