June 20, 2023

Introducing the ACROSS Documentary Series!

Inside This Episode

After nearly four years in production, the Maybe God team is thrilled to announce that our award-winning documentary series called ACROSS is now available for streaming at www.acrossdocumentary.com! Released on World Refugee Day (June 20, 2023), ACROSS shares heartbreaking and inspiring stories of asylum seekers fleeing imminent danger and finding hope and healing through the love of faithful individuals and churches. On this special episode, Maybe God host Eric Huffman, Maybe God and ACROSS producer Julie Mirlicourtois, and ACROSS cast member Pastor John Garland talk about the series, share powerful clips, and reveal behind-the-scenes details. 

Watch ACROSS: www.acrossdocumentary.com

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Eric Huffman: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Maybe God. I'm your host, my name is Eric Huffman. If you're new here, please make sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts or subscribe and ring the notification bell on YouTube if you're watching us today so that you don't miss any of our weekly content aimed at hopeful skeptics and doubtful believers.

Now, anyone who's been with Maybe God for a while has probably heard us talk on and off now for over three years about a documentary film called ACROSS that the Maybe God team has been working on for several years now. In fact, many of our loyal listeners even contributed to that project, and we're so grateful for your support.

ACROSS is based on a 2019 episode of the Maybe God podcast called Can Loving "Illegals" Save Our Souls? It addressed the immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border from a very unique lens. Part of the series has already won multiple awards at International Film Festivals. The biggest news is that today, June 20th, 2023, which is also World Refugee Day, is release day for the entire four-part ACROSS series.

So joining me in studio to talk about that film series, what it's about, what it hopes to do, and where you can watch it and how you can get involved are Maybe God Executive producer, Julie Mirlicourtois, who produced the film, and San Antonio Mennonite Church, Pastor John Garland, who's featured in ACROSS. So Julie and John, happy release day.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Thank you.

Pastor John Garland: Thanks so much.

Eric Huffman: It's finally here. How does it feel?

Julie Mirlicourtois: It feels great. We still have a lot of work to do getting it out there, but I think the hardest part is over and I just can't wait for people to see it and start hearing these stories.

Eric Huffman: John, how does it feel over there, man?

Pastor John Garland: I'm honored to do anything with y'all. What an amazing team! I, of course, learned a lot about cameras and sound systems and all sorts of stuff that I had no idea about.

Eric Huffman: We're grateful for your contributions to this project, John. And in fact, you and your work there were, in large part, the inspiration behind this effort. Julie, I just want to start by talking to you today about your experience making this film series. We've talked some on the Maybe God podcast about how before coming to Houston and to our church and to start Maybe God you had a slightly more famous boss. You worked for Oprah Winfrey and before that CBS News. But you've said a couple of times that you've never done anything more involved or more intense as ACROSS. So could you just explain, first of all, how we got here?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Yeah, that's a good place to start. So I was introduced to John through a former colleague of mine. Her name is Kayla McCormick. She actually worked on ACROSS with me. She was interviewing him, I think, for CNN. I don't remember who she was interviewing him for. And she was like, "You have to talk to this guy for the podcast."

So I remember where I was sitting. I remember calling him and just being completely blown away by everything he was saying. I was like, "I'm coming to San Antonio. We're going to record a podcast episode." And when I got there, I remember the first thing we did is we sat around this table in the church's hospitality house where all these asylum seekers, after having these long journeys and these really traumatic experiences with detention and all these other things, they sit around this table together from different countries, even different faith backgrounds, and they have meals together and they share stories together. And I got to be part of that and hear these stories. I'll just never forget it. I was completely moved and transformed that day.

I was also a new Christian. I think I had only been Christian for maybe two years at that point. Two, three years. So what blew me away was I could feel how inspiring their faith was, and I didn't understand why the media never really focuses on their faith. And just hearing how God is moving through them and in their lives, you know, miracle after miracle, I was like, Why is nobody telling this story?

And then the flip side of that was seeing John and... not just John, everybody in his church and everybody... and so many organizations, faith organizations in San Antonio that were coming together to support these people. I was like, "These are the Christians that we need to be spotlighting, not the angry Christians on Facebook that are turning people away from Christianity, but the ones who are really serving and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

That's why we did the episode. But the listener's response to the episode started coming in and I just felt more and more strongly God telling me like, You've got to do video, you've got to share these stories on video. So that's how it all started.

