The letter is tucked in my Bible. The stationery is a piece of lined paper raggedly torn from a notebook. It is wrinkled and had been folded many times to fit into a pocket. What strikes me every time I try to read it is how many times the word “sorry” appears. My heart breaks each time I read the first words: “I am [a] sorry man.”
He was a man who could not seem to apologize enough, but he was not a sorry man. He was a father who cared deeply for his children and his wife. But he felt like a sorry man because he did not have the money to feed them or keep the electricity on.
He came to our church one Sunday morning, making his sons sit quietly and be still through the worship service. Afterward he asked for help. His English was limited. My Spanish was not any better, but I wanted to hear as much of his story as possible.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched his sons. At first, I thought one had sat down to play on the ground, but I realized he was trying to repair one of his shoes, a flimsy flip-flop that was breaking apart.
In our simple two-language conversation, the father told me about searching for farm work. He handed me the letter, hoping it would help with communication.
Later, as they left the church, the littlest boy was trying to keep up while also keeping his flip-flop on.
As tiny and poor as the boy was, he was rich compared to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing horrors of violence and exploitation that most of us can’t imagine in Central America and seeking the safety and hope of our country. This boy’s family was together and reasonably safe. Hope existed for a better time.
A recent headline reported that at least five children no longer had such hope. They were deported from the United States back to their native Honduras and had been murdered in the ongoing violence there.
As I wonder what we are to do, I remember another olive-skinned little boy who had to flee violence and probable death in his homeland, cross a border, and seek the safety of another country. He grew up to admonish his believers: “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
I returned the father’s letter to my Bible, praying that he comes to know that he is not a sorry man. He is a beloved child of God as are the children crossing the border. As we all are.
Stephanie Porter-Nichols is the associate pastor of Marion Baptist Church in Marion, Va. An earlier version of this reflection appeared in the Smyth County News & Messenger, where she is editor.