In Defense of Perla

Early morning, a colonia on the outskirts of Reynosa, Mexico. Chilly winter air tinged with smoke from trash fires. The neighborhood is mostly shacks cobbled from old wood, tin, and cardboard. There is no running water; the city has promised electricity, but so far those pledges are hollow.

Most of the residents are migrants from Chiapas, lured to jobs in maquiladoras along la frontera. These are not squatters. They have purchased their tiny lots with a mortgage through Habitat para la Humanidad, and now they hope to build their dream homes: 500 square foot, cement block structures with 2 bedrooms, a living space, a kitchen, often housing large families. Latrines remain outside.


Our crew of volunteers is inspecting construction sites. We will work alongside members of the community, a day of labor and fellowship, but first I have other tasks. Word has rippled through the dirt streets that a pastor is present, and I have received invitations to bless homes recently completed. One family asks me to pray for their newborn child.

I am glad to oblige, even though my bendiciones are clumsy mixtures of English and broken Spanish. It doesn’t matter. I have friends who translate, and my smile and eyes communicate more love than my words could ever convey.

One house after another, joining hands, lifting our hearts to God with petitions for abundance and safety. I receive many more blessings than I give, especially when I arrive to pray for the infant. Her home is a one-room shack where she lives with her parents and two siblings, walls of scrap plywood, a roof of rusted tin. Outside is a cooking fire, and they share a pit latrine with an adjacent family.

An old bench seat from a bus is near the front door, listing slightly, its surface torn to reveal the springs beneath. The parents ask me to sit as they bring their tiny daughter to me, only two weeks old.

Que preciosa,” I say. “Come se llama ella?”

Perla,” is the answer.

I cradle the girl in my arms, bundled in blankets. She is quiet, her dark eyes staring up at me, and though she will never remember this moment, it is sacramental for me.

I make the sign of the cross on her forehead. I pray for God’s guiding hand to be upon her and her family all their days, giving them strength, safety, and abundance for this new life they seek to establish.

Then I hold her against my chest for a moment, encircled by her family and smiling neighbors.

Our work that week was a triumph for all of us. Yes, we helped two structures rise from that neighborhood, but more importantly we joined our hearts across cultures, time, and space.

Months later, through my Habitat connections, I received a photograph and a brief note. Perla’s family was standing proudly in front of their new home, and the words said: “To Perla’s padrino. Muchas bendiciones.” To Perla’s godfather. Many blessings!

In over three decades of ministry, I have occasionally been asked what drives my passionate efforts for justice and peace. I could give answers complicated by theological jargon, socio-economic statistics, or political convictions, but my reasons are far simpler.

I act in defense of Perla and countless others I have met. I stand in unity with those struggling on the edge, joining hands in our one human family.

You see, Perla is also my daughter. She is your daughter as well.


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