Since posting my inaugural blog about journeying to El Paso, friends with whom I’d recently lost touch have been checking in. Many have been wishing me well on my move. Some have been surprised. Others have been asking me what the hell I’m doing. OK, I can see why you’d be confused. Rereading my post I realize I wasn’t clear that heading to El Paso is only a temporary, first step into following my heart. No, I am not selling my house, getting rid of my dog, or leaving Virginia permanently. At least not now. I am simply volunteering for a few months—the max that I can manage at the moment—and opening to where this might lead.
That’s exactly why this is both exciting and scary. I can’t see what’s on the other side of this threshold. I don’t know what’s next for me. But here’s what I do know.
I know that this experience will change how I live my life. It already has. What I witnessed and experienced in El Paso back in February—how our screwed-up immigration policy is impacting families, children, and the hard-working poor who are trying to survive—has remained on my heart. I know that the call to serve the poor and oppressed in a community setting is too strong to ignore. I know that I have much more to offer in this stage of my journey. And, most especially, I know that the poor have much to teach me.
I still see before me the many faces I encountered on my “border immersion” trip. Not just the smiling children in detention facilities trusting they will be reunited with their families, or the Latina women with hopeful plans of furthering their education or finding employment to support their children, but the compassionate eyes and passion-filled voices of those who serve the immigrants. During this seven-day trip I met some of the most inspiring people I have ever come across face to face—the immigrants as well as those who work tirelessly, selflessly, and passionately to help them.
People like the nuns who singlehandedly have begun various ministries and cross the border into Juarez, Mexico, to serve however they can. Sr. Rene is a great example. She started a women’s coop—Centro Santa Catalina—in Juarez, to help impoverished women support their families. Even in the height of the drug cartels’ out-of-control violence, she crossed the border daily.
Then there’s 80-year-old Sr. Beatrice, a former chaplain in the adult detention facilities who bent the rules to serve people with kindness and compassion. She often witnessed very dehumanizing and demeaning practices, including the use of chains on the deportees. Many are being detained for months or years on end at tremendous cost to the U.S. taxpayer. Their sole reason for being stuck in these facilities separated from their loved ones — they crossed the border illegally.
Carlos Marentes also used the word “dehumanizing” in describing the work of the migrants who come to pick U.S. produce—a billion-dollar industry for which they are paid, on average, $6,000 per year. In 1983, Carlos and his wife Alicia founded Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, a nonprofit located in southside El Paso, to support migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families. His life and his passion are to change Americans’ relationship with food and the natural world – another interesting story I hope to share.
In everyone I met I witnessed so much hope, faith, and trust in God despite what seems to be an overwhelmingly problematic and complex situation. But of all the stories I heard, there’s one that Ruben Garcia shared with us when we visited Annunciation House that affected me the most.
He told us of a woman who’d crossed the border with her young daughter and found her way to his “house of hospitality” ill and in need of care. Once she was well enough, the woman wanted to find work. So, she accepted the offer of a stranger who called Annunciation House seeking a housekeeper for the day. It was not unusual for people looking for day laborers to call Ruben’s house asking if any residents were interested in a job. Ruben would pass on the information, but never got involved in settling the rate of pay. So the woman went off to clean house for this stranger without knowing what she would be paid. She was gone for the entire day. When she returned, she had been paid a mere $15.
Her reaction? She gave Ruben $10 to save for her. Then she handed him the other $5 and told him to give it to someone worse off than she was. This woman who had been treated so poorly herself willingly gave one-third of her pay to help a stranger! She didn’t know when she would next be paid. She had no idea what her future would hold. But she had faith.
That’s the story that got me crying. Maybe my heart had been opening a little more each day with everything I’d been witnessing. Maybe I was simply too raw and vulnerable. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that was the particular moment I knew why I had come on this trip.
Some time ago I set the intention to listen to my inner being. To be able to discern the path forward. And to have the courage to follow. I truly believe it’s time to take the risk.
So, thank you, all my friends and people I don’t yet know who are supporting me on this journey. Thank you for your prayers. Prayer is what got me here. Prayer is what brought me peace whenever I started to fret over the unknowns. Unknowns like how would I support myself? Who would care for my devoted dog Cody in my absence? Prayer brought just the right person to care for Cody. And prayer will keep me going forward.
This quote from Rumi might explain it better:
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”