Over the Bridge

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Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

On Thursday I ventured over the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez. Not quite like over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

Not at all.

I was on a mission. And I didn’t have a song in my heart or a pumpkin pie in my lap. I simply carried the two things I knew I would need: my passport and my willingness.

It turned out to be more than enough.

We rode in a nondescript white van – myself and two fellow female volunteers. Our driver, a 29-year-old Peace Lutheran volunteer and grad student, had crammed boxes filled with satchels of toiletries and packages of new underwear for adults and children into the back. Insulated bags of warm burritos sat on the floor behind me.

Our destination – no shelter of warmth, but pop-up campsites just over the border where dozens of families had erected tents while they await their “turn” to cross the bridge and request asylum.

These “campers” were mostly Mexican nationals fleeing violence in their home states. Places like Michoacán, Zacatecas, and Guerrero, where cartels seemed to be especially powerful. Places where they’d left behind family homes. Maybe a small farm or herd of animals. Maybe not much of anything. Except their fears about keeping themselves and their children safe.

But Customs and Border Protection agents stop them before they can cross one of the international bridges. They’re told CBP can’t handle them. They’ll have to put their names on a list and wait until their number is called. A process called “metering.”

Over the months since this practice has been put into place, asylum-seeking families, afraid to lose their place in line, have pitched tents close to the bridges. And they wait.

In the meantime, church groups from El Paso all the way to Las Cruces have been bringing food over almost daily. Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Unitarians…they come to feed the people stranded here.

This was to be my first experience witnessing these campsites.

I didn’t know what to expect.

So my prayer before starting out that morning had been that I would have eyes to “see.” That I would be open to whatever I would encounter at the tent “city” where we were to deliver these donations.

The camp is easy to spot. A nest of tents encircling a small park. Wet clothing hanging from atop fences and trees.

Juarez tent city
One of the little tent encampments we visited

As soon as we park and unload, people start lining up. They are used to this routine.

But, once they see the goodies I have in these boxes, it doesn’t take long before any semblance of a line dissolves. Eager children surround me.

I finally stop trying to tell the children to get in line. I let go of my desire to make it more orderly, each one waiting his or her turn. I simply give everything away until the boxes are empty.

Afterwards, while another volunteer pours extra water into people’s empty containers, I speak with a couple of the women. How long have you been waiting to be called, I want to know? Two months, they both say.

Two months! Just to cross over and be processed!

I want to ask if they’re aware they will have to come back here and wait again. Unless they are lucky enough to be released to their family sponsors.

I want to ask if they know how slim their chances are.

Maybe they do. Maybe they know that, especially for Mexicans, the chances of winning asylum are remote.

But maybe they have no place else to go. Maybe they figure even a glimmer of hope is worth holding onto while they sleep on the ground.

As I listen, I realize that I have never known such desperation. I cannot identify with these women living in little tents covered with plastic garbage bags in a crowded and dangerous city. I have nothing to compare it to. I feel so disconnected.

Later, reflecting on this experience, I remember my intention. My willingness to see.

So, I look up the definition of “connection.” human-connection2

The relationship among people and objects across the barrier of space.

 

And then I remember something. Words that come in so clearly in the middle of my meditation:

“Have you been with me this long and still do not see me? Not know me?”

Humbled by how blind I am, I say again, “I want to see.”

 

It had seemed like such a small action. This crossing the bridge to hand out food and new underwear.

But it wasn’t. Not for them. And certainly not for me.

Because taking this small step has shown me. Your love is the bridge. Your love is the connection to recovering my sight.

And I know the way by heart.

Lord I want to see

 

 

 

A Conversation with the Moon

heart-moon

A spiritual connection can come so easily in nature. At least it does when I am open and trusting, like a child, to the mystery. That’s when I discover nature gifts me with answers to my inner questions.

Recently, it happened my last night in Paria Canyon – my last night sleeping under the Milky Way. I had left the cover of my tent off so I could gaze up at the nearly full moon and the preponderance of stars filling the heavens. Feeling comforted and secure, I asked the moon about a concern I had on my heart – a concern about suffering.