Eric Huffman: Which the video component was part of your professional life prior. As a follow-up question, I guess, what did it do for your faith to witness the church in action like that?

Julie Mirlicourtois: I think it gave me hope. I mean, a lot of people who end up at our church are people who have been hurt by the church. So it just gave me so much hope for how churches can be and should be, what our priorities should be, how we can love not just each other but people outside of this church.

And then just for me, I think from a faith perspective, in the past three years, any time I go through something difficult, like my son was in the hospital for a couple of days, and I remember getting on my hands and knees. And Santos, who's one of the women that we featured in the documentary, who so many things, lost a son, was reunited with another son, was separated from her daughter, all these things, I sort of channeled her faith and the way that she prays and the way that she just pleads with God for what she needs and what her family needs. It has deepened my own faith and my prayer life especially.

Eric Huffman: That's so good. Thank you, Julie. I like having you on this side of the camera by the way. This is the first in a while.

Julie Mirlicourtois: I don't like it but anything for ACROSS.

Eric Huffman: That's great, John. I think so many of us, myself included, were really surprised to learn that the great majority, like the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers crossing the southern border are Christians and in most cases very outspoken. You could say evangelical Christians in many instances. You call these folks the Pilgrim Church. Can you explain that term for us and what you mean?

Pastor John Garland: Yeah. It's the church on the move in some ways. Or another way of just describing the Pilgrim Church is the Christian church. I mean, the Christian church… I mean, originally you're describing that first New Testament church. They just called themselves the people of the way, the people of this journey. But it's the way that's prepared for them and there's no promise that it's an easy way.

I mean, I'll be honest, we're a little church and we are a mile from the San Antonio bus station, which is in some ways the epicenter of the immigration crisis in this part of the country. We had this little building and we had this little hospitality house. And we originally approached this as let's be rescuers, let's be helpers, let's go in and save folks. And that very quickly was flipped on its head. God doesn't want us to be rescuers. God doesn't want us to be saviors. God is the savior. God is the rescuer. God just wants to rescue through us.

God doesn't want us to be effective rescuers, God wants us to be conduits of God's love. It was flipped on its head most dramatically when we realized, like, oh, this is the church we are receiving. We are participating in service to the Pilgrim Church, the homeless fathers and mothers who have given up everything to save their children, they've given up everything in faith. They've been holding on to nothing but faith, walking through hunger, walking through thirst, walking through extreme violence, walking through rejection, holding on to nothing but their faith, this way of faith.

Pilgrimaging is not about what you stand on or where you are. It's about where you're going and why you are going there. And hear these stories and these testimonies, they would come to our church building and it's like, First we want to pray and we want to sing and we want to worship God in this place." Feeling that testimony was really, really powerful, shuddering, I think, for our own faith and recognizing the part that we're playing in this. We are not the church at the center of this story. We are instead serving this moving body of Christ, this pilgrim in body of Christ on this really, really hard and yet faith-filled way.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's so good and so well said. I think it would obviously change the tenor of our conversations if Christians in America saw what you're describing as the Pilgrim Church. Obviously, the issues on the ground every day and the fear and politics around all of these things complicate matters. And it's messy. You and I both live in a world as pastors where we have to navigate a lot of that messiness a lot of the time.

I don't know how much of this you get locally with your congregation being on the front lines, but I'd say the great majority of pastors lead congregations where the folks in the pews are torn down the middle, you know, right versus left or conservative versus liberal or whatever. I think largely Christians are known in America for being more conservative, and conservatives in America are known for being. More anti-immigration.

So these conversations get... I'll just say as a pastor, it comes with some risk to say, Look, this is what the Bible says about welcoming the stranger. This is what the Bible says about welcoming the immigrant, the refugee, whatever word you want to insert there. And there's really no alternative sort of the viewpoint. Like with a lot of other controversial topics you can have a real debate biblically and see both sides. In this case, it's one of those where it seems pretty crystal clear what the mandate is biblically. Why do you think it's so hard for Christians in churches to have these conversations more openly?

Pastor John Garland: I think a lot of that schism, a lot of that tearing apart, it is very false. It's very superficial. It all falls apart when you meet people, when you pray with people, when you worship with them, when you realize we're all singing the same songs and we're hearing the same stories. I've just noticed that schism falls apart very, very quickly.

