Back in September, I stopped to catch my breath before leading a meeting of pastors in Juchitán, a city in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It was 34 degrees and humid. Between the weather change and the images of the earthquake destruction throughout the city, I was gasping for air, wondering how to summon the strength to do my part in the meeting.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to get a glimpse of Christmas that day.
I sat alone in a circle of empty chairs when a friendly voice interrupted my thoughts. It was a young woman swinging a newborn baby in a carrier. She gave me her best, “Hi, how are you?” in English. I said I was fine and returned her question. “Oh, my English stops there,” she chuckled.
Teresa began to tell me her story in Spanish. I’m not using her real name for her security. She is from Nicaragua and had been hanging out in Tapachula, a border town on the coast of Chiapas, Mexico, with her six-year-old daughter, during her pregnancy.
She was living at a centre for migrants, and she spoke positively of her housemates, who would bring her food when she was too far along in her pregnancy to work. Her son was born there just a few days before the magnitude 8.1 earthquake on Sept. 7.
She and her baby’s father, who is from El Salvador, had been in a big fight with no chance at reconciliation, she said, “He’s been detained. It’s complicated… I didn’t know he was in a gang when I met him.” Elements of her story were so raw and painful, they were hard to understand clearly, like where she actually was the moment the earthquake hit.
But somehow, Teresa ended up in Juchitán, one of the cities most damaged by the earthquake. Someone told her to go to the Church of the Nazarene, where they were organizing temporary shelter and food distribution. That was where my meeting was being held.
For the past 10 days, she had stayed here. Women from the church said they would help her find a permanent home. She was unsure about taking that offer, though, because her ultimate plan is to try and cross the northern border.
At one point, one of the busy-looking volunteers stopped to say hello. She admired the baby and the perfectly-fitted blue onesie his mama picked out of the mounds of clothing piled up five-feet high behind us. “He’s getting chubby,” the volunteer praised. “He was nearly dead when they got here,” she told me. “He was so dehydrated. Mama hadn’t eaten in days and her milk was drying up.”
I could hardly believe the miracle sitting before me. A once indescribable human tragedy. A centre for emergency supplies. Worker bees passed by to satisfy desperate human need with bags of food and clothing. In the midst of it all, they had made room for one more person sustained by nothing more than the will to survive and several open serving hands.
At the end of my visit, Teresa told me the good news. Since her baby was born in Mexico and had documentation to prove it, a migration officer told Teresa that she could stay in Mexico without fear of deportation. “No one can throw us out now,” she said as her face beamed with pride.
As I leaned down to kiss baby’s new fuzzy head, I knew I was participating in a holy act, honouring the pain, the vulnerability and the hope – all swirling around enfolding this new life.
On our way home, I looked out at the starry night sky, trying to understand the day. I wondered if Jesus were to be born into this world at this moment, whether he might choose to be born in this family, to a Salvadoran gangster father and a Nicaraguan mother and sister, trying desperately to make their way north on the earthquake-ruined coast of Mexico.
Lindsey Frye, from Lancaster, Pa., serves with MCC in Mexico, where she is seconded to MCC partner organization, The Institute for Intercultural Studies, as an Ecumenism Promoter. This article was first published on her blog, www.pushmepullyoublog.wordpress.com