And I fell asleep with Sister Moon shining into my tent.

During the night, she gave me a powerful insight through my dreams. I scribbled it all down in my journal, and maybe I will write about it more in depth later on.

But journaling about that experience reminded me of another conversation I’d had with the moon.

Late March 2014.  I had just returned from my first time volunteering in El Paso. The two months I’d spent there had affected me in ways I hadn’t expected. I felt changed somehow.

Already, I was transitioning from my life in rural Virginia.

But I didn’t know that then.

I’d like to share that 2014 journal entry.  Because it expresses the uncertainty I felt about the way forward. It reveals how Love upheld me in my loneliness. And it affirms the benefit of listening inwardly.

God did speak to me in the silence of my heart. And I’ve learned how to listen.

overlooking great room
Looking out the windows from the staircase of my log home

March 2014: Last night I had a conversation with the moon.

It’s easy to do, where I’m living now, from my log home in the woods. Standing in my great room, its huge A-frame windows opening to the trees and sky, I noticed the misty white light pouring in, casting itself in great gulps across my country carpet with its images of bears and moose and acorns.

Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the expansive sky filled with stars tried to soothe and remind me that I am not alone.

loft_sideview
The rafters in my great room

It feels so very different from my sojourn in El Paso – this place in the woods.  Here it’s absolutely still.

When I pause and listen, I hear complete silence. Only the occasional light tinkling of my wind chimes dangling from my porch as a breeze catches them. A gentle interjection. No freight trains blaring their horns as they cross intersections. The daily trains passing through El Paso are a distant memory now. The open, expansive sky hovering above millions of twinkling yellow lights dancing across two border cities – it too has faded. Replaced by a sheath of woods, concealing all neighbors.

So, I asked the moon – my most attentive neighbor – what am I doing back here? In the silence and solitude. Is it to regain my balance? Is it to truly learn what patience and trust mean?

I tend to believe this prayer that I have been saying regularly: “I am exactly where I am meant to be.”  I whispered it to myself in the moonlight. And Sister Moon, she seemed to nod in agreement, reassuring me in the silence.

In the morning, I am greeted by a plump robin perched on a branch as I take my daily morning walk down my long gravel driveway. In the midst of the waning winter cold and these bare branches, I recognize the nourishment that’s been given this creature. She’s obviously been fed well and is quite healthy as she awaits spring’s return. Spirit has given me a gift this morning through this robin – an awareness of God’s providential care.

I begin to notice a few other signs of life.

The bird’s nest in the rafters on my porch.

The small stream of water that runs down the hillside of my property.

But no other human voice. No other sound to match the sighing of my breath as the day passes as it has like so many before it: soundlessly.

Is this how You are caring for me? Through the lonely, silent beauty of nature? What am I to make of this? Whom can I talk to, besides the sky and the earth and the moon?  I am seeking answers, and they come so slowly, so subtly, through these sources. Maybe that is the point. Maybe the answer I seek will come through the uncertainty in waiting. Maybe this is how You have been asking me to listen all along – in the solitude of nature, in the silence of my own heart.

“You will hear my voice in the silence”

Spiritually Fed

Sevenoaks Sanctuary
The “little sanctuary” at Sevenoaks in Madison, Virginia

I’ve recently returned from a week-long visit back east. My Virginia friends will probably wonder why I didn’t tell them I was coming. But this trip was solely for a reunion at Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison.

At least that’s what I thought when I started planning it. However, God had other plans.

Before long nearly 100 middle schoolers had entered the picture.  But more on that in a moment.

First, I need to express how spiritually nourished I felt being back at Sevenoaks. The minute I stepped on that 130-acre wooded property again, I began to remember the many graces I’d received throughout my years there.

Sevenoaks is a special place where I and these now very close friends had first met and gathered more than 10 years ago, to begin some deep work together. It was a journey towards healing and transformation.  With lots of pain, and pleasure, too, along the way.  The opportunity came at a time when I was ready, and in need of taking that journey. I started this program only months before David died.

