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Stories of Hope - El Buen Samaritano

Hijos de Dios

Emerging from scars of war, shame, and regret Yolanda finds God in her heart, changes herself spiritually and then advocates for other immigrants to reclaim their self worth as God's children, Hijos de Dios.

Memories of war and feelings of fright still sweep over Yolanda. Though she is 38 and left El Salvador almost fifteen years ago, images haunt her - of corpses and bombed houses she walked by, of faces of murdered children she saw daily on television news, of anonymous death threats tacked on their ranch door, of herself hiding under her bed. "I saw too much when I was young."

At seventeen Yolanda had a child. Her mother, her angel, stopped her father from throwing them out, but he did not talk to them for a year. Then Yolanda moved in with "another bad man" and left her daughter with her parents. Yolanda's mother died soon after and Yolanda plunged into a deep grief. The war continued.

Two river crossings

To escape to a happier life, Yolanda, though quite pregnant, set out to join her "husband" who left months before. She, a brother and two friends, walked much of the way to Guatemala, often with only a melon from a generous street vendor to eat. They crossed the river into Mexico, where the police caught Yolanda's brother and sent him back.

At 2 am, fifteen days later, with a "coyote" leading and a man holding each hand, Yolanda entered another river, and for two hours waded across the Rio Grande. The next month she gave birth to her second child.

Shame and regret

Reunited in Austin, Texas the couple had no papers, no money and many fights. Angry and disappointed, Yolanda fled to a shelter. An Anglo theology student who volunteered there took in Yolanda and her baby. They married and had two sons and brought over the daughter who had remained with Yolanda's father. Even with this "good man," Yolanda could not be content. She would leave the four children with her husband and stay out late, drinking, dancing and flirting. Her husband filed for divorce but helped by a Legal Aid lawyer, Yolanda got custody of all the children.

Shortly after, she married a Guatemalan and became pregnant. Her 13-year-old daughter was pregnant by a classmate at the same time. Yolanda felt terrible guilt. "This was happening because of the bad things I did. I acted the same way." When her new husband began drinking and abusing her Yolanda moved out. Remarkably, he quit drinking and remained sober. He wooed and won back Yolanda.

A flood of tears

Yolanda too transformed her life. She sought guidance in many long conversations with Father Jaime at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission. She also met regularly with El Buen's social worker. A flood of tears opened as Yolanda faced deep-rooted emotional issues, shame and regret. She experienced great spiritual change. "God knocked on my door and I opened it."

With God in her heart, Yolanda feels more respect for herself and for others. She sees her husband's innate goodness and stays calm when he is angry. She is actively engaged with her younger children and sets an example, as she never did with her oldest. Participating in educational programs and support groups, Yolanda has become more knowledgeable and more trusting. She will soon take the citizenship test and then study interior design. Newly self-assured, she recently marched on the state capitol for amnesty. Yolanda decorates the altar at El Buen and has a key. "This is my house. It is part of me."

Fix the world, not with violence, but with love

Yolanda finds comfort in the story of God changing Paul's name and him becoming a better person. She too has changed and wants to change the world. Yolanda completed training at El Buen as a promotora. As agricultural and health promotores fan through the countryside in Latin America, Yolanda will work in Austin neighborhoods to teach, link people with resources, help solve problems. Confronted with poverty and injustices, she sometimes despairs they are too few. "But then, how many did Jesus have?"

Most of all, Yolanda yearns to help new immigrants embrace both Hispanic and American society. "They tend to separate themselves and think no one accepts them. They need to know you do not need papers to be a human being. They are Hijos de Dios, God's children, and this country is for them too."

Yolanda's father is very ill. On the phone, she told him for the first time, "I am sorry. I did a lot of bad things. I am a different person now." She wishes her father too could say, "I am sorry." She wishes she could have apologized to her mother.

"A long time ago I thought God was in the sky. Now He is here with me."

Carol Safran

El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission
Austin, Texas

  • Helps the low income Spanish speaking population, including new immigrants, to meet immediate needs, to build long term personal, family and community strength, and to find a comfortable place in American society
  • Operates a primary healthcare clinic, food and clothing pantry, classes in citizenship, employment, and literacy, social work and counseling services, and outreach programs on issues of health, immigration, legal rights, family relations, and cultural differences.
  • Trains "promotores" from within the community as leaders and advocates.
  • New facilities scheduled for completion late 2002.

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