But I think you nailed it that that key word is fear. When we can recognize, as faith leaders, when we recognize as Christians the source of the division... And the source of the division here is fear. We are driven by this voice of fear. I've noticed it divides itself into sort of three really specific fears.

One fear is that a law and order is going to fall apart, that waves of immigrants, the desperate folks fleeing will, we're afraid, destroy law and order.

And then the next fear is the fear that we don't have enough resources to take care of them. We don't have enough. They need so much. We have all these other issues that we need to deal with. We're afraid we don't have enough resources.

And then the last fear is that we're afraid we're going to have to change. That when folks come and from all that they've carried and all their hopes and their dreams, that will lead to change. And we are afraid of change. So that fear, the fear that things are going to fall apart, this fear that we don't have enough, the fear that things will change, that we will have to change.

I think when we recognize that, Oh, I'm speaking out of fear. Oh, brother, you're speaking out of fear. Sister, you're speaking out of fear. You're collecting votes based on fear. That very quickly falls apart or cast out in the words of scripture, that's cast out by love, by perfect love. And when we can experience love... This is why I love what Julie and the team is doing is they're just introducing folks to real humans, real brothers, and sisters, and their true stories and introducing them to their love. A mother's love for her child, sacrificial love for her child.

You know, fathers giving up everything for the future of their... Pastors standing up to really, really scary situations out of love for their church. And that just invites us into love. It invites us into the love that's perfected by God. And that perfect love casts out the fear, all those questions that they'll fall apart. Of course, the economists and the politicians can continue to debate them and figure out what's the next best step. But the most important thing for the church and the body of Christ is that we're not leaning on the fearful voice. Let that be cast out and let's speak in love.

Eric Huffman: I love how you are loving I guess without dismissing entirely the fears people are experiencing. Because you've named the fears and the three categories. And I think those are legitimate and invalid. Like there's reasons to be afraid. That doesn't mean we should let our fears trump the love of God in our hearts and the ways we express that love. It doesn't mean you have to vote a certain way or become a certain political party or anything because you love. Anyone of any political stripe can put their love first.

But the question I think every Christian has to ask when we look ourselves in the eye in the mirror is to say, is my love guiding everything else or is it fear that's governing? I guess even better said, is the love of God governing my life, or is fear of man governing my life? And I think that's... it's not an easy question to answer. I have compassion for people that are torn on this. And I think Julie and her team and you, John, you do as well. I think that's what makes this project so special.

Unlike some of the other hot-button political issues, this seems to be something where many different groups of Christians, many different faiths, and folks can come together and choose to love our neighbors and not be governed by hate and fear. And you've experienced this in San Antonio, which is kind of on the front lines of it all, kind of ground zero.

One of the clips from ACROSS that I would love to share with our listeners and viewers is from a time when you went to the Rio Grande with folks from the Interfaith Coalition that your church is a part of. And you went there to honor folks who had lost their lives in their attempt to cross the border. So let's just take a moment and watch that clip together.

Pastor John Garland: This is a symbolic river action of remembrance, and we are going to honor the lives that have been lost in pursuit of life-affirming asylum, those who have been trapped in hopelessness, those who have been denied, we are all going to remember them and together in one voice say presente and spread our flowers of honor into this river.

We remember those who have drowned, Iker, Idalia, [Tresia Chika?] and her son, and [inaudible 00:16:40] Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Angie Valeria Martínez Ramírez, 23 months old. And in one voice we say [foreign language].

Pastor John Garland: The asylum seeker process is not a journey of many choices. There's two ways to ask for asylum. One is in an embassy and the other is on the United States soil. The embassy really is not a viable choice. It's not possible for them to get to it. And if they did, they would have too long of a wait while they are facing immediate suffering and immediate death. So the only other option they have is to get to the soil of the United States.

It's a misdemeanor to cross the river without permission. So asylum seekers will commit a misdemeanor and cross the river to get to American soil where they can then ask for asylum. And then they're entered into this legal process in which they have to demonstrate the credibility of their fear. They have to show an immigration official that they are actually fleeing something that's real, that this is not just something to better their life, this is something to save their life.

And that generally is the decision of a judge. The judge will say your fear is credible now and your asylum can be granted. Or more often than not, the judge is saying your fear is credible, but you will not be given asylum

Eric Huffman: Hmm. So good. Powerful clip there at the river and remembering the names of those who were lost as they tried to cross. John, thank you for sharing your heart with us in that clip and also your wisdom about the system. This has been an ever-evolving situation since 2019. We've even seen just one change after another in policy and how it's affecting lives across both sides of the border.

