When God Opened a Coliseum, Young Life Ministers Were Ready

For 19 days, two staffers told unaccompanied minors that God is a good father.

Young Life leaders Eric Collins and Felix Chavez were thrilled to find a group of students eager to hear God’s Word.

But there was a catch.

The young people were inside Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, behind two security checkpoints and any number of locked doors. They were unaccompanied minors seeking refuge from violence in Central America, held in the custody of the United States government.

In April and May 2021, the Office of Refugee Resettlement temporarily housed 1,500 boys ages 13–17 on the grounds of the sporting arena, just two miles from the school where Collins and Chavez had been struggling to start a Young Life club in the midst of a pandemic. The boys were being kept at the coliseum until their stateside contacts made arrangements to receive them, or they were transferred to another, longer-term facility. When minors cross the border without their parents—whether those parents are ahead of or behind them—they must remain in the care of someone. That someone, for many, is the US government.

The facility became a lightning rod for outrage in San Antonio, with immigrant rights groups, community leaders, government officials, and politicians quarreling about the underage immigration crisis, the right way to deal with it, and who to blame for the problem.

For the Young Life team, the politics were not a deterrent. Freeman Coliseum was in the right place, and the boys arrived at the right time.

“I saw that as our side of town,” Collins said. “God called us to it.”

After a long school year complicated by COVID-19, they were ready to just sit down and talk about Jesus with some teenagers. Chavez, a 59-year-old immigrant from Mexico, felt he was uniquely equipped to care for …

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