Crossing the Rio Grande is one of the scariest things I have ever done. It happened about 20 years ago, a day after learning that the Iranian embassy in Mexico discovered we were in Mexico City. We rose early the next morning and set out to cross the border to apply for asylum in the U.S. In desperation, we found two Mexican men who said they could get us across the border. They told us that we could only carry a backpack and water.
When we arrived at the river, I was nearly paralyzed by fear of the high and swift-moving water. I don’t swim, and just looking at the river made me dizzy. But, turning back was not an option. One of the Mexican men carried my younger son on his shoulder and was moving through the river very fast. My then-husband had my older son while at the same time trying to hold onto me. The dizziness increased and I became even more unstable. As the man carrying my younger son got farther and farther away, my parental fears turned into panic. I was terrified that we would get separated from him or worse – lose him to the river. I started screaming at my husband to just let me go and catch up with the man carrying my younger son. As a parent, I was willing to drown so that my sons could make it safely across.
When we finally made it across the river, our guides left us in the middle of the desert. They told us that we were in the U.S. We walked for hours and hours. We were exhausted, starving and running out of water. Eventually, we saw in the distance the bridge into the U.S. and a few buildings. We walked into the immigration post, told them our story and asked for asylum. They were convinced we were Mexicans and wanted to send us back. As I listened to that rejection, I was filled with fear. My mouth was dry and my heart was pounding. I did something I had never done before – I begged. I did not beg for myself, but as a mother. The only thing that truly mattered, as I faced the border officers, was the well-being of my children. A part of me recognized that a once middle class, college-educated Iranian woman is now a dirty, dusty mother who is only concerned about getting her children to safety.
The experience of becoming a refugee, then asylum seeker stripes you off your pride and dignity. It reduces you to survival instincts, and often to feeling that you are nothing. There are wounds so deep that even today I choose not to discuss them. But, God is merciful! In his indescribable way, He uses those wounds for His purposes – if we will allow Him. Common belief is that life’s wounds heal. But, that is not always true. And, some wounds are better left unhealed lest we forget and harden our hearts to the suffering of others. Lest we forget that we are mere humans and in the blink of an eye, our lives can turn upside down and be in need of mercy.
In God’s providence, my horrific experiences in fleeing Iran and later Mexico enable me to have a deep level of empathy for others facing similar situations.
This is my prayer as we face difficult and confusing times. Lord, leave us not to our own devices and understanding, but change us by the power of your Spirit to seek your knowledge and your will. Change our hearts, renew our minds and guide us in the way of truth. Amen.
Gateway of Grace
P.O. Box 224582
Dallas, TX 75222