John, just from your personal perspective, what has changed for you since maybe we started this project 2018, 2019, until now? What has changed in your mind and heart? And maybe what hasn't.

Pastor John Garland: Well, I would say that there's been a lot of policy changes, like there are new ways to seek asylum. There's this new thing that just happened this summer. There are new pathways. There have been new populations coming. We were receiving people from different parts of the world. There is the same suffering. My stomach knots up just to step into those waters.

We've received a lot of families who lost kids and lost loved ones in those waters. Sitting with parents in their grief, all the policy stuff just falls apart. It just means nothing to sit next to a father who was not strong enough to save his child from the gangs and the cartels and then was not strong enough to save his child from the waters, and him holding that. The only thing we can do is pray the Psalms with him, pray the laments, cry out to God, and hear the Christ crying with him, hearing the constellation of God, the hope, but first coming and just weeping.

That's why we went down to the river. We were just broken. You saw the crowd of people. There are folks there in Laredo, there are folks from San Antonio, other parts. We just were so broken and we're like, How do we continue on? Our continual prayer was like, How long? How long? How many times is that repeated in the Psalms, this "how long, Yahweh, how long God?"

You have to do that with other folks. I will say that prayer has continued daily. How long? It's always held next to, Oh, thank you, God. We were celebrating a member of our church winning asylum this last week. The judge said yes. And a couple of weeks ago, another woman and her two children was given asylum and the judge said yes. There is a stack of letters—I keep it on my desk right here—of letters from the judge that say no, you're going to be sent back, you're going to be deported back.

And you hold those to the stacks next to each other and you keep praying how long, you keep morning, you keep tossing your little flowers into the waters that represent drowning. But then we as Christians, we step into the waters of baptism. It's an experience of drowning, of going down into the waters. We cannot fight the current. We cannot breathe there. And yet we hold on to this promise that God pulls us out.

And that's what baptism is. It's being rescued from the waters. Paul describes it in Romans 6 being pulled up out of death with the same resurrection, spirit that pulled Jesus from that tomb. That's what we have to hold on to. Because we're holding in our bodies and on our shoulders and all the different parts of our brain the trauma and the secondary trauma. That's sitting on us. And we just hold on to that, that hope of the resurrection and the baptismal strength.

Eric Huffman: Amen. Thank you for that, John. Julie, I want us to real quick, before we get too deep into all of this, I want us to circle back to ACROSS and just acknowledge the incredible team that you brought together around John and everyone involved. Could you just walk us through a few introductions?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Yeah, I'll go through a few. The main people involved. One of the main cinematographers, we had a lot of really talented directors, camera people, but Pablo [Velez?], he's out of San Antonio. His parents were actually originally from Mexico. So he filmed really all the stories in San Antonio, which was awesome. Kayla McCormick was a former colleague of mine at Oprah, and she is the one that we would send into war zones. She is the one that we sent to Honduras for this film. She just travels the world telling incredible stories. So she was the field producer.

John, when we approached him, he was very protective of the asylum-seeking families, as he should be. And so Kayla and John came up with the idea, well, why doesn't Kayla go ahead and move into a trailer on a piece of land where the other families were living and take care of them? So she did. She drove them to doctor's appointments and driven to school every day, got to know them. And when they felt comfortable with her and were willing to open up to her, that's how we in a really, you know, natural and organic way started getting their stories.

Eric Huffman: How long did that take more or less? How long was she there?

Julie Mirlicourtois: John, do you remember? Did she live with them for six months? Three months? I don't remember.

Pastor John Garland: I think I think it was 40 years.

Eric Huffman: Forty years. That's a long time.

Julie Mirlicourtois: I mean, we touched base with them, with these families throughout the three and a half years. But that was really the beginning of the project, what launched it. And then we have Jude Leak and Shannon Stefan. They are, I believe, the most talented editors I've ever worked with. We had many late nights working on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in edit suites together, so we'd already been in the trenches together. Jude actually stepped up and helped write part of ACROSS, which was awesome. She's both so talented.

Curtis Greene is this incredibly talented music composer out of L.A. who does work for Pixar and Marvel movies. And the way I was led to him is absolutely a God thing. Honestly, I felt God put this whole team together. It was just amazing. But he's one of those stories.

