“Houston, we have a problem”: Three things I learned from my recent trip to Houston, TX – Part 1

“When one of us is oppressed, all of us are diminished by that oppression.” – Phil Bell, University Baptist Church

Two months ago, on September 23-25, 2021, my parents and I had the privilege of taking a trip to Houston, TX to respond to the migrant crisis that took place at the border of Del Rio, Texas, a week before our visit. Prior to our departure, a wave of emotions consumed us, as we followed the news updates of the influx of Haitian immigrants, filling the U.S. border, connected to Mexico. Something in me particularly, could not stand to just watch and see how my fellow Haitian brothers and sisters, were suffering in poor conditions to seek possible asylum and most importantly, a better life.

Backstory: I was returning from a weekend trip to Dallas, Texas, when the news really settled in. Upon returning home, I was scrolling through social media and came across an organization called, “Houston Haitians United” or “HHU” advertising that they were seeking Cooks, Translators, Medical Professionals and Hairstylists, to assist in the transition of those who were able to get in contact with their host families in the states. I immediately thought of my mom for the cook position, because if you’ve tasted my mom’s cooking, you’d want her to volunteer her gift too. Without hesitation, in our native tongue of Haitian Creole, she shared, “Ban m di papa w, pou m we si l ta renmen ale tou.” Which translates to, “Let me tell your father to see if he would like to go as well.” The conversation occurred on Monday, Sept. 20th, we booked our flight and rental car and on Thursday, Sept 23rd, we were in Texas.

We did not know what we were going to witness, the stories we would hear, the length of time we would spend there each day, but we knew, we have to help our people.

The first family that I really interacted with, was dealing with the dilemma of having their flight ticket to Miami paid for, for the three of them. Unfortunately, the family that would be taking them in, could not afford to take care of the hefty price tag. Immediately after hearing their situation, I could not hold back my tears. Even as I write this now, tears are welling up because what media portrayed as an invasion, was really a humanitarian crisis, a hopeless people, searching for hope in a country, rich with resources. My mom asked me, “What’s wrong Sandi?”. I’m not one to really shed tears, but this situation, hit me to the core of my being and I could not reject my humanness in this situation. I responded, “I just feel so bad for them. They are really going through it and I don’t have the finances to help.” She told me, “Crying would tell them that their situation is hopeless. You must be strong for them now. They made it this far, now all we can do is help how we can now.” Gratefully, as HHU was gaining more traction on social media, donations were coming in and the organization that they partnered with, NACC Disaster Services, to house, bathe and feed the people, was able to fund many of these families’ way to their host. I took her words and with my tears, I swallowed them. I stepped outside to regroup, shared an update with my advocacy group and returned back to get to work

Each day that we volunteered, my mom was positioned in the kitchen, cooking some of her finest dishes to serve, sharing, “Many have not consumed good food through their journey. They deserve to have good, native, Haitian food, not sandwiches and chips.” My dad was a floater, translating documents, giving directions, paying for flight tickets out of his pocket and sending people to me to do their hair. I created a hair station and women came flocking to get their hair washed and braided because the water from their journey was hard and unclean, which caused many to have unkempt hair. Each day we were scheduled to volunteer for 4 hours, but we ended up staying until 11p, 12p and the latest, nearly 2a. Busloads of people were coming in each day, traveling 5 hours from the border, seeing a glimpse of freedom on the horizon, as volunteers rushed to get them situated. We heard stories of their journey, how God had spared them to make it this far, those who were sadly lost and people left behind. In response, we encouraged, ministered, gave instructions on how to navigate the next steps after departure and some, our numbers to reach out, once they have made it to their final destination.

Subjects were blurred to maintain their dignity and conceal their identity

In between duties, we connected with other Haitians, Caribbeans, African Americans and Hispanic volunteers. It was beautiful to see how, in spite of our cultural differences, language barriers and walks of life, we all were tied to the cause because of our hearts. Consistently, I am reminded of the line a song that says, “Break my heart for what breaks yours” and I understand why I without a second thought, made my way to Texas.

Throughout my time there, I had moments where I was able to reflect on what needs to happen next and how can we prevent this from happening again.

Three things that I gathered were: 1) Following your God given purpose is imperative and not just following what people think you should do, to achieve this earthly idea of “success”. Last year, I experienced a moment, where I had to re-define what success really looks like, and from what I’ve concluded, it’s “accomplishing the purpose God has placed in you from your inception”. This will be further explained on a later blog post. In situations like these, we should have an influx of professionals in every category that can help make the load lighter. Unfortunately, much of the Haitian culture preaches that four specific careers makes one valuable and defines success, but this teaching is to our detriment, when speaking of the advancement of a community as a whole, 2) If you don’t know what your purpose is, serve. Our purpose has a way of revealing itself in moments where we have taken the space of humility. Serving during your journey of finding your purpose, takes our minds off of the journey and allows us to connect to the present & 3) We are all we have. As confessed Believers, one of our assignments has always been to meet the needs of God’s people. In spite of how hateful the world is towards Christians, the calamities around us and the determination of hell to steer us from the Cross, choose love everytime.

My experience in Texas was something I will forever hold near and dear to me. The work is certainly not finished yet and I am determined, with God’s Grace to ensure that the journey of my beloved people is not in vain. I will serve until I am called home.

Until next time,

Grace and Peace ✌🏾

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