by Mark Redwine
Mark and Marilyn Redwine are voluntary missionaries in Brownsville, Texas which is right on the border with Mexico. They have been ministering the love of Jesus to the people there for the last nine years. They have two ministries. Both are to the most marginalized. One is to the people living in generational poverty, and the other is to asylum seekers.
I first met Cami from Cameroon in December of 2018. She was living in a makeshift “shelter” on the Mexican side of the Gateway Bridge, which connects Brownsville, Texas with Matamoros, Mexico. There were about 30 other people from all over the world staying in the shelter. Some people came with families, some women were pregnant, some had babies—tiny babies, sick babies. Some people were single, some were married, all were cold and hungry, and all needed fresh clothing. Some had walked over a thousand miles to reach this place. The babies needed diapers, wipes, and formula. Some people only had flip-flops for foot gear, and no socks. There was no access to water at the shelter/camp. Dampness permeated the camp. The wind felt like sharp needles piercing your skin. There was no place to hide from the cold.
There were two other Africans waiting in the camp. Cami called them her brothers. They treated her like a sister, and protected her like a sister, but that is the African way.
Until the first of December, they camped on the sidewalk on the bridge, as close as they could to the American guards who would not let them pass into the U.S. to seek asylum. They lived with the hope that a guard would call them over, and allow them to enter America. Two years ago, a person could just walk across the bridge and ask for asylum. Now, they are all stopped at the center of the bridge and turned away.
Mexican authorities removed the asylum seekers from the bridge in early December, so Cami and the others set up a shelter at the base of the bridge. The Mexican guards now control who passes into the U.S.. The American side calls the Mexican side and tells them to send five asylum seekers. Letting only a few per day pass is called metering. The Mexican side picks the lucky five and brings them to the center of the bridge, where they are handed over to the U.S. guards. This system has led to a log jam of people waiting at the bridge to cross.
An asylum seeker is given a number, but the numbers don’t really mean much. The guards call who they want. The system is corrupt. Sexual favors and money can get you into the U.S. ahead of others who have been waiting much longer.
The Mexican authorities tore down the shelter in February of this year and chased everyone away. Today, there are 114 people living in a plaza, or on the banks of the Rio Grande River, as close to America as they can be. With no shelter. There are 180 people living on the other bridge in town. There are about 200 who are supposed to be living in shelters in Matamoros, but the shelters can’t handle that many people. If the weather is too bad, the Mexican Red Cross will come and pick people up, especially women and children, and take them to the shelters and some of the churches in town for one night.
Many people won’t go to the shelters out of fear of losing their place in line. Sometimes, even the churches hosting them don’t have the ability to keep them safe. They are easy prey for the cartels. So, they sleep outside in the rain on the cold hard ground or on metal park benches, waiting to be called. This is part of the humanitarian crisis happening on the border.
There are people who have a heart for helping those who are suffering. Not all of these helpers are necessarily following the scriptural mandate to love others. They are just good people with hearts of compassion. I am blessed to work such a bunch of volunteers in Brownsville. They minister compassion in a physical way to asylum seekers across the bridge, and to asylum seekers who have been released by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) here in the U.S..
I first met Cami when I was helping to bring hot meals to the people living in her camp. She was very discouraged about not being chosen to cross into the U.S.. By the time I met her, she had been there nine weeks. I asked her if she was a Christian and if I could pray for her. She said yes to both. I brought her a Bible the next time I crossed into Mexico. She calls me her pastor. I take my ukulele across and play Spanish praise and worship songs with the people in the camp, and pray for them.
She started getting sick and depressed to the point of not being able to get up in the morning. She was not eating. She has a tropical disease that flares up when her immune system weakens, when she gets tired, and when she is under a lot of stress. This disease could kill her if not treated. I was worried about her. She had come so far, and been through too much to reach the U.S. border to just give up now. She could barely walk.
Cami is 33 years old. She has a husband and three children left behind in Cameroon. One child was still nursing when she fled her homeland. Had she stayed there, she would have been raped, beaten, and killed by the soldiers. If she is denied asylum and sent back to Cameroon, that is what awaits her.
Cami was a teacher. She said there is an incredible amount of corruption and fraud among the teachers, and a lot of discrimination against English-speaking Cameroonians, specifically teachers. There is an ethnic cleansing going on in Cameroon. English-speaking, educated people are being killed, as are those who help them.
When she went to school for her certification, the teacher would give her a zero if she wrote her papers in English, because he/she could not read it and wouldn’t bother translating it. She said that French-speaking Cameroonians would pay bribes for their certificates.
She went to a protest and was arrested and beaten. She said that all of the female protesters were raped. She and her husband made the decision for her to leave Cameroon because they knew that the authorities would come back for her after she was released. She left so quickly that she could not say good bye to her children.
I was able to speak with her husband, and found out that all of the people who protested with Cami were killed. He said that there are many funerals in Cameroon without bodies. People are hauled off by the police or military and never seen again. They just vanish. He said he would wait one year to hear from Cami. If he did not hear from her, the family would have a funeral for her. He said that when the shooting starts in his town, he takes the kids and they hide in the bush until it is over—sometimes for days. When I first talked with him, he thought I was someone from the Cameroonian government trying to trap him. But I slowly won his trust.
Cami went to Cambodia and then to South Korea where she was kept in a cold room with a hard floor and treated very badly. She wanted to go to Canada but didn’t have the visa, so she went to Mexico where she was beaten again. Then, she made it to Matamoros, to the camp at the base of the bridge where I first met her.
It was the ninth week of Cami’s waiting at the base of the bridge, and she was very sick. Her disease had flared up, causing screaming pain along her spine and in her arms. She suffered in silence. Her African brothers were trying to help her the best they could. The guards started to notice her. They didn’t want anyone to die on their watch so they said she could pass the next day at 6:30 a.m. That morning, a member of our team met Cami and helped her reach the guard station on the bridge. They were told there is no room in the detention facilities, so they could not let her in. No one would pass that day. Cami was devastated. She was walked back to camp and melted into her sleeping bag. We received word from the Mexican guards that she could pass the next day at 6:30 a.m. I was the one who helped her to the guard station that day.
The guards change shifts every hour. There is no consistency in communication between guards when they change shifts. At every guard change, I needed to tell the same story about her number being called. Finally, one of the guards called the shift supervisor, and allowed me to speak with her. The supervisor had no communication from her supervisor to allow Cami to cross. About that time, her African brothers came looking for her. They were very surprised to see me still with her. They returned to camp and I helped Cami back to camp and we put her back to bed. Then, we had word from the Mexican guards the she could pass the next morning.
Her brothers carried her to the check point at 6:00 a.m. and waited with her. The supervisor was supposed to be there.
Was Cami able to enter the U.S. that day, or did they send her back to the camp?
If she was able to pass, what would happen to her?
Would she be successful in her asylum attempt, or be sent back to Cameroon to die?
Stay tuned. The rest of the story will be in a KRL issue in May.
If you would like to know more about Mark and Marilyn’s work on the border, or how you can help, like their Facebook page or email Mark for more information at mtmasai@aol[dot]com.