The craziest thing about this is everyone on this list and then there are many others who did incredible work as well that I'm so, so grateful for. If you're listening, thank you, thank you for every to everybody who's touched this project. But I'm the only Christian on this team, which I think, you know, some people might think, well, that's crazy. But what was really neat is a lot of them had pretty negative views of Christians, but they did the project because they have a heart for immigrants.

And by the end of this, most of them have told me this is one of the biggest blessings of their lives to work on this project and they have a different perspective of who Christians are now. So that's been really neat to watch. Their heart soften and, you know, we'll see what happens. But that's the team.

Eric Huffman: Wow. That's really good. When you say they have a different perspective, could you elaborate a little on that? What do you mean?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Some of them came from fundamentalist backgrounds and so they walked away from faith and those are the memories that they have.

Eric Huffman: Got it.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Very legalistic Christians.

Eric Huffman: Kind of rigid.

Julie Mirlicourtois: So this has helped in a way reintroduce them to the Bible. And they've started to see, Oh, you know, I actually love these parts of the Bible. Like, I love this part of Christianity.

Eric Huffman: And they've gotten a glimpse not only American Christians opening their doors and hearts, but also at the fact that so many of these immigrants they've always cared about because that's why they come to a project like this, they also are Bible-believing Christians. Fascinating. All right.

So, Julie, with this project, we always wanted... obviously with any project, we want to challenge our audience, our listeners. And this was no different. This obviously is very challenging to everyone of any political stripe. But talk about what you set out to do with this, what ACROSS does, what it doesn't do, what's it for, what's it not for.

Julie Mirlicourtois: People always ask me this, oh, you must be for open borders. And I'm like, No, we're not trying to get people to advocate for open borders or advocate for building a wall. I think we can all agree that there needs to be some major immigration reform. But what we are trying to do is teach each other to love one another, to see these people as our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of these, you know, strangers that we're fearful of, like you've both we're talking about.

The other thing is, I think the way it pushes both sides is I think there's sort of the secular culture that's always really adopted immigration and immigrants, but they've completely sort of ignored the faith aspect, which I think is just a huge part of their testimonies. So I think that's going to be challenging for maybe a more secular audience. And then for, you know, sort of the conservative Christian side, I think just realizing these are your brothers and sisters in Christ and we have so much to gain from hearing their testimonies.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, that's great. We've talked about how Christians, whether you're conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat or whatever, and the why behind your what is so important here. And if you advocate for open borders, it better be because of the love of God that you've got in your heart. If you advocate for a wall should be because the love of God you got in your heart, because it would offer a more compassionate system where people aren't just left to the will of the cartels or the coyotes on the border that are leading to more and more misery.

So the real question beyond just how you vote is why you vote the way that you vote. And we hope to inspire more people to vote and live according to the love of God and the love for neighbor, then for our fear or politics or anything else. That's great.

Julie, you've also talked about how this not only was it super intense as a project compared to others, but you also said some of these stories that you told were some of the most difficult that you've ever taken on, which is saying a lot because look, Julie, you've been all over the world. You've worked with all kinds of different people, the most famous people you can imagine, just folks, you know, Haiti while pregnant, if I recall that story, all kinds of different circumstances. What made this such a difficult project to work on?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Well, we set out to make a 90-minute film, and I hope to be done six months, nine months filming and maybe a year and a half later release it. You know, there are few factors that slowed us down.

Eric Huffman: You could say that.

Julie Mirlicourtois: One is joining us today, John Garland. He didn't slow us down, but he and his Mennonite community there, they don't want to be the center of attention. And he really shied away from being on camera. But he also has this incredible perspective because, through the lens that he offers, we were able to understand these stories in ways that I've never been able to understand before.

So there's a lot of trust building with him, with the asylum seekers. Also just asylum-seeking families, their lives are just constantly in flux. They move around a lot. They have different sort of milestones they have to reach to lead-

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Julie Mirlicourtois: ...thriving lives here. So that was difficult. And then it was just it's like this, you know, peeling back layers of the onion. There was like, Oh my gosh, there are so many things we need to understand here. You know, detention, parent reunification. We've captured reunions, and like you were talking about the human traffickers and cartels, people crossed the border. We ended up getting really amazing experts involved.

