Noemi was 16 years old when she left her home in Ejido Manacal in Chiapas, Mexico.
The oldest of seven siblings, she saw how her mother and father, a Pentecostal pastor, struggled to make ends meet.
Manacal is a coffee-producing area, but not everyone profits from the crop. Those working on coffee plantations make $3 a day or $60 a month.
The dire economic conditions in her village force most men, young adults and even teenagers to seek better opportunities elsewhere in Mexico or “El Norte,” as they call the United States.
Unable to find a job in her community, Noemi followed the path taken by many of the young adults in her community and headed to Tapachulas, an important city in Chiapas.
She got a job at a store making $60 a month. After six months, she returned home for a few weeks.
With a strong sense of duty to support her family, she ventured to Mexico City, where she hoped to make more money. Working as a housemaid, she made $80 a month.
Life in one of the world’s largest cities was not easy; she was alone and missed her family. She worked six months and went home a few weeks before journeying farther north to Tijuana.
While making $80 a month as a housemaid, she was encouraged by a friend to migrate to the U.S. “Noemi, let’s go to the United States. My dad says that they make good money over there. Let’s go.”.
She hesitated because of the horror stories she had heard about those who attempted to cross the border.
“I don’t think so,” she replied. “Have you not heard everything they say about what happens? Women are raped … . No, no I am not risking my life. I’d rather stay here.”
She remained five months in Tijuana and then plied back home, where she stayed with her family for two months.
A friend from church shared with her he was migrating to the U.S. “At least 20 people from Manacal are going in this trip,” he added.
Knowing so many people from her community were traveling gave her a sense of security. She would not be surrounded by strangers. She would be protected by friends. “I will think about it,” she responded.
She sought counsel with her parents. “If you are thinking about leaving, you should first seek God to see if it is His will. If it is His will, doors will open,” her dad advised.
Noemi fasted and prayed for three days to seek God’s guidance. At the end of that time, she felt God confirmed she should make the journey. She was 19 years old when she left Ejido Manacal on Feb. 14, 2004.
Her journey to the U.S. was priced at $2,000 and lasted a week. Her assurance of God’s protection during the footslog through the desert is remarkable.
During her first few years in the U.S., she was a migrant farm worker moving across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio. Despite not having a home, she was extremely happy and grateful for her work.
All she wanted was to provide for her family. “I had a lot of willingness to work and help my father and mother,” she said.
Noemi, her husband and their two children have been living in Ravenswood, West Virginia, for eight years.
She continues to be a farm worker. The weariness resulting from the agricultural work is obvious.
“Here one has to be working day in and day out in the same type of work, in the fields, in the tomatoes,” she said.
Noemi and her husband consider it a blessing their children were born in the U.S. “Life over there [Mexico] is very difficult,” she said. “Thank God my children have clothes and shoes and food. What I am concerned about is they are growing and they have everything.”
“They lack nothing and sometimes I think it is very important they see one cannot have everything all the time,” she said. “There are children with deep needs in Mexico. So I wish I could take them to Mexico to see and learn what life is like in Mexico. It is not about having everything, and you have to fight in life in order to have a better life.”
Noemi and her family are part of Iglesia Bautista Comunidad Nueva Esperanza in Ravenswood.
She is a joyful woman with a vibrant faith and spirituality demonstrated in her passion for prayer and for sharing God’s love with others.
She is currently enrolled in an online program to earn a certificate in evangelism and church transformation.
Her journey of faith and hope should encourage us in our own pilgrimage to desire and commit to a deep spirituality to seek God’s guidance in major decisions, do everything out of love and always hope for a better and brighter future no matter how dim or uncertain our present circumstances might be.
Her journey is a reminder that we also need to tune up our perspective to see Hispanic immigrants as people who have come to bless and make the U.S. a better place.
Juan AragÃ³n is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A version of this article first appeared in the February-March 2016 edition of The West Virginia Baptist newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.