Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco began accompanying Audenis, his wife Olimpia, and their baby while Audenis was in detention, with letters of support to the court and with accompaniment in court. As soon as he was released, they enthusiastically partnered with The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin and together jumped in to Virtual Accompaniment, excited for the opportunity to continue to walk alongside this family they had grown to love.
In March 2020, they saw Audenis, Olimpia, and their baby for the first time over Zoom for their initial team meeting, and have since connected on a weekly basis during the difficult times of COVID-19.
Besides connecting the family with furnishings for their apartment, affordable housing options, and medical care, they have grown a trusting and strong relationship. They are even planning a social distancing picnic!
Team members interviewed Audenis and Olimpia to lift up their voices and share their story with their congregation, so that all can grow and learn in accompaniment together.
Here is their story:
Audenis and Olimpia met in their home country of Honduras. At the young age of approximately 18, Audenis had the courage to leave an abusive father, and went to live with his aunt in San Francisco. He worked in restaurants to support himself and his family. Even as a teenager, he was more concerned for his family than himself, and kept little of his earnings. Although had lived as an exemplary life for many years, Audenis was detained by ICE on August 28, 2019.
With interfaith community support and a packed courtroom, he was granted bond on February 24th, 2020. Olimpia had become a lawyer in Honduras, and never lost touch with Audenis. When she came to the United States a couple of years ago, she too spent time in a detention center. Naturally warm and optimistic, she did not let even detention undermine her. She remembers her time there as positive and spiritual:
“I had a lot of faith. I took it as a time to be with God. … It was in His hands.”
Still, Olimpia does speak of the struggles that followed.
“Afterwards, once [Audenis and I] were together, we both went through serious tests. There were times when we were sleeping on the floor, or that we were hungry. We suffered a lot.”
Audenis had a more difficult experience in detention.
“I still wake up with nightmares about that time. Every time I remember it, I get the urge to cry.”
Despite his harrowing experience, Audenis remains the nurturer who worries about his family. Olimpia suffers from a heart condition, while his beloved aunt was infected with COVID19.
“My worry now is that [Olimpia] has not been able to complete the treatment for her heart, and there are moments when she is just walking and she gets tired. I am also worried for my aunt, who is the person who has most helped me, who is sick. And because of the pandemic, we have to be especially careful for Olimpia’s condition.”
They do get some help from their church, but it is not enough because Audenis suffered a work injury and can’t go back to the restaurant.
When Audenis was released from ICE detention on February 25th, many friends and relatives from his Latinx community, knowing him as a loving, trustworthy person, put together the $10,000 bond. Without much money themselves, they returned the love and care that Audenis had always given them. Their feelings when Audenis was released?
Olimpia: “Very happy.”
Audenis: “Very happy, happy because I knew that I would be able to help my wife with taking care of our daughter. It had been six months since I had last held my daughter, since I had last hugged her.”
Olimpia: “Audenis was going to be back with us, to go with us everywhere we used to go, to be able to share experiences with us, to play with our daughter. He is extremely loving with her and also with me. We were going to have those special moments as a family.”
Their goals and hopes? Olimpia says:
“We want to work so our baby can have a good life, a good education, and everything she needs. We want to be healthy and always be together.”
This story was compiled from an interview with Congregation Sherith Israel, Audenis, and Olimpia, and has been edited by Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity to share in our Nueva Esperanza Newsletter in June 2020.