We ended up going to Honduras and filming a caravan that was leaving Honduras to figure out, why are you leaving? We ended up collecting evidence on one of the cases, while we were in Honduras. John traveled to Honduras and just did some incredible reporting, I guess, you can say, from Honduras. That's why it took a while. But I'm really excited for people to learn everything that we've learned over these three years.

Eric Huffman: And I don't remember if... when we started chasing this idea, did we envision or did you know you would be sending people to Honduras and to all these other locations to film?

Julie Mirlicourtois: No, it's not like I had... No. In fact, we started with one family and it grew into three families. And through those three families, all these sort of other doors opened for like, well, we've got to share this too because this is so important for people to understand.

Eric Huffman: And the other fact you haven't mentioned is just COVID. I know nobody likes to think about COVID, but that kind of slowed it down.

Julie Mirlicourtois: We lost about nine months of production.

Eric Huffman: What a process! John, I'd like to hear your thoughts real quick about whether or not that trust factor that Julie mentioned, whether that affected you and your community in the beginning of this process. What was it like as a pastor, Mennonite community pastor, doing the work that you're doing to get a call from a film producer to say, Hey, we want to put you in the spotlight? Can you share a little bit about how that was for you?

Pastor John Garland: Yeah. Yeah. I'm sorry, these are used headphones. I couldn't hear very well. Did Julie just call me a high maintenance diva? Is that what just happened?

Eric Huffman: Kind of. But we were hoping you would be generous with your interpretation of that.

Pastor John Garland: Okay. That's so funny. But yeah, of course, I was terrified, one and also very mistrustful, extremely mistrustful. But I think a better word is protective because we're talking about real stories of deep trauma. There's nothing about it that is entertaining. It is traumatic to retell the stories. It is dangerous to retell the stories. It can lead to secondary trauma. It can lead to a deeper, pervasive racism. It can lead to all sorts of really problems.

Also, we are not the center of the story. Our church is not the center of the story. We are not the saviors. We are just broken vessels that God uses. But I think Julie and her team are legit. I mean, they're doing this for the right reasons. They want to introduce folks to brothers and sisters. They're not doing...

And I think maybe I should probably apologize to Julie and maybe send her a card or something, but maybe it wasn't super easy to work with because I didn't want another... I mean, how many times has the local news come over and it's like, "Hey, we want to tell the story." And then there's a 30-second news bite that really misses the story and the movement of God and the power of God and the faith and the hope and the love the story is really about. People just want to say, "Hey, this person did that. Let's give them a pat on the back." That's not at all what Julie was doing and her super hardworking team.

Eric Huffman: So often these projects can kind of become exploitative in a way that's not healthy for anyone. It's not healthy for the ones being exploited, their story is being exploited. It's not healthy for the viewers or those consuming that content. They don't get the full picture. And maybe the thing I'm most proud of with Julie and your team and all of you really that I put so much into this is that nothing about this project is exploitative.

It really is a connection-building story that not only pulls at heartstrings, but educates and informs in some really important ways as well to have better conversations. That's really the most impressive thing I think about the film, is you tell the most gripping stories in the most beautiful ways, but you also get in front of experts that really know what's going on in today's immigration landscape and you let them tell us clearly what's happening on the ground.

So there's a clip that I'd like us to watch now that sort of demonstrates what I'm talking about, this blending together of great stories and great information from some of the leading experts. So let's check that one out.

Laurie Cook Heffron: There are high rates of femicide in Central America. Some of the highest rates in the world are in Honduras and Guatemala. And femicide is the killing of women because they are women. And when we think about femicide and intimate partner violence in this part of the world, it's also important to think about the high rates of gang violence, criminal gang networks, and criminal activity that exacerbate the experience of people also experiencing intimate partner violence.

Thomas Boerman: Across Central America, females are regarded as property. Gang members take that to an extreme. Gang members are expected to be entirely dominant over females. Females are denied any personal agency, any authenticity, any personal rights. They are there to be dominated. For people that are living in seriously gang-controlled areas, the levels of violence they're exposed to, coupled with the fact that the governments have largely abandoned those areas to the gangs really does leave the population in a situation where people confront a binary choice either I stay home and die or I flee.

