2022 Annual Conference Mission Project: The Long Journey

by | Jan 20, 2022 | Mission Project, Annual Conference Sessions Committee, Asylum, Refugee, Immigration, Conference Newsletter

By Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach & Justice

Late last year our Annual Conference Sessions Committee confirmed DACA/Undocumented scholarship funding as the 2022 Mission Project. In the weeks to come the design team for this year’s project – Rev. Kimberly Scott, AZ JFON attorney Ella Rawls, and myself – will be providing you with a variety of facts about why these funds are needed and the socio-economic rationale which impacts all of us. We begin with a testimony from a current DACA student, words that will touch your heart and help us all to understand the difficulties involved in, The Long Journey.

Churches are encouraged to share this letter in local church communications. Please direct financial support for the 2022 Annual Conference Mission Project, “The Long Journey” to https://bit.ly/2022MissionProject for online gifts or mail checks to Desert Southwest Conference at P.O. Box 32830, Phoenix, Arizona 85064 and enter 2022 Mission Project in the memo line. Please notify me of your church’s final donation totals by June 3, 2022, at bfidlin@dscumc.org. This article and additional publicity content for this year’s mission project will be available at https://dscumc.org/mission-project.

Today is the oldest I’ve ever been and the youngest I will ever be again. I was born in Zapotitlan del Rio, Oaxaca, Mexico in 1992 to a young mother and a much older father who drank. In the dead of night, my mother left my father, taking with her my older brother and me. Along the way she left my brother in an orphanage and took me, only an infant at the time, with her to make the perilous journey across the border. I was eight months old when I arrived in the U.S. and had my first birthday in foster care. I would like to point out that my foster mother was very nice, and the three years I spent with her were lovely, but that’s not what this story is about. This particular version of my life focuses on education. My mother only made it to the 9th grade before she was forced to drop out. It costs money to send your children to school in Mexico. Since my mother and uncle are so close in age my grandmother decided that it was more important for my uncle to continue his education because he was a man and made my mother drop out. My stepfather is the oldest of 8 children. In order to support his family, he dropped out of school in the 4th grade, and his father is illiterate. In fact, the way I learned to read in Spanish was by reading the Bible out loud to him when he asked. To say that my parents prioritize education is an understatement. Their only real goal was to make sure the four of us graduated high school. They were ecstatic when I told them I got into college.

However, things didn’t go as planned. I graduated in 2010 and headed to school with no real way of knowing how I would pay for college. I was undocumented and that meant that I couldn’t apply for federal aid, get a bank loan, or qualify for a lot of scholarships. In my second year, my parents lost their house in the recession and were forced to move out. My older brother was arrested and put through deportation proceedings. In an effort to make sure he was not deported they spent their life savings on immigration paperwork and lawyers. That meant that any money allocated towards my education was reallocated to stop my brother from being deported. With no way to pay for school, I dropped out of college in my sophomore year.

Being undocumented meant I couldn’t get a real job, and it also meant working for people that I knew would take advantage of my situation, and they did. In my first job, I worked 30 hour weeks and made $100 a week. I’ve done a lot of things since then including twisting balloons at a farmer’s market in order to make a living.

We are now in 2022, eleven years from when I dropped out. I am no longer undocumented, I am now on DACA, I have a job where I get paid a fair wage for the work I do, I got married, and we purchased our first home in 2020. Since I am no longer 19 and unstable I decided I wanted to finish school. There is nothing more in life I’ve wanted than to become a doctor. Someone from church helped me pay what I owed the school when I dropped out so that I could re-enroll. When I called to re-enroll the person on the other end told me a couple of things that I found to be a tad bit off-putting. The first was that I was too old to go back to school, that I wasn’t 19 anymore, and that I couldn’t just power my way through college. The second was that I should ask my husband’s permission before I made any major financial decisions. The last was that unless I quit my job and really focused that the chances of me graduating were pretty slim, I’d most likely end up dropping out again. On top of that when it came to actually paying for school I was in a similar position to my 19-year-old self. How was I going to pay for school when being on DACA still meant I didn’t qualify for FAFSA or other federal programs, and now I don’t qualify for most scholarships because I am too old.

Luckily there is no age limit for being a child of God. I’ve certainly been blessed with a scholarship for a small amount from my church’s foundation, but I’m still paying $18,000 a year out of pocket which does put me in financial strain. They say all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us and that must be true because here I am at the start of my semester for my junior year. This year, si Dios quiere, I’ll take my MCAT and next year I’ll graduate with my Bachelors in Biology with an emphasis in Pre-med.

Today is the oldest that I’ve ever been and the youngest I will ever be again.

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Author: Billie K. Fidlin

Billie K. Fidlin is the Director of Outreach & Justice for the Desert Southwest Conference. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and attended Claremont School of Theology for religious studies. Ms. Fidlin currently serves as the President of the Arizona Faith Network in her second term. She is President & Founder of Whisper n Thunder Inc., and sits on various boards including the Justa Center. Her awards include the UM Foundation for Evangelism 2004 Distinguished Evangelist; 2016 Church Women United / United Nations Human Rights Award; 2018 Servant Leader Award AZ Faith Network; 2022 Southern Poverty Law Center Certificate of Recognition; and 2022-23 Class of Who's Who in America.

The Desert Southwest Conference is a diverse and loving organization with open doors to a variety of people and partners in ministry. Celebrating our connection and diversity, we offer various resources. Content on this site includes information from other organizations that may not reflect the official policies or Social Principles of The United Methodist Church or the Desert Southwest Conference.

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