September 25, 2020
“You’re so useless … I’m sending you back.” As a teenager, Julia* regularly heard threats like this from relatives who had smuggled her from Mexico into the U.S. as a young teen and treated her like a slave. But through the unconditional love and care of a Bethany foster family, Julia discovered her true worth and found the strength to heal from her past wounds.
Julia was only 13 when her stepfather brought her across the border into Houston. She doesn’t remember how she got to North Carolina, but her stepfather left her there with his family members who forced her to babysit other children in the house and cook food for the family. One day, in response to a sandwich he didn’t like, Julia’s uncle told her the immigration police would come and take her to jail if she didn’t follow his orders. “All I wanted was a family,” Julia remembers of that time.
During her sophomore year of high school, Julia found out that her mother, still in Mexico, had cancer. As Julia sobbed in the hallway between classes, her English teacher comforted her and asked what was wrong. Julia spilled out her whole story to the teacher, who welcomed Julia to her home for the weekend. “They opened the door for me,” Julia says, “and treated me better than my family.” The weekend turned into months, and Julia ended up staying with her teacher for the rest of high school.
Julia’s teacher connected her with a team of lawyers who helped her understand that she’d been trafficked. The lawyers referred her to a Bethany case manager, who put together a plan for Julia to enter Bethany’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and connected her with a foster family. Julia remembers the people who met her at the airport, holding a sign with her name on it. Her foster family was there to welcome her into their family. “I’d never had that kind of caring love,” Julia reflects.
“Without it, I wouldn’t be alive today. My foster family changed my life for good.”
When Julia turned 18, her foster family, together with Bethany caseworkers, helped her move into an apartment and enroll at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). They helped buy school books and bus passes and stocked her kitchen with food. In 2013, Julia became certified as a patient transport specialist through a Bethany program and began working at a local hospital. Since then, she has gotten a job at another hospital as a surgical technologist, working alongside surgeons in operating rooms.
After she finished college, Julia married a former GRCC classmate. It took a whole year of marriage before she could open up to her husband about the painful experiences of her past. “I used to be suicidal—so depressed—and no one knew this,” she says. “My husband found me cutting myself, and he held me.” Julia credits the loving support of her husband, her faith in God, and counseling services she received through Bethany for getting her through the pain to a healthy, stable place.
Julia still marvels at the way her foster family has helped her reach goals she’d never imagined. “The most surprising thing [about my journey] is that people who weren’t my family, who didn’t even know me, would care for me. I’ve learned that family is who cares for you.”
*Name changed to protect privacy