Eric Huffman: Wow. And if you're just listening to that, I really encourage you to check out the video on YouTube as well. And obviously, when the film when you can watch the full film, you'll see the cinematography. It's just beautiful. It's so well shot and the interviews are just so insightful. Julie, could you just briefly introduce us to some of the characters and storylines you followed through ACROSS?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Absolutely. We have three families that we follow. Like I said before, Santos and her children. Santos had to leave Honduras because of a violent gang member that was threatening her life day in, day out and her families. And we follow them through all of their journey to the United States. That was pretty treacherous and losing, being separated along the way and sort of getting settled in San Antonio. She was also featured in the podcast episode. And two of their families. Incredible stories.

John's obviously in the film as sort of our guide to all of these stories, kind of helps us explain what's going on and how to interpret it, which is really neat. And then the really cool part, too, is there are other American Christians who, quite frankly, didn't know how they felt about immigrants until they ended up with Jennifer and Lucia in their town and their church came alongside them and adopted them, basically. And that's just a beautiful story to witness and how their hearts were transformed. I think we're going to show a clip of that in a second.

Eric Huffman: Oh, I'm so... That's my favorite part.

Julie Mirlicourtois: That's your favorite.

Eric Huffman: Part. Oh, yeah. The Hopedale chapter of this story. It is so good. Because you see hearts and minds change. You see walls fall down in such a human and real way. So that's the last clip I'd like for us-

Julie Mirlicourtois: Before you share, I want to say one thing.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Julie Mirlicourtois: I think the nicest compliment we've received on this film was actually when we screened Hopedale last year here in Houston. And John's wife, John I don't know if you remember what Abby said. She's this awesome high school principal, incredible woman. She said, "I didn't believe that miracles could be captured on camera." And after watching this, like you've done it, you've captured miracles on camera. And that's, I think, anyway, the nicest compliment we received. And I hope other people who watch feel that way, too.

Eric Huffman: Oh, it's so good. And in this clip, first of all, I'll just say if you're just tuning into this episode and this is your first sort of access to ACROSS and you didn't come to the screenings when we rolled those out last year, we have a lot in the docuseries from the migrants and asylum seekers themselves. But for this purpose, we couldn't show some of those clips because of the language barrier. So a lot of these clips are the ones we chose that are in English so that our listeners can grasp them.

In this clip, we have a resident from the Hopedale, Illinois community talking about how her heart was transformed by spending time with this asylum-seeking family. So her name is Linda. Why don't we watch Linda and Lucia's clip?

Woman: I think, too, there's a lot of disinformation coming through the media. I think perceptions of people in the areas only what they see on the television. We hear caravans. Oh, they're banding together in caravans to attack our borders and come in as. Well, when you actually find out and hear the stories, that's not what they're doing. That's a means of safety for these women and their children who are fleeing the persecution in their countries.

Linda: I had been asked to pick up Lucia after school because Jennifer was taken up to Chicago to get checked in for the day and they were running late. And I said, "Sure, I'll go get her." So we brought her back to our home and we went out to the back yard and we were going to sit on the swing. And she came in to me she said, "You know, there are people in Hopedale that probably don't like us because of who we are." And I said, "You mean coming across the border?" And she said, "Yes." And I said, "Well, Lucia, I need to tell you something. I was one of those people." And I said, "Because of who you are and what you've shown me, you've changed my heart and my soul." And I've had a whole different vision of who you are and what needs to be done at the border.

Lucia: Linda, I didn't know her, but I went to hug her. Then she feel like, yeah, that had changed her heart. She says she never before liked immigrants but then God change her heart and [inaudible 00:41:36].

Linda: I said, "How were you treated down there?" And she said, "You mean in jail?" My heart flipped. I could not fathom that that place down there was truly a jail. You see pictures, but you don't hear it from their actual voice as children. They shouldn't be in jail. They should be out enjoying life and feeling safe. Feeling safe.

Eric Huffman: Wow, that's so good. Every time I watch it, I just... Linda and Lucia might be my two favorite characters in the whole docuseries. I know we're not supposed to play favorites here, but, man, what a powerful story all around. Thank you for letting us watch that in this episode.

So, John, just real quick, one of the most common questions and legitimate sort of concerns, let's say, we'll hear about this topic in particular, is that there's so many other people to take care of in our own backyard, let's say, there's so many Americans that need our help. Why not focus on them first? You know, there are veterans that need our help. There are homeless folks. There are children living in poverty here in our own backyard, etc. What's your response when you hear that concern, let's say, from a Christian who says there's just not enough to go around?

