McAllen, TX (Border Report) — Mikhail Manzurin, a 25-year-old former English and Chinese teacher from Russia, is fluent in English.
But he shakes a little when he remembers what his young family has been through in the last four months after losing his job as a teacher because he opposed Russia’s war in Ukraine and fled Moscow for fear of going to jail.
He and his wife, Naila, a former dance teacher, and their two young boys currently live at a church in McAllen, Texas, which took them in January 9 after they legally crossed the South Texas border from Reynosa, Mexico. The US Department of Homeland Security granted them humanitarian parole and they are legally allowed to remain in the United States.
But their travels and hardships have cost them what little savings they had, and they don’t know how they’ll get to Seattle, where they have a sponsor and where they’ll be allowed to live until their immigration court hearing in July 2024.
This week they spoke to Border Report at the Church of the Nazarene in the Rio Valley, where they are staying – all four live on one suitcase, and the boys share a travel stroller and one car seat.
They said they couldn’t have made it to South Texas without the help of the non-profit religious organization Mercy Foundation, which helped a young Christian couple travel to Mexico City. They found families and churches that helped escort them to the dangerous border town of Reynosa in northern Mexico, where volunteers provided them with food, supplies and toys to keep 1-year-old Mark and 8-month-old Philip entertained.
Most of all, they helped keep them safe, Manzurin says.
“It was an experience,” he said, recalling young Philip sleeping for weeks in a car seat in Uzbekistan.
The family also slept on the floor of a one-room apartment in Uzbekistan they shared with another family after they fled Russia.
After leaving Moscow, they moved to his native Russian city of Orsk, on the border with Kazakhstan. When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on September 26 that Russian men would be drafted into the war and their opponents would be sent to prison, they decided to leave the country and go to the United States to seek asylum.
“We were church leaders when the war started and it was a shock for us because we couldn’t expect the war to start in our country where we would invade Ukraine and we couldn’t be silent because the Christians from Ukraine asked us to oppose the war,” said Manzurin.
They took separate buses from Orsk across the border to Kazakhstan and then by train to Uzbekistan, 600 miles away.
But Manzurin said they did not feel safe in the former Soviet country, which was under Soviet rule until 1990, and feared that government forces would find them at any moment and send them back to Russia.
“I was worried that maybe they would send me back to Russia. So I was afraid of it,” he said.
They were desperate to get to the United States to apply for asylum. But didn’t know the safest route to get to the US border.
While searching the Internet, he said that he came across a mention of Alma Ruth and her Practice of Mercy Foundation and emailed her asking for help.
She sent them travel information to Mexico City and helped them get to Reynosa using her network of friends and contacts.
“It was very important to receive an email from someone in this region who is in turmoil saying that we need your guidance to keep our children safe. So we got in touch with our network of friends,” Ruth told Border Report.
“Someone took them to Mexico City, guided them, guarded them in Mexico City, took them to a place of worship and helped them find where to rent an Air B&B in Reynos. Thus, the Lord and our intervention ensured their safety in Reynos for 40 days,” she said.
40 days in Reynosa
But 40 days of living in this dangerous northern Mexican border town, where drug cartels fight daily for control, has robbed them of all their savings.
There was no heating in their apartment and they said they suffered during the Christmas cold snap, when the temperature dropped to 40 degrees.
But he said they are grateful for the asylum, which is much larger than other asylum seekers living on the streets of Reynosa waiting to cross the border.
“Of course, we are shocked by how people live there. I can’t imagine how they survive there,” Manzurin said.
Families took them out to get groceries and Ruth’s network checked them daily.
“Thank God, because we had our local friends there, and we had one family, and they helped us a lot, and now they are very close friends to us. We were taken wherever needed,” he said.
Ruth brought them supplies and toys. And she says they all did their best to keep them safe and sound.
“All these wonderful people travel because they want to find safety for their children. That in itself should make a difference to us humans,” Ruth said.
Arrival in America
On January 9, the family finally received a call to report to the Hidalgo-McAllen-Reynosa entry point and introduce themselves to national security officials.
They entered their name on the list of asylum seekers at the Senda de Vida shelter when they first arrived in Reynosa on November 9 and waited every day for a call from the pastor about the status of their case. When he finally arrived, he said they were delighted.
“We just trusted her and believed that it was God speaking to us,” Manzurin said. “It was a miracle.”
Pastor Ismael Flores of the Rio de Janeiro Valley Church of the Nazarene said his congregation was “overwhelmingly” supportive of helping the family and opening doors for them.
“We try to follow what Scripture says about accepting an immigrant, a refugee,” Flores said in an interview with Border Report. “And so when I emailed our church, council, and leadership about being able to take in this family, the overwhelming response was, why don’t we take in this family? And so it was amazing just to hear their heart and say that they needed help. So let’s treat them, let’s give them.”
And Flores encourages other nonprofits and faith-based organizations to do the same.
“We need to be an advocacy group for the immigrant community, and I think more churches should get involved in any way, shape, or form. We pray, we accept, we do everything we can to participate and become a larger network for our immigrant community,” Flores said.
In any case, more churches should be involved.”
Pastor Ismael Flores, Church of the Nazarene in the Rio Valley
The Manzurins are now preparing for their next journey.
On Monday, they plan to travel to Austin, where they are to testify about their experiences in several churches.
Future in America
They are hoping for financial support to move across the country to Seattle, Washington, where their sponsor is located.
When Mikhail translated, 26-year-old Nailya, aka “Nelli,” a former Russian folk dancer, said she was forever grateful to everyone who had helped them so far. And she believes they’ll make it safely to Seattle.
“We did not expect any help, because, living in Russia, we were told that Americans do not like Russians. We could not even imagine that so many people would want to help us,” she said.
“Thank you,” she said in English.
Sandra Sanchez can be contacted at [email protected]