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6 things a Texas pastor learned from traveling with a group of migrants

(CNN)A couple months ago, San Antonio pastor Gavin Rogers heard people in his community talking about a “caravan” coming toward the United States from Central America.

He wanted to learn firsthand why and how they were leaving their countries. So he decided to take a leap of faith and join them on their journey.
After spending five days traveling with migrants from Mexico City to Guadalajara, then taking two trips to see them in Tijuana after they arrived at the border, Pastor Rogers reflected on what he learned during his time with the so-called migrant caravan.

1. They welcomed a stranger with open arms

On his second day traveling, Pastor Rogers found himself on the top of a flatbed semitruck with a group of young men and women from Honduras and Guatemala. He wound up traveling with them for the duration of his time in Mexico. Here’s what he said about the experience:
I was not expecting to learn hospitality from the caravan. When I crawled up onto the truck, it only took me an hour to get to know them very well. And they protected me.
They tied their arms around me, they crossed their legs around me to keep me safe.
That first 12 hours I had no water or food. And I was on this 18-wheeler way longer than I thought. So they gave me cans of tuna and bottles of water that they probably should have kept for themselves.
Scripture says “treat the stranger in a foreign land as your native born.” Well, I was a stranger in a foreign land — especially a stranger in their community — and yet they treated me like their native born.
I was not expecting to learn the lesson in my mind I was trying to preach.

2. They wanted to be known and seen

Why did people travel in a caravan to begin with? First is safety.
Traveling in those numbers created a much more safe opportunity for people to travel through. It was amazingly safe.
With the families, the caravan was a very good idea. They were able to stay together and care for one another as they were traveling.
Many of the people in the caravan said they’d rather do this the legal way. A lot of them said they just want to show President Trump that they’re truly seeking asylum. Like if they could go to the border and make their case as a group, maybe it would make a bigger statement or a more convincing argument.

3. They don’t want more than the essentials

Their view of a better life is different than my view when I think they say “better lives.”
When we hear them say that, we think, “Oh they’re trying to take my wallet, they’re going to take my house or try to take my job. Our resources.” That’s not what they’re saying.
Like, I dropped my wallet, and somebody handed it back to me. They’re not trying to make money, they’re not trying to take something from somebody.
What they’re saying is: “I want the essentials. I want shelter. I want a job that can pay regularly. I want to raise my family. I want to have my kids go to school.”
I’ve definitely learned that we misidentify that phrase, and definitely misidentify them.

4. Their struggle didn’t end when they got to the border

All the other cites I saw had shelters, massive tents, massive stadiums that would operate like what you would think a hurricane shelter looks like in the States.
That was not the case in Tijuana.
The bathrooms were terrible. There was no sanitary situation. The food situation was pretty scarce.
There was really no shelter. They were all just in their tents they had, or like makeshift plastic tents, and they would hang them on fences.
The minute it rained it was chaotic. There wasn’t a set shelter. But now there is, more or less.

5. Christians responded more negatively than he expected

While Pastor Rogers was traveling with the migrants and when he was in Tijuana, he did interviews with Christian news outlets and posted his thoughts and experiences on social media.
While he expected some political debate, he was not expecting that his words would trigger a theological debate among Christians in the United States.
I didn’t really know how offended true Christians would be by even an act of solidarity.
Someone said to me “if a man steals your coat, as a Christian, you’re going to just say that’s OK?”
Oddly enough, Jesus was asked the same question. I was like “Oh my gosh, I could copy and paste your comment and it would pop up in the Bible.”
His answer is to (let them) keep the coat. They can keep it. What do you have to lose?
I have a hard time putting the immigration debate up with the death penalty, or abortion, or even LGBT issues, because those can be debated theologically and with great respect on both sides.
When it says (in the Bible), give somebody a coat when they’re cold, or embrace a stranger, it’s not as controversially theologically debated.
So to me, I was surprised that people with political leanings on both sides act like this is such a polarizing theological topic.

6. The migrants taught him empathy — and they can teach others, too

I know that if any of my friends — conservative, liberal, and moderate — if they walked with or just hung out with anybody from the caravan, I would put a lot of money (on it) that their minds would change, or definitely their hearts would change. People would probably learn to empathize with their stories and their situation.
They would start to better understand what it means for them to say they want a “better life.”
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