Stories from the Bus Station Ministry compiled by Jan Olsen
(This week we republish this relatively unfamiliar take on U.S. criminal efforts to discourage immigration with permission of La Voz de la Esperanza, San Antonio, Texas.)
If you walk by the Greyhound Bus Station in Downtown San Antonio on any day of the week, you will see an amazing sight…..seated in one area are mothers and children who are seeking asylum in the United states after their release from Family Detention Centers. All their possessions are in two grocery bags as they await their buses to take them to sponsors in cities all over the United States. Moving among these families are volunteers from the
|Bus station volunteers|
Interfaith Welcome Coalition. This is a group of very passionate and dedicated volunteers who make up the Back Pack Ministry. You will find them at the downtown Greyhound bus station and the San Antonio airport seven days a week. They are there to welcome and offer support to the women and children after their release from the family detention centers at Dilly and Karnes. These families have endured unbelievable hardships to get to this point so expressions of “bienvenido”, smiles, backpacks, lunches and explanations of travel are moments of much needed kindness and compassion. In addition to the Bus Station ministry, IWC also has volunteers at the San Antonio International Airport where they offer the same support to families who are traveling by air.
The work of the bus station volunteers is greatly supported by the Greyhound Bus Station staff. Everyone from the General Manager, the ticket sellers, cafeteria workers and the custodial staff are welcoming and kind to our families. They go out of their to way to make sure our families receive the support that they need.
The Organization that supports this ministry is the Interfaith Welcome Coalition. The IWC, a San Antonio area based coalition of faith communities, organizations, and individuals, works collaboratively to welcome to our community refugees, asylum seekers and at risk immigrants, particularly women and children, and walk along side them in their journey.
One of the projects of the IWC is the Back Pack Ministry which supports their goal of providing material support for asylum seeking mothers and children as they journey from the family detention centers to their final destinations within the United States.
These are the stories of some of our volunteers that convey the challenges, the joy and the deep satisfaction of this work.
Simple but profound a joyful walk Sandy Enders
I have been an Interfaith Welcome Coalition bus station volunteer for almost one year. My anger and grief over the election results of 2016 were the catalyst that indirectly led me to this touching, fulfilling, yet heartbreaking ministry. Until this time, I was content in my insulated, safe environment, naïve toward the entire immigration process, especially people seeking asylum. The hardships that these women and children endure have humbled me and opened my eyes to the injustices in our world and our country.
Their appreciation of this ministry is very touching. Another volunteer and I frequently take the families waiting for an evening bus on a short stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk. One mother sincerely stated that this walk was the best thing that she had experienced during her entire two month journey toward asylum.
“Whenever we do not understand what’s happening in life, just close our eyes, take a deep breath and say: “God, I know you have a plan. Just help us through it”.
I offer this prayer for the mothers and children and all the volunteers.
|Officials from U.S. Immigration & Customs Reinforcement|
A day in the bus station ministry Sister Denise La Rock
Serving at the Greyhound Bus Station offers help and support to asylum seeking mothers and children, most of whom are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. This direct service is very rewarding so it is difficult to know which of us receives more from the ministry, the families or the volunteers.
The Bus Station Ministry is part of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition. The IWC gives me travel money to share with families who will be on a two or three day bus trip.
Recently, a few women were in touch with their families to request money through Western Union. All but one was able to receive the transaction. I took that one aside and gave her some money because she had none. I was concerned about her long trip with her children and having no money. I offered her the money and she asked how she was going to be able to pay me back. I told her it was a gift from the churches. She began to cry and hugged me and cried in my arms.
Later that day, I received a call from American Airlines. One of the mothers seeking asylum and traveling by plane was at the airport and was too sick to travel and had to be taken to the emergency room. I met up with the mother and her child there. After being tested and treated for strep throat and tonsillitis, she was released from the hospital. I provided overnight shelter at my house to her and her son. My job at the hospital was at first to calm the mother and entertain her 2 year old. I enjoyed playing with him. As his energy became too much for his Mom’s ER room, we went for a walk after buying some Doritos. After he ate most of them, we walked outside for a while. He was very inquisitive as we walked and tested out every bench. Several times as we were walking, he placed his hand in mine for me to hold it. In holding his hand, I felt that connection that unites all of us.
It is such a blessing to know that in our outreach, we can support others so they feel safe and cared about.
(Sister Denise La Rock of the Daughters of Charity is the Director of the Bus Station Ministry.)
Reflections from yesterday’s shift…Michele Rembault
I started volunteering with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition’s Bus Station Ministry around December 2016. This was my response to the election results. I shared with my family some impressions from those early days.
I arrived at the bus station at 1pm, fresh from Travis Park United Methodist Church, which serves as our group’s supply unit. My trunk is filled with backpacks and sack lunches and the rolling suitcase filled with clipboards, itinerary and map sheets, over the counter meds, toys and diapers.
I sit down in “my spot” to the side and away from the main hub. I settle in, organize my stuff, wonder who might show up today…….I look around and, holy cow, there is a mass of women and children refugees sitting right there in plain sight, somehow I miss them walking in! So I walk over, introduce myself and what I am doing and begin the now familiar process of “triaging”, figuring out which ones have busses leaving soon, then working through individual intakes and conversations. Just as I finished that group, I look up to see incoming new refugees. Just as I finished that group, my new friend, Robert, the station manager, gives me a heads up, there are about 30 who just landed. The work is non stop for hours.
Here are some of the memories I took home with me from the dozens I served yesterday….
