MCPHERSON — McPherson residents Bill and Dayle Toews took a trip to McAllen, Texas, in May, but it was not a summer vacation. Instead, they were traveling with about a dozen others on a Mennonite Central Committee Learning Tour to view the work of humanitarian organizations aiding people trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico.
"I hear so much on TV. I wanted to see what it was all about," Bill said. "You would think that the United States should welcome people."
The trip spurred Dayle and Bill to lead a donation drive for MCC's Immigrant Detainee Care Kits. First Mennonite Church, located at 1161 E. Avenue A in McPherson, is accepting new T-shirts, socks, underwear, shoelaces, pens, backpacks, washcloths, towels, toothbrushes and other hygiene products. The drive will end with a McPherson Chamber of Commerce Connections event at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 29 at the church.
Kris Schmucker, who lives in Goessel, said she went on the MCC Learning Tour to see for herself what was going on and determine which media reports were accurate.
"It's a huge concern," Schmucker said. "What we're seeing, especially about children, is awful. I wanted to see what was being done."
Tour members talked with Hector Zuniga, director of a Southwest Key Programs shelter for unaccompanied minors.
"He gave us a rundown of what (children) do when they come," Dayle said.
Children (mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) who cross the border usually call their relatives back home to let them know they made it, then call their sponsor family members in the United States, Dayle said.
"Many of them know people in the United States who will be their sponsor," Bill said.
The shelter then gives them food, clothes, toiletries, a shower, medical assistance and a book outlining their rights in their native language — things that adults also receive when they are released from detention centers.
The tour members were taken to see the border wall between the United States and Mexico.
"Some people had the wall built right in their backyard," Bill said.
They also visited a Mennonite church in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The 10 families that make up the congregation work to aid people who are unable to cross from Mexico into the United States.
"I was very impressed with their courage," Schmucker said. "They were dealing with the cartel putting pressure on them and they were standing firm in, 'We are helping people and not taking money from you — we are following Christ.'"
At the federal courthouse in Brownsville, tour members watched as the cases of those caught crossing into the United States illegally were heard.
"One woman, who was eight months pregnant, was sent to an immigration camp," Dayle said.
Schmucker said the trip gave her a way to connect not only to the geographical area, but also to those involved in the issue of immigration.
"I have a clear bias," Schmucker said. "I want to help these people."
The Toews were surprised and impressed with the abundance of aid given near the United States' southern border — something they said they have not seen reported by TV news stations.
"I could not believe all the humanitarian efforts going on. I was so happy to see that," Dayle said. They are busy there. Why are they not showing that?"
For more information about MCC learning tours and how to donate towards its relief efforts, visit https://mcc.org.