LOUISVILLE — At Manos de Cristo, a Presbyterian social service agency in Austin, Texas, 1,500 children come each summer for a back-to-school program. They are given clothes and school supplies, treated to some fun, introduced to stories from the Bible. The organizers hope to plant “a small seed that will grow and one day lead to complete transformation,” said Lydia Hernandez, a Presbyterian minister who’s the agency’s executive director.
That’s what Hernandez hopes for Presbyterians everywhere too: complete transformation.
In her job, she sees so much. Many of the children at Manos de Cristo come from families that struggle economically, families who do not feel worthy and who suffer “insults and abuse when they enter the nation,” Hernandez told the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women July 9.
One woman described the humiliation of being assaulted by six men on her journey into the U.S. The immigrants fear being caught, as they are crossing illegally; but if they make it across safely, they start to dream of moving out of darkness into steady work and the ability to provide for their children, Hernandez said.
People come to the U.S. for economic reasons — globalization and the economic system underlie the vast migrations of people from Mexico and elsewhere, she said.
At Manos de Cristo, they learn English, how to use a computer, how to manage their finances. They study the Bible.
Many of the men become day laborers, and “often they work in places that are not safe and where the pay is minimal,” Hernandez said. Sometimes, the employers cheat and don’t pay them at all.
On April 10, Hernandez walked in a march for justice in immigration in Austin — which she described as a moment of joy and happiness. “In that moment, we were walking in the light of God,” she said. “But in one day, the light went out.”
Families began reporting raids from immigration authorities — people disappeared, mothers were taken from their homes with no warning while their children were at school. Hernandez and others called government officials to raise concerns, and were told no raids were happening. But the families continued to report the raids, and finally the government acknowledged that 300 people had been arrested in Austin alone, Hernandez said.
“Confronted with darkness, we should pause and we should take notice,” she said. “We cannot remain silent when we see injustice.”
Hernandez told the women: “You can help change the darkness with light, and you can help keep the light shining always . . . Come, illumine, even if it’s those little lights.”