At first, you may not have known that thousands of people were sheltered in El Barretal, the vacant event space on the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico. But when you walk through the surrounding buildings and the security vetting those going in and out, you would have found rows and rows of tents create islands on the concrete.
In one corner, several large cargo trucks and trailers settled with white awnings and tents. This is where people could go for anything from a small cut to a serious illness. The most common visits were for lice and stomach bugs, both unfortunate byproducts of thousands of people living in too-close quarters. It’s here that a Nazarene mobile medical brigade set up, one of only a few medical providers who were allowed to set up in the camp.
For more than two months in the fall of 2018, the brigade traveled with thousands of people hoping to immigrate to Mexico and the United States. It’s run by a team of volunteers, including medical professionals, who help orchestrate and administer care.
The full journey from the Guatemalan border to the United States border is more than 2,000 miles long (3,200 km). The majority of people in that caravan had come from Central America, driven North by both violence (or the threat of violence) and poverty.
Andrea* left Honduras with her husband and three children, driven to find a better life for them. At home, she and her husband struggled to find any sort of sustainable work; there just wasn’t any available. It was not an easy decision to make; they left behind their families without any assurance that they would ever see them again.
“It was very difficult sometimes,” Andrea shares. “Even if you don’t want to, you have to do these things.”
Travelling as a family can be particularly difficult. Young children are vulnerable to injury and illness, and walking thousands of miles every day only exacerbates that. Sometimes, they walked for 16 hours a day. Soon after they crossed the border into Mexico, Andrea’s youngest daughter suffered second-degree burns on her arm when boiling water got knocked into her. That’s when they discovered the medical brigade.
“Thank God—because of their attention, my daughter was able to heal,” Abigail says. “We have found so much joy in being with them.”
The brigade stayed with the group in Tijuana, Mexico (near the United States border) until their need became less urgent as people became healthier. When they first arrived in Tijuana, the brigade was partnering with two other medical groups to serve up to 400 people a day.
Other Nazarenes responded to the needs of people making the journey as well. Across Mexico, Nazarene churches served as shelters for women and children in addition to organizing food, water, clothes, prayer, and counseling. Throughout the fall of 2018, they provided 25,000 meals, 2,300 hygiene kits, and more than 3,500 medical treatments.
Although El Barretal was only a functional shelter for a month or two, there will always be people seeking safety and security. Now, as people seek asylum, Nazarene churches along the border are responding, too. Some are providing shelter, a safe space to sleep for a night or two. Others are providing supplies, bolstering existing programs that are caring for people. Because what it comes down to is people—together, they are the children of God caring for the children of God.
Church of the Nazarene medical volunteer Carlos Bentanzos, who helped organize the clinic after two earthquakes hit Mexico in 2017 told the San Diego Union Tribune the reason the volunteers have been so committed to serving people.
“Well, it’s just love,” he said.
*Noted names are changed for protection.