Tillman uses her skills every day on a team representing unaccompanied minors who have just crossed the border without an adult. These children are placed in a care setting that is similar to a group home. Tillman helps provide legal resources for the children in these homes as the government locates an adult in the United States to care for them while they go through their immigration court processes or apply for asylum. If the child has a family member in the Houston area, Tillman will help with his legal case; When the child ends up in another state, she helps them connect them to an organization that supports them in that state.
Throughout her experience, Tillman has found that understanding these children’s stories can be the most important part of the process. “Every child has a different story,” she says. “Every child has different needs – and that creates a legal problem because they can request different things. I help figure out what the next steps are to get them to a safe place in a way that respects them as people.” She makes sure at every point in the process the children know what is happening to them meets them, hears their stories and finds out what they can do to help.
This job has given Tillman the opportunity to learn how to listen—how to listen to the children she serves, the education she receives, and the Holy Ghost when she might not know what to say in difficult conversations . “It’s definitely a very demanding and emotionally difficult job,” says Tillman. “I make sure I listen to the Holy Spirit as much as possible. I’m learning a lot about how to listen and it was definitely a good experience. My faith has definitely grown stronger in ways I didn’t expect.”
Tillman also knows she should do that. Ever since she watched her parents serve their calling as missionaries, she has always been familiar with the concept of calling and calling. She also knows that someone’s calling doesn’t necessarily have to be their job, but hers happens to fit with it. There were a few clear moments throughout high school, college, and her gap year that validated her decisions. One of those moments happened this year when her father passed away unexpectedly. He was a tremendous support to her as she navigated difficult conversations and situations with children. “My father had a special gift when it came to working with children outside of their cultural context,” she says. “Being able to get advice from my dad and how he raised me has helped me speak to the kids I work with now, which has been quite special.” Despite the tragic, life-changing events in her personal life, she found it still fulfillment and peace in her job and the path she had chosen.
Her father had also instilled in Tillman the value of finding a place where she belonged, especially as a missionary’s child with a strong perspective on cultural competence and service. She found that place at Bethel within her department and through some of the diversity, justice and inclusion events launched during her time on campus. “It was good for me to go to a school that both values Christlikeness and was willing to emphasize and appreciate the diversity of opinions and thoughts and the diversity of people. When I came to the US, I didn’t always feel like I belonged. Many of the diversity and inclusion activities that Bethel started back then helped make me feel more welcome. It better prepared me today to interact with my kids, my clients. And that was really valuable for me.”