When Ruth first met her, Lizbeth was about to be sent to a country that she hadn’t seen since she was seven years old. And she was afraid to go.
US Immigration & Customs Enforcement called it her homeland, but to Lizbeth, Mexico was anything but home. As she awaited deportation, Lizbeth found herself in the Northwest Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma along with more than 1,000 other detainees. Some, like Lizbeth, had been arrested for committing a crime while in the US on a visa. Far more, though, were in the Detention Center because their immigration documentation was insufficient or contained errors.
Lizbeth was born in Mexico and came to the US illegally with her parents as a young girl; they eventually settled in Oregon. America would come to be home and English her primary language.
But when she entered adulthood, Lizbeth’s drug use led her into a long series of problems. By her own estimation, she’s been institutionalized more often than not for the last couple of decades.
Lizbeth’s history and immigration status would eventually land her in Tacoma’s Detention center. She hoped to be released so she could build a life with her new husband in Portland. But in time, Lizbeth’s fate became increasingly clear: like four out of five detainees in the facility, she was going to be deported.
While she waited, Lizbeth found World Relief Immigration Detention Center Ministry. She began to attend one of eight weekly worship services and joined a Bible study group with daily meetings. New in her faith, Lizbeth craved mentorship and friendship from another believer.
This is where Ruth comes in. Ruth had recently returned to the US after living in Mexico for more than thirty years. She and her husband planted churches, and Ruth worked with survivors of domestic violence.
After retirement, Ruth was looking for an opportunity to continue ministry. With a tip from her daughter, Ruth connected with World Relief’s window visit program, which connects volunteers with individual detainees who they can visit. For Ruth, it was a natural extension of her career in missions work.
“In some senses its the same thing,” said Ruth of her work in Mexico and Tacoma. “Being a missionary isn’t just a profession, it’s a decision you make every day.”
In their first window visits, Ruth could tell that Lizbeth was discouraged and depressed. Like many others in the facility who are far from their family and friends, she had few visitors. Through regular visits and notes of encouragement, the two women built a friendship in the months before deportation.
Beyond spiritual and emotional support, the friendship had practical benefits. Lizbeth was going to be deported to Tijuana, a city she knew nothing about. Having lived there for years, Ruth was able to point her to safe areas and refer her to friends living in the city.
Lizbeth was deported in December 2015.
But that wasn’t the end of Ruth and Lizbeth’s story: two weeks later, Ruth traveled to Tijuana to visit friends. Through a series of phone connections, they were able to make contact and they were able to meet up.
Providence was at play: as it turned out, Lizbeth was living just blocks from one of the churches that Ruth and her husband had planted years before. Ruth brough her to the church and introduced her to friends who were pillars in the congregation.
Ruth could see changes in Lizbeth in that first visit to Tijuana. Stuck in a difficult situation where drugs would’ve been an easy out, Lizbeth was firm in her resolve: “I’m not going that route,” she said. “I’ve given enough of my life to that.”
In a follow-up trip in March, Ruth was excited to see that Lizbeth had found a church home and was attending a women’s Bible study there. Ruth brought her friend a bilingual Bible so she could more easily follow the services in her ‘mother tongue’ which she still hadn’t mastered.
I want to give a testimony to the Church how missionaries like yourself can make a difference and have an impact in our lives. I thank God for you and pray that he will send you to more and more women who are calling out for moral support. Glory to the most high–he is working on me. I can feel him.
To support World Relief’s Detention center Ministry, please visit our donations page and select Seattle Detention Center Ministry as your gift designation. Through a generous $40,000 matching challenge, your impact in detainees’ lives will be doubled–please give today!
To learn more about how you and your church can get involved in the ministry, contact Jose Bonilla at email@example.com.