Submitted by Juntos Servimos Mexico Mission Coordinator Jennifer Wagner
Seven people representing Custer Road United Methodist Church travelled to Los Fresnos, TX, and Matamoros, Mexico for the MLK holiday weekend. The group included Ellen Curnes, Anne Blanton, Doug Nickols, Brian Scheibmeir, and Ralph Blakley and was led by Dave and Jennifer Wagner. On Friday, five of us drove the 9.5 hours in a mini-van loaded with 5 large boxes of care packs made by Custer Road Kids on Mission, a box of Spanish language children’s books collected by CRKOM and 20 Spanish language NIV Bibles donated by CRUMC. The time in the van was priceless as it allowed us to begin building community among the team.
After getting settled into the recently renovated Los Fresnos Inn, and meeting up with the remainder of our group, we went to dinner at Julia’s Restaurant (rated #1 in Los Fresnos!) with Larry Cox and some of his family including Kayla, Suany and William. Kayla, age 20, was excited for the arrival of the volunteers.
Saturday morning, after loading supplies into Larry’s van, we crossed Los Tomates Veterans International Bridge and arrived at Casa Bugambilia at 9:30am. All border crossings went easily, each time we entered, Mexican Immigration questioned Larry about our purpose and what we were bringing with us, and then let us enter. Larry gave us a tour of Casa Bugambilia and we discussed and divided up the various jobs we would complete.
Ellen cleaned, primed and painted metal kitchen storage cabinets. Anne painted the chalkboard wall in the classroom as well as helped paint the classroom. Dave, Brian and Ralph painted the classroom and the stairway leading to the classroom. Ralph used his carpentry skills to build a wooden box to enclose loose wires and PVC vent pipes in the stairway. Brian and Ralph used their skills with electricity to repair and replace 7 ceiling fans. Doug and Jennifer went shopping at HEB and Home Depot (yes, in Mexico) for supplies and food for the lunch we would be cooking and serving on Sunday. Doug also participated in repair, painting and electrical work.
In addition to eleven medically fragile patients who live at Casa Bugambilia, there were, on this weekend, 53 refugees from seven countries also living there. According to Larry, Casa Bugambilia has housed almost 900 refugees from 21 countries since October 2018. These people, mostly women and young children, have fled their home country for a variety of painful reasons and are attempting to seek asylum in the US.
The Migrant Protection Policy or MPP, put in place by US Homeland Security in January 2019, gives ‘asylum seekers’ reporting at a bridge in Mexico a date (approximately 3 months in the future) for their court appearance to request admittance to the US. While awaiting their court appearance, up to 2,000 refugees are living in tents on the Mexican side of the International Bridge. Casa Bugambilia is one of three refuges in Matamoros being used to house some of the more vulnerable refugees. Single mothers with babies and young children and some single men make up most of the guests staying at Casa Bugambilia. Some guests stay a day, some stay three months or longer under the roof of Casa Bugambilia. They are provided with a bed and bedding, three meals a day and safety and security.
One mother and a single young man are providing school for the children, saying, “I want these children to learn to read. I don’t want them to fall further behind”. Larry has observed that friction between some of the children has lessened since they have begun school. We painted their classroom white with a chalkboard wall that allows the children a place to express themselves in words and art. We painted a colorful border with the alphabet and each child’s handprint to make them a part of the classroom.
At the end of each day, Larry drove us to The (New) International Bridge to walk across to the United States. Alone, Larry can take advantage of expedited passage through US Customs, but with a van full of people, the wait would have been 2-3 hours. Walking cut the process down to under an hour. It was an eye-opening experience to walk through the Tent City, the area along the Rio Grande River at the International Bridge where thousands of refugees are camping.
Team Brownsville was serving what looked like a healthy, colorful dinner as we passed. It was a quiet, organized process as people waited in line or sat on the curb to eat their meal. We learned that later that night, a fight broke out in the camp and someone may have died. No one in this situation is lucky, however we couldn’t help but feel that our new friends staying at Casa Bugambilia were more fortunate.
Sunday was a much colder day and there is no heat at Casa Bugambilia but everyone was making the best of it. In addition to finishing our projects, our major task was to cook lunch for almost 100 people at Casa Bugambilia. We are thankful that we had Doug Nickols along! The menu included Carne Asada with fresh onions, peppers and squash, Ranchero Beans, Rice and Fresh Fruit Salad. Although the goal was to give the regular cooks a break, two of the refugee women worked alongside us in the kitchen. They combined their traditions from Honduras and El Salvador and made the most delicious Pico de Gallo! Dave had enthusiastic grilling help with men from Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba; everyone was excited about having grilled beef for a change. Despite the language barrier, we were able to communicate with and learned about some of their stories. It is heartbreaking, yet Casa Bugambilia was teaming with life and joyful noise. Feel free to ask any of us about the guests at Casa Bugambilia.
The highlight of the trip was consecrating the classroom with the families. Larry and one of the teachers addressed the group in Spanish and everyone beamed with happiness. One mother read (in Spanish) Matthew 19:13-15 and we sang Cristo me ama (Jesus Loves Me), it was beautiful! Ask any of us to share the recording with you! Each family was given a Spanish Language Bible and each child was given a Spanish language storybook (thank you for the chapter books CRKOM, the teens were happy!) and a care pack, all donated by Custer Road United Methodist Church. All were greatly appreciated!
People ask, ‘Is Mexico safe? Some parts are and some are not. The state of Tamaulipas, which includes Matamoros is a level 4 travel advisory, with the recommendation, ‘Do Not Travel’. When we were there, we all agreed that we felt safe. People were going about their normal weekend lives, just like they were across the river in Brownsville; stores were busy, flea markets were in full swing, churches were active. There is so much work to do to keep Casa Bugambilia functioning so we are going back in April or May-would you like to join us? Please talk with Jennifer Wagner or Doug Nickols.
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