Feature

Between Two Worlds

An Alliance church cares for the lonely in immigration detention centers

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While sitting in immigration detention, my dad wrote a letter to me in February 2001 to wish me a belated happy birthday.

. . . I am asking for your forgiveness for not being there on your birthday. You have no idea how much I miss all of you. . . .

I was young at the time and did not understand the complexity of the U.S. immigration system. I could not comprehend why he wrote as though he was never going to see me again.

. . . Jesus loves you, my precious darling. I will never forget you. Forever you will all live in my heart. . . .

After months of fighting his case, my father was eventually deported.

Last Words

Alone and desperate to be reunited with his family, my dad decided to cross the border illegally and returned to the United States.

In August 2009, he was stopped for a traffic violation. The police ran his name through a federal database and found an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) hold on him. So the police took him into custody until ICE came to get him. ICE detained my dad and deported him for the last time.

My father passed away January 13, 2012, in Mexico. He did not get to say any last words to me because he was unconscious before his death.

After his funeral, I returned home heartbroken. Yet by God’s grace, I found that letter he had written to me 11 years prior. It gave me the chance to hear my father’s last words even after he died.

letter

. . . I am always with you in spirit, so meanwhile maintain that smile on your face. . . . “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

As an adult, I now understand the struggles immigrants and their families face. Experiencing deportation and being separated from my father were great distresses for my family and me. Yet the Lord was there to comfort my dad during his brokenness in immigration detention, and He was there to encourage me in my time of suffering. God used our trials to restore our relationship with Him, our Heavenly Father.

This hardship forced me to focus on the internal—God’s salvation, love, and grace—rather than my external circumstances, and it has enabled me to help others with similar, sometimes worse, experiences (2 Cor. 1:3–4).

Behind the Walls

Several months ago, my church, Ministerios Nuevo Amanecer (Alliance), in Paramount, California, joined CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement). Through this national immigration detention visitation network, we minister to people and their families as they face the fear of deportation, separation, and loneliness.

Unfortunately, many detainees do not have family ties. Many fled their home countries to seek asylum in the United States, and now they are imprisoned and alone.

One definition for loneliness is “sadness because one has no friends or company; isolated, alone, friendless, forsaken, unloved, unwanted, deserted, and unfrequented.” This is exactly how people in immigration detention feel. However, visiting them, writing to them, talking to them, and befriending them in their time of need can be transformational.

Sometimes it can be difficult, overwhelming work, but I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:31. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

We are His vessels, and with the Holy Spirit as our helper and guide, we can assist these people toward knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. He can comfort them and restore them.

God Our Judge

One beautiful spring morning, I was walking through the newly expanded Adelanto (California) Detention Facility with a friend who also volunteers to visit complete strangers. My emotions were in conflict. I felt sad because of the many lives affected by the immigration system, and I felt happy because we could bring a smile and hope to those detained inside the concrete walls.

Having considered the opportunity before us, we were determined to meet these people—one from Ethiopia and another from Somalia—to share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet I felt nervous, for I did not know what to expect.

Between Two Worlds
Eldaah Arango and her father, Alfredo Antonio Arango Romero (Photo courtesy of Eldaah Arango)

The guard escorted us to a small visiting area where several prisoners sat waiting patiently. We waited for other visitors to greet their family members, and once everyone embraced, we approached the men sitting alone. They both stood up to greet us with a smile and hug. At first they were surprised to see us, and we explained to them why we were there: to befriend them, to listen, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if possible, to pray for them.

To my amazement, their faces lit up, and they listened. Praise God! We began to write letters to them and continued visiting to encourage them and speak of God’s faithfulness.

On a later visit, I discovered the Ethiopian was a believer. While his peers went on a hunger strike to request change for the prisoners’ living conditions, he fasted.

Prior to receiving our visits, the Ethiopian was already losing hope because a judge denied his case. But he decided to appeal. While his peers all said nobody ever wins his release on appeal, he pressed on with his new friends to support him. God, the judge of all, heard his prayers.

With the help of Mirian, a dedicated volunteer who advocated for him, the Ethiopian was released on bond. He now lives in Las Vegas and attends a church. He gives thanks and glory to God for His goodness, for he believes that God sent us to support him.

In contrast, the Somalian was transferred to Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell, Texas. It has been difficult to visit him and advocate for his release.

Going Forward

Even when we do not understand the hardships we are going through, God always has a plan. For the many families that face similar or worse situations than mine, God is in control.

Sometimes it is difficult visiting the repressed in depressing detention facilities, but we know there is a lot of work to do. Many people need to hear of God’s salvation, love, and grace. We will not stop now. We will “fight the good fight of the faith [and take] hold of the eternal life to which [we] were called” (1 Tim. 6:12). Please keep this ministry and immigrants in your prayers.

1 response to Between Two Worlds

  1. Love the versus you chose, very intriguing.
    Sometimes life can be very difficult dealing with such cruel boundaries. The only thing we can do is let our spirit live free as we know we should not be held buy strings! More power to you as a female and your journey, found your story interesting not as an immigrant but as a father struggling to make ends meet with his daughter. The love of a father and daughters bond should never be broken or taken for granted; don’t you agree? ;) I shall use your versus as an inspirition not as a christian not to be rude but as free spirited loving human being to conquer and challenge this world we live with obstacles we tackle. Kudos, words of meaning and motivation!

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