So many adorable, curious, eager, beautiful children
The boy with the huge, gorgeous brown eyes
The ten year old girl with no front teeth and a big grin
The teenagers, the babies
None seem to complain, just accept
The 30 year old Guatemalan women who was going to see her mother. Wonderful, I said, when is the last time you saw her? Twenty -seven years ago. She had to leave when I was three.
The young mother with the grinning ten year old tells me that she had to leave her home in Honduras. The man who had been trying to kill her had been let out of jail and she know her chance to survive was to leave. The stateside friend who offered to sponsor her told her she could bring only one child so she decided to bring the ten year old and leave behind her seven month old with her fifteen year old daughter. It was either that or certain death for her and probably all of her kids.
Around 5pm, most had already departed and only three families were left. I took them to eat at the bus station cafeteria….fried chicken and hot dogs. Just then a new family arrives and I am out of backpacks, medicines, and exhausted. I try to give then the best advice possible and then I leave. It’s like the kid who is trying to save starfish on the beach – you can only do so much and hope that you could at least make a tiny difference to that one.
Throughout the day, the constant CNN news flashes about making America Safe Again, securing our borders, ensuring terrorists are returned home. There are no terrorists here, only mothers and children seeking safety and survival.
This work breaks my heart, but also heals it Carly Leech
After I learned that most of the women leaving the immigration detention centers are dropped off at the bus station with next to nothing, having exhausted their travel funds, there was no turning back for me. I need to show up for them. It’s hard work, but the women bring me strength and keep me from drowning in my own personal struggles. One woman who I will never forget was dropped off late in the afternoon by ICE with her two children. I had already been there for hours helping other families, and I had run out of sandwiches. Luckily, I still had two backpacks with supplies and snacks. When she realized she had to take three buses and would not reach her destination for two full days, she panicked, tears rolling down her cheeks. Immigration officials had somehow given her the impression she would only take one bus and arrive the same day. She didn’t know what city we were in. She had no idea how far away California was from Texas. She had no money and had no way to get money to feed her children. Desperately, she showed me the commissary number on her immigration identification, wanting to be able to spend her remaining balance. I explained to her that it only worked in the detention center, which only increased her panic. Then suddenly, she rallied, calmed herself down, and told me, “Voy a aguantar con esta comida.” ...I will get by with this food. She was finally able to smile and she thanked me. She said she didn’t know what she would have done if I hadn’t been there. This work breaks my heart, but also heals it.
An Act of Compassion Treedy Chapa
I was raised to believe in compassion for those in need. I learned of the Bus Station Ministry almost a year ago. This was a venue to practice compassion and share my time.
I joined the group of volunteers that help the asylum seekers that cross the Texas border and stop at the San Antonio Greyhound Bus Station. We assist the Mothers and their children reach their next destination in the US safely. The majority of the women are young, vulnerable and very frightened. Sadly, there are many people out there ready to take advantage of them during their journey. Many of them have been traveling for months with little or no food or means of transportation. Once being released from the detention center, having been sponsored by a family member or friend, they begin their journey to the unknown. These ladies have left everything that was familiar to them; family, friends, language, customs, culture and community in hopes for a better life for themselves and their children The majority of them are under 5 years of age.
I have witnessed the strength and resilience of the young women, their character and humility. One example is when one of the mothers asked me how to buy a soft drink in the restaurant and when I showed her how she immediately asked if she could buy me one as well, she who has so little and I who have so much. Many women have shown some of their vulnerability and fears yet they fight for a better life for their children and themselves. These women are amazing and a testimony of the value of human life and the pursuit of safety and well-being . Please don’t forget the value of human life and the worth of our youth.
Everything Heals Jan Olsen
One of the memories that will always be with me is of a mother who came up to me and asked,
“Do you have any medicine to erase from my memory all the horrible things I have seen?” - Jan Olsen
“Do you have any medicine to erase from my memory all the horrible things I have seen?” - Jan Olsen
I have been a volunteer with the Bus Station Ministry for about a year and a half. I tell my family and friends that the time spent at the bus station is the most peaceful and joyful of my day since it is the chance to “live compassion” in these most troubling times.
One of my jobs at the bus station is to give out medicines. One of the memories that will always be with me is of a mother who came up to me and asked, “Do you have any medicine to erase from my memory all the horrible things I have seen?” I told her this is the only medicine I can offer and I just stood and held her while she cried. She then smiled at me and said thank you.
My heart and my spirit are healed every day at the bus station by witnessing the courage, resilience and joy and that I see in these women and children in spite of all they have endured to get to this point. My hope is that what we have to offer them in this brief encounter will heal a little part of them.
|"It's like a jail for children." NY Times|
This week In Immigrant Detention
Senator Merkeley reported that in one ten-day period in May, ICE took away 658 children from their families. He expressed outrage that children were being kept in cages. "In McAllen, TX, I witnessed...a large warehouse facility with cells constructed of fence posts and chain link fencing—like dog kennels or large cages."
As the hours passed, it dawned on the mothers the kids were not coming back. They were told their children were being taken for a bath. Heard that one before.
One man was reported to have died in immigrant detention for refusal of proper medication.
The administration wants Congress to overturn legal limits on incarcerating children in family detention jails to free its hands to separate children from their families.
Kids were reported left stranded with baby sitters after 114 Ohio workers were seized in an ICE raid
Trump looks to erect tent cities to house unaccompanied children.
It you employ or know vulnerable people (Latinx or Muslims)
please either go to or suggest they go to www.RedCardOrders.com to get the red card in Spanish & English, advising them of their rights.
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