Pastor John Garland: I think that that's common. I feel it. I mean, you and I both feel that as leaders of churches and pastors. We feel that as parents. We feel we're always having to manage. And what are boundaries, what is healthy? But of course, you remember the disciples saying this in Mark 6. They're like, "Jesus, send them away." There's too many. We don't have any resources. I don't think we even have food for ourselves. Send them away so they can go and feed themselves.

I think it's important for us to recognize who we think is doing the caring. Who is it that is caring for those who are suffering on our own streets, those who've been left behind by the economy, those who've been left behind by violence and war, those who've been left behind by domestic violence, those who've been left behind by global movements of people? Who is doing the caring?

If we think it's us, if we think it's our government, we just have to be clear that we're practicing idolatry and we can kind of go on and do our idolatrous systems. But if we confess that it is God who is doing the caring, then we have to humbly bring back our loaves and fishes to God and say, "Here you go, these are yours. Now, after your blessing, we will serve what is yours, God, we will serve with you, God. Not our own program, not our own ideas because we've given up on idolatry. We're going to just serve along with You. And afterwards sure, we'll go clean up the leftovers and recognize the miracle that we have participated in.

But I think it's vital, it's vital to understand who is doing the service. God is calling every single church, every believer to service. And service in different ways. But God is calling communities to service, and we have to respond knowing that it is God's service that we are participating in. It's not our own ministry, it's not our own good news, but it's God's good news.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, that's really good. And I would just add too, I think... I love what you said: every church, every Christian is called to serve in different ways. Sometimes I think it's obvious that not every church is going to be called specifically to serve the migrant population or asylum seekers or immigrants in some extraordinary ongoing way.

But I think sometimes we can use the preponderance of needs around us as an excuse kind of not to do anything. Frankly, is like, well, there's just so much to do, how can we do it all? So we'll just keep doing our thing for us. And I don't say that with judgment in my heart. I do that all the time. I'm like, Well, there's so many people to help, I'm not gonna help any of them. It's just like that's a cop-out, right? And, you know, if it's you or your church is calling to help prisoners, to serve veterans to reach children who are in poverty, great. But do it. You can do that while other Christians maybe respond more directly to the needs of those who are coming from other places and seeking asylum.

So thank you, John, for that wisdom. Julie, remind us here where people can find ACROSS as of today release day and how can folks get involved.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Yeah, absolutely. So like you said, as of today, it's available on our website for streaming. That's acrossdocumentary.com. We'll have everything in the show notes too so people can find it. It is $20 to stream it and all of that money is going to propel the film forward for more and more eyeballs to see it, for more and more hearts to be changed.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Then we're also in the process of creating really cool content materials. If there are churches, small groups, nonprofit organizations, or just a group of friends that want to screen it together and have great materials to use as sort of study references and talk about it. Especially with an election season coming up, we think this is a really great way for people to start to have healthy conversations about immigration.

There are also a lot of ways that we're outlining on our website for people to get involved because everybody who watches is like, Great, what do I do now? So acrossdocumentary.com. There'll be lots of different ways that people can get involved and help right away.

Eric Huffman: Good. And as always, if our listeners and viewers have ideas too about how to help get the word out, I hope everybody can reach out to us. [email protected] is the email address. John, any last words from you about this project and release day as it's upon us?

Pastor John Garland: It's a privilege to work with y'all. We have ITIN between us, a long, long stretch of ITIN, but I've really learned a lot from y'all, your church. I've learned a lot from your podcast. I love listening to it. I've learned a lot from Julie and her team. It's wonderful to feel like we're all part of this one body responding all together.

Eric Huffman: Amen. Thank you, John. We've learned so much from you and we're really grateful for your willingness to open your doors and your hearts to us and to Julie and her team.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: There were times when we weren't so sure that we were going to be here today, that we didn't know how or if this project would come to fruition. But here we are. And I'm just so proud of you, Julie, proud of you, John, as well, and everyone involved in this. I hope folks are touched by this and that everyone will visit acrossdocumentary.com That's acrossdocumentary.com for more information and to watch the film starting today. Bye, everybody.

Announcer: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our editor is Justin Mayer and the director of all of our full-length YouTube videos is Mark Calver. Our social media team is Kat Brough and Justin Keller. For more information about Maybe God and to sign up for exclusive updates on our content, head to maybegodpod.com today. And don't forget to follow and engage with us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Thanks for listening, everyone.