Back in the 70s, when I was a Bible college student in Southern California, I made a trip to Tijuana, Mexico with a group of classmates. We went to visit an orphanage run by a Mexican minister and his wife.
Many of the children that were living in this establishment had been abandoned on the streets of the city or were dropped off at the gates of the compound. Their parents felt like they could no longer care for their children so they just left them.
We were told that the parents either struggled to survive on the streets, scrounging for scraps in the city dumps and landfills, or they would wait for the opportunity to climb the tall wire fences that separated Mexico from the United States. Once they made it across the border, they hoped they could find jobs and one day return and reunite their families.
One night while we were there, the director of the orphanage took us on a walking tour of the neighborhood around the center. He showed us the miserable living conditions of his neighbors.
What passed for some family's home was a bunch of tarps and scrap lumber that had been pieced together to provide shelter. The roads were narrow, rut-lined passes surrounded by row-upon-row of those miserable looking shanties.
The sun was beginning to set as we headed back toward the simple and unassuming orphanage that sat in the midst of that sea of abject poverty. That haven of hope for those precious children, although very modest, was a place of comfort and luxury compared to its surroundings.
As we were walking up the road, the pastor pointed off in the distance toward a tall wire fence with a crowd of people gathered before it. That was the fence that served as a border between nations.
He told us that there was a crowd of people gathered there every day waiting for the sun to set so they could climb over to a new life.
Maybe one of those women was the mother of a child in the orphanage. Maybe one of those men had left his children with our minister friend to go off looking for a better life for his family. That was more than 35 years ago, but that sight is etched in my mind like it was just last week. Thirty-five years later, the same thing is happening today.
People climb a fence to come to the United States, hoping to find a piece of the American Dream. They come with hope in their hearts. Wanting what we have.
When we said goodbye to our friends in Tijuana, we loaded into our new Bible school van and headed back to our college dorms, just three hours north of the orphanage.
We went back to our beautifully landscaped campus in Orange County. Back to our comfortable rooms and the large cafeteria that overlooked the swimming pool in the middle of the dormitories. Back to our classrooms and back to our lives.
All these years later, as I sit here in my home office in front of my computer, in my comfortable house, I think about how blessed I truly am.
I have lived a good life. I have a loving family. I serve in a loving church. I live in a beautiful community. And I am living a part of the American Dream.
It humbles me to realize that there are millions of people out there across national borders, in distant lands, that want what I have.
I am thankful to be living in America, in Tennessee, in Bedford County, in Shelbyville.
I am thankful.
I truly am thankful.
-- Doug Dezotell is pastor of Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church, a former staff writer for the Times-Gazette, a husband, father and grandfather, and a friend to many. Doug may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.