Last month I went to the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, with 7 other women from my church. We spent several days with migrant families who were staying at a church shelter while they were navigating the difficult process of securing the documentation required to be considered for asylum status in the United States. What struck me as we entered the shelter gates for the first time was the diversity of the people who were staying there. A large number of the men, women and children were from various countries in Africa. Several were from Venezuela. Many were from Central America and Mexico. I thought, how will God use us this week?
Our fearless leader, Ashlie, immediately began solidifying relationships with the shelter leadership to make sure we knew how and when to serve. We wanted to help, not unintentionally hurt, while serving among so many people in crisis. Four women on our team, who were professional educators, immediately starting gathering children for the Bible club they had prepared. Nancy, a physician’s assistant, went directly to the clinic to assist the Doctors without Borders personnel already serving there.
I tagged along with Diane. A former Peace Corps worker in Honduras, Diane would lead a women’s Bible study for Spanish speakers. I would lead one for the women who spoke English. But God had something else for us to do, too.
Before the trip, Diane had prayed and talked with the pastor who was our contact in Reynosa. How could she help? “I’m just learning how to sew,” she said. “What if I brought some sewing machines along?” With the pastor’s assurance that sewing machines were a great idea, Diane bought 4 basic sewing machines. Women from our church donated fabric and essential notions like thread, scissors, tape measures and seam rippers. I had no idea that Diane was making these preparations until just a few days before our trip. When she told me her plans, I was thrilled. I love to sew. I’ve been on dozens of mission trips, but I’ve never been on one in which I’d have the opportunity to serve through one of my hobbies.
We set up the machines and a cutting table in a small room that the shelter pastor reserved for mission teams. Then we walked outside in the plaza of the compound, holding a shoulder bag as an example of what the women could sew. By the end of the first day, women were lined up 3 deep to get their turn at the machines. We had our English Bible study gathered around the cutting table, pushing aside the fabric scraps and pin cushions. The sewing machines were a big hit.
On the afternoon of the second day, a young woman, Janis, who had already made a bag, visited our sewing room again. “Do you want to make another bag?” I asked. No. She wanted to make a shower curtain. What? I didn’t understand. Diane translated for me. Yes, she wants to make a shower curtain. I was still confused, so Janis took me to the women’s bath house there at the shelter. It was made of concrete bricks. There were 3 shower stalls and 3 toilet stalls, all with no doors or curtains. The women had improvised with a few blankets thrown over PVC pipe that they could move with them from shower stall to toilet stall for privacy. Janis might only be at this shelter for a few days–who knew?–but she wanted to give a gift of privacy to the women and girls who would use this bath house every day now and in the future.
We took measurements, we searched for the most appropriate fabric. We cut and pieced. We sewed. On the third and last day that our team would be at the shelter, Shelley (from Cameroon) joined us to help. By 6:00 that evening, we had 3 completed shower curtains. These, in addition to the blankets the women were already using, would provide privacy for all six stalls in the bath house.
When I went into the bath house right before we left on that third day, I saw a tiny pair of feet in sneakers peeking out from under a new curtain covering a toilet stall. The toilet flushed, and a girl who looked to be about 6 years old came out and politely washed her hands in the sink. I smiled.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).