The Generosity of Strangers

generosity 2 A house filled with women in their 70’s. That’s where I’m living now. No, it’s not a retirement village or an assisted-living community. Located on the outskirts of downtown El Paso, this boarding house belongs to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, who reopened it recently to welcome volunteers coming to the border to work with the influx of immigrants. It just so happens that all the current residents are in their 70’s. Except me, of course.

I’m also the sole lay person at the moment. And the only one who has ventured here on her own, listening to a call within to write about the issues related to immigration, along with the personal stories. Stories of those who’ve made it across the border and those who serve them. There’s a lot to tell.

Heartbreaking stories for sure. But heartwarming stories, too. Stories about the goodness of people. Something I witness every day in El Paso.

Like these retired Sisters who come from all over the country, leaving their communities, and the comfortable and familiar, to spend two weeks or more volunteering at Nazareth Hall, a welcoming center for the refugees and immigrants detained at the border.

The dedication at Nazareth Hall is amazing. The place is run entirely by volunteers. And has been since June when the Loretto Sisters opened it in response to the influx of women and children from Central America.

Once Immigration and Customs Enforcement releases the immigrants from detention, an agent brings them over to Nazareth Hall. Then volunteers help reunite them with their families as they await their court date. Some might have to stay the night; some maybe two nights or more until their relatives can secure their travel arrangements. As they wait, these immigrant families — mostly young mothers and children — are given meals, a shower, and clothing. And they are treated with kindness and compassion. Maybe for the first time on their journey.

Generous El Pasoans volunteer to make and deliver meals, take home bedding and towels to wash, donate clothing and hygiene necessities, cover a night shift, and provide rides every day to the bus station or airport. But they can’t do it all.radical generosity

That’s why a call went out to women religious nationwide to join this effort.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., these Sisters — some of them well into their late 70’s — are on their feet, other than a short break for lunch. They clean bedrooms and bathrooms, serve meals and clean up, and accompany guests to the showers and to the clothing room where a mom chooses a coat or sweater or second set of clothes from neatly organized piles of donations sorted by size and gender. No one ever takes more than they need. And they are always grateful. For everything.

This week I started volunteering at Nazareth Hall. I want to be with the people. They’ll teach me what it really means to live with uncertainty. To do what needs to be done without complaining. And to trust in the generosity of strangers to show up. Maybe just when you need it most.

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About Pauline

I've been a freelance writer and editor for many years and I'm seeking to follow my heart in this stage of my journey, as the major roles in my life as wife and mother have changed. Not sure where this will lead, but I'm taking one step at a time as I listen within.

Posted on January 11, 2015, in Immigration, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Once again, good stuff, Pauline! Your writing has a wonderfully dynamic, you-are-there feel to it – I could almost feel myself in Nazareth Hall, helping to serve a meal or assisting a mom to pick out clothing for her child. To me, this is your gift at work in the world!

    Love,
    Rob

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  2. Maureen morrell

    In these days when the magnitude and complexity of the terrible problems in our world can overwhelm us, your generosity and the generosity of the sisters and volunteers add hope back into the world. And remind us all to be generous as well…
    Thank you Pauline

    Love
    Maureen

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  3. I will continue to keep you in prayer this week, Pauline as you continue to give so generously of all that you are. What a gift you are giving! I can’t wait to hear the stories that will undoubtedly come your way.
    In Christ’s Peace,
    Sue

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  4. Hi Pauline, I Loved reading your writing this evening. Finally figured out how to refind this link. I thought of you several times last week and just wanted to send a note to let you know that I’m keeping you and all those you are serving in my heart and prayer. I can sometimes even vision myself as one of those 70+ year-olds, folding clothes and talking to moms right along side you :-).

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