He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. — Isaiah 40:29-31
All of us have been affected by disasters in some way. Everyone who experiences a disaster is affected. It’s impossible to see disaster and be untouched. Disasters come in many forms and affect our functionality on many levels. For immigrant children, disasters can be especially destructive.
Consider the levels of trauma that immigrant children might have experienced. If they are asylum seekers, they may have experienced family separation at the Border. If their family was fleeing violence, they probably have adverse childhood experiences from that. If food has been scarce, they will have concern and stress from insecurity, the same being true if shelter has been a problem. Add to all of these possibilities the insecurity that a hurricane brings.
In immigrant communities, people pull together with much greater effectiveness than in many Caucasian communities, oftentimes out of necessity. However, effectiveness is diminished by the impact of hurricanes. For example, if Francesca has been babysitting all of the neighborhood children while their parents are working in the fields, what happens when her house gets flooded? Furthermore, what happens when the fields where their parents work are flooded, and their income is gone? What happens when the road to their trailer park is washed out? What possibility is there for trust of outsiders, when one of the community leaders is taken advantage of by a fraudulent representative of FEMA? All of these types of situations have happened to immigrant communities in the wake of hurricanes Dorian, Florence, and Matthew.
When I first started reaching out to immigrant communities, it seemed as if there was no damage, because people did not seem to want my help. But the reality is much more painful. The stress and trauma of hurricanes affects the daily living, and when people have no energy for living, they have even less energy for extending trust to people they don’t know well, like me. Even in trying to help their living situations, it’s difficult. As United Methodists we have money to help with housing recovery, but like most wise-pocketed institutions we have a policy not to pour money into the pockets of trailer park owners, who rent to immigrant families. So, the living situations of many of our immigrant neighbors, even after hurricanes, is in the hands of people who own the property on which they live.
The children living in these situations are affected even worse. Just think about it. When the already high stress of life is compounded by hurricanes, it affects everything, including mental development. So when you see immigrant children who live in rural areas, who may have been impacted by hurricanes, don’t judge them. And even though your human brain is trained to make assumptions, train it also to extend grace upon grace to them. How would you have turned out if you were in their position?
Pray: Lord, help me to have compassion for the children in unstable situations, who have been affected by the hurricanes. Amen.
— Jason Villegas