MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (April 7, 2018) -- Roselia, age 29, and Mario, age 36, sat in plastic chairs in the front room of their house. Adiel, age 3, played on the floor with his toy trucks and building blocks as the adults talked.
Adiel never said a word, but he looked up and stared with big brown eyes when his father's voice finally cracked and the tears came.
“We can’t show our appreciation enough to the church for showing their support,” Mario said in Spanish. “Even though we are from different countries, we know we are all the body of Christ. We wait on God’s will to know what is happening.”
Mario* is the brother of Marvin, a United Methodist who was arrested during a raid by federal officials at a meatpacking plant on April 5.
Roselia is Marvin's wife.
Marvin, age 31, was detained along with 96 other employees at Southeastern Provision in Bean Station, Tennessee, on Thursday morning. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stated that all of those arrested are suspected of being in the country illegally.
Marvin and his family are members of Iglesia Rios de Agua Viva, a United Methodist church near First United Methodist Church in Morristown.
The Rev. Susana Lopez is pastor at Rios de Agua Viva. She came to visit with Roselia and Mario on the day after Marvin was detained and to interpret for the reporter who came to hear their story.
"Marvin was humble and loved to serve God and his people," Lopez said.
Roselia, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala, said she was working at her job at a sewing company when she heard that “immigration had shown up” where her husband worked. The rest of the day was nerve-racking and chaotic as she and other relatives tried over and over to reach Marvin through his cell phone.
“We waited as they were putting videos up on Facebook and the news,” Mario said. “We were afraid to go see what was going on because they were authorities, and we were afraid they would take us, too.”
Panic broke out as news of the raid ripped through the community, and other relatives who worked at the meatpacking plant did not answer their cell phones. Schoolchildren reportedly went home to empty houses or their parents never came to pick them up.
St. Patrick Catholic Church quickly set up a resource center where the immigrant community could go for information, legal aid, food and supplies.
Mario said he also went to St. Patrick for help. “Reporters were there with lists of names of people who had been taken,” he said. “Lawyers were there to direct people and to see if anything can be done.”
Mario was asked if he wanted anything to eat. He said, “I’m OK. I don’t need food. I just wondered if we could pay a fine to get my brother back.”
A BETTER LIFE
Roselia and Mario would later learn that Marvin was on the list of people who had been taken by authorities on a bus to Knoxville, and then to Alabama. They expect that he will be deported.
Wiping away tears, Roselia said she did not know yet what she will do if Marvin doesn’t come home. She keeps calling and calling, thinking he may eventually answer his phone.
She brightens up a little when asked about her church, where she and Marvin have been attending for about three years. The congregation is tight and has been in constant touch since Marvin’s arrest.
“He was not a believer in Guatemala, but he came to Christ with Pastor Arturo,” Roselia said, referring to her church’s former pastor, Rev. Arturo Reyna.
Marvin was baptized by Reyna and was the leader of the ushers at Rios de Agua Viva, his wife said. “He is a person who likes to serve and he did what was needed.”
Like many of his friends and relatives, Marvin came to the U.S. to escape poverty and violence in his home country, Mario said.
“There are no jobs in Guatemala. People are assaulted, and they rob you,” said Mario, who now works in a sawmill. “[Marvin] came to make a little more money and to better himself. That’s the dream of the people who come here.”
Roselia says that she and her husband hoped to make enough money in the U.S. to buy a house in their homeland. “It cost $8,000 or $9,000 to try to get here, and it took a year and a half to pay it back,” she says.
As they talked with their pastor on Friday afternoon in their house, Roselia and Mario did not know what their next steps would be – if they could help Marvin or go on without him. They said they would probably follow up on offers of help from St. Patrick Catholic Church, Rios de Agua Viva, and First United Methodist Church.
When Rev. Lopez offered to pray with them before leaving, Roselia and Mario dropped to their knees. Adiel held tightly to his toys as he watched.
* Only first names are used to protect the subjects of this story.
Contact Annette Spence at email@example.com.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, states that the denomination opposes “immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”
Bishop Dindy Taylor's statement (The Call, 4/9/18)
United Methodists respond after ICE raid (The Call, 4/10/18)
Pastor assures immigrants, 'You don't have to live in fear' (The Call, 2/20/17)
Rights of Immigrants (UMC Social Principles)
Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S. (UMC Book of Resolutions)
Welcoming the Migrant in Our Midst (Holston Annual Conference, 2017)
Photos below: (1) Adiel plays while his aunt Roselia and his father Mario share their story. (2) Iglesia Rios de Agua Viva is located in downtown Morristown. (3) St. Patrick Catholic Church
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.