After being deported from his longtime Texas home, Joe, a Mexican national, lay sick in his tent among dozens of other deportees in Tijuana, Mexico when he heard commotion outside of his tent.

“He said he hadn’t come out of his tent in days and he looked real sick,” said Kevin Vranich, who was one of nearly 30 members of Antioch Community Church who traveled to Tijuana this winter.

“There was just a lot of hopelessness, but he said hearing us talking to others drew him out of his tent for the first time,” he said.

Joe was greeted by members of the large Waco-based evangelical church’s Day and Night International Discipleship School as they worked to spread a message of God’s love among dozens of deportees and would-be migrants from Mexico and Central America.

The border city has become a focal point in news stories recently as debate rages over immigration policy and border security. But the Antioch team, partnering with a sister church in Tijuana, looked beyond political controversy to serve human needs.

“When you see hopelessness in the eyes of people who have no hope and people who have lost faith in humanity, it is just a dark place,” said Tim Sapp, a freelance broadcaster and Waco Tours employee who was part of the team. “We just tried to love them, listen to them, and try to give them a reason to continue on, and just try to give them back hope.”

Sapp and his wife, Midway school teacher Lorri Sapp, joined Vranich, a Waco fire marshal, along with 24 other members of Antioch’s discipleship school. The group traveled to Tijuana on the nine-day mission trip from Dec. 13 to Dec. 22 as their ending mark of the school’s semester.

“The school is a foundations of faith, immersive course for anyone of any age and of any vocation who wants to deepen their faith,” Mick Murray, director of the night school, said. “It is specifically faith-based, but it has a lot of practical community engagement international trip that is the capstone of the school.”

The group, plus six children, worked with in downtown Tijuana where members of a migrant caravan and deportees were camped out, Murray said. The group also helped Antioch’s sister church, All Peoples Church, host a Christmas party for church members, handed out blankets, and listened to the stories of deportees and migrants, many of whom were separated from their families.

“Jesus breaks down the ultimate dividing wall between people and God, between one another and it cuts down all the politics. For us, something that was more universally applicable is empathy,” Murray said. “Aside from all the soundbites in politics and everything in the news, the point is that every one involved is human. We need to remember humanity and Jesus makes a way for peace and reconciliation.”

Many of the migrants and deportees were seeking entry or re-entry into the United States from Mexico or Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala. Murray said the group did not engage in political conversations, but they saw the troubles of migrants first hand.

“We did see a family getting arrested along the border, but we never brought up the idea of the wall in any of our conversations,” Murray said. “Many of them agreed with border security, but they just wanted to be back with their families and we were there to focus on people and to serve the people.”

After uniting migrants and deportees with local resources at All Peoples Church in their nine-day mission, the group saw a familiar face leaving Tijuana. Vranich said out the of line of cars, Joe appeared and yelled an appreciative message.

“He looked like a completely different person when we saw him in the line where vehicles were waiting to re-enter the United States,” Vranich said. “He looked happy, smiling, he wasn’t sick and full of life. He said he still had his Bible in his pocket and he was going to read it every day. He had hope again.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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