"Down in Celaya, halfway through the terrible journey of the refugees, there is a respite center known as ABBA House. It is not huge, except in its effect. Sometimes its limited space is crammed with 300 sleeping people. A gentleman whose leg was torn off by the migrant train works there with kids too exhausted to go on. The pastor who created ABBA House cares for anyone who comes, often under great risk from predators. He accepts all guests."
-Author Luis Urrea
These are the stories of ABBA.
In fact, there were close to 500 in July amongst which were some families with young children and several amputees who have fallen or been pushed by gang members off the train.
Albergue ABBA, which, in addition to housing, feeding and counseling migrants, is now the shelter in Mexico where amputees are being given a space to rest and recover and learn to use their new prostheses, provided by the International Red Cross, until they are well enough to travel.
Most of the migrants have nothing but the cloths on their back. Many of them have been robbed, beaten or raped. They are fleeing the corruption, poverty and rampant gang and cartel warfare in their own countries. Now they are trapped in Mexico. Most cannot go back because they face the violence they were trying to escape, and they can't go forward into the US. Ignacio Martinez, the truly humanitarian director of ABBA and our Refugee Relief Project team hope eventually to raise enough money to support a shelter in San Miguel, where those who have applied for asylum can seek jobs and report every other week to the Immigration Office there, a requirement for all asylum seekers. This will only happened when we have been able to raise enough money for such an endeavor.
Photo credit: Kimberly Fairbanks
I spoke with a man from Honduras as his family huddled nearby on the caravan route near Celaya in 2018. He told me he fled his country because his mother, a mall store owner, was murdered by gangs who were extorting money from her. When the asked for more than she could pay, they killed her. He showed me the slash marks on his chest and the tips of his fingers which had been cut by the gangs. When his mother was killed he and his family left Honduras with the caravan. " I have to save my children and my wife. I love my country but can no longer stay there."
Stan Allen a regular weekly volunteer at ABBA reminds us that, as poet Warsan Shire says:"No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark." Stan goes on to say, "I want to show you what that shark looks like and how ABBA provides safety, sanctuary and community."
First, there are the countless young men who arrive mostly from Honduras. They explain there is no work or only work that pays so few lampiri that at the end of the day, you can only buy half a chicken. All have family members or friends who have been threatened or killed for resisting or offending the gangs. They often arrive alone, get a good night’s sleep, a shower, freshly washed clothes, a hot meal. They almost always leave in small groups with new shoes, backpacks, and recharged headed North, more often Monterrey in these last months.
Esteben celebrated his 16thbirthday at ABBA. He has returned to ABBA after nearly being kidnapped near the Mexico -US border. He always has a bright smile and shiny gelled up hair. At 10 he was forced to sell small amounts of marijuana, at 14 he ran away from an abusive cruel school that was controlled by the gangs. The abuses he describes are too heinous to share. He recently confided in me, he’s afraid he may never see his mother again. Pastor Ignacio is helping him with documents so he can go to school. He told me recently, ABBA is Eden.
Juana was one of the first residents I met over a year ago just before the large caravans came through. She has a long golden honey braid, looks radiant 7 months pregnant. She left the family coffee plantation after 2 years of scorching draught and following a gang rape. On her way she met Daniel, a Mexican who befriended and protected her on their way to ABBA. While at ABBA, she decided to keep her baby, earned a position of respect and responsibility as she regained her own self -respect and trust of her own judgment. There was a Facebook post that she was safe with her son, Alex, in the US. We’re not sure about Daniel.
These are a few of the many people who pass through ABBA. We know them just briefly but intensely. We work hard to be with them in the moment because that’s all there is. The goodbyes are daily and painful. We can only say, Be careful every step of the way and take care of each other. You are always welcome here.
I invite each of you to help with the ABBA mission. ABBA relies on the big hearts of those who respond to the need of this vulnerable population and understand the complete chance of birthplace.
Thank you for your support and generosity.