Sometimes, because I lived only minutes away, I would come over just to spend time on the land. To be alone in the sacredness of nature. And to listen to God speak to my inner being. And it was there in the silence of nature and in the depth of that program that I had begun to understand that God had placed a new calling on my heart.

And now here I was again surrounded and held by Mother Earth, the forests, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the rich, red earth. Whether standing amidst a grove of cedars, meditatively walking the labyrinth under a canopy of trees, or praying in the little sanctuary in the woods, all of it filled my heart and soul with gratitude.

Sevenoaks Cedar Circle
Entrance to my favorite path at Sevenoaks

I thought I was spiritually filled up.

And then I headed to Raleigh.

My plan had been that, on the tail end of my trip, I would drive down with my friend Rob and spend the remainder of my time with him and his wife before flying out of Raleigh the next day. It was unusual for me to book an afternoon flight when traveling back to El Paso from the East Coast. Especially with the 2-hour time difference. But at the time I didn’t think much about why I hadn’t scheduled a morning flight.

Not until weeks later when the “coincidence” surfaced.

Rob discovered that Lucy, a family friend and teacher of World History and Language Arts at a private middle school in the Raleigh area, was offering her 7th graders a long-term program focusing on the various issues of immigration and refugees. When Rob told her where I lived and what I did, she wanted to know if I’d come speak to her classes about El Paso and my experiences at our border.

I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

What has been so difficult for those of us living in El Paso these days is not being able to do much in the face of the alarming and false anti-immigrant narrative and policies that are sending asylum seekers to wait in dangerous Juarez. Most Americans have no understanding of the border reality. I had been praying and asking God, what can I do now in the service of love? Making PB&J sandwiches didn’t seem to be enough. I had turned back to writing more.

And then I received Lucy’s invitation.

If I was willing, she wanted me to give presentations to all four classes, back to back, enabling me to reach all 7th graders. That meant I would have to be there the entire morning.

Now I understood why I had delayed my flight. I could say yes to Lucy. And yes to what I clearly felt was Spirit’s response to my prayer.

After standing before students for 3 ½ hours, my mouth dry, my mind feeling like mush, I realized I had never spoken so long in my life. And never so effortlessly and smoothly. Never had I taken follow-up questions so easily. Clearly I had gotten myself out of the way and let Spirit take over. Clearly it wasn’t “me” doing the talking.

I had simply asked to be a voice, an instrument, through which Spirit could reach the hearts of these youths.

And the best part was I could tell they were listening. They were engaged. By their surprised expressions and concerned questions, I knew that they were learning about something they had had no clear understanding of beforehand.

Afterwards, Lucy and her colleague Matt were so appreciative of my willingness to do this. But they have no idea how thankful I am for them. How grateful I am to know there are teachers like this who want to educate youth about all sides of such an important issue, help them think for themselves, and learn empathy along the way.

Certainly they have no clue how I was spiritually fed that morning. How they allowed me to be a voice for those God has clearly put on my heart. And to have had it be part of my journey back to Sevenoaks seems especially mystical.

El Paso star
The journey of following the star led from Sevenoaks to El Paso

 

PB&J Sandwiches – Una Comida Nueva

Frederick Quote Fancy

“I’ve never tasted peanut butter.”

My Mexican-American friend Sigrid tells us this as we finish packing the last of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Gifts we’ve prepared for the migrants sent to wait in Mexico. I doubt that any of them have ever tasted peanut butter either.

It will be another new experience. A new taste, a new food. Food for these journeyers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, and otros paίses.  It will be their first experience of an American-made food. Manufactured by Hormel, in a place called Minnesota.

I imagine their faces when they bite into the soft white bread. Nothing will be familiar. Even the texture of el pan will mystify. But they will be hungry. That is, all the children older than 10, and their parents too. These are the ones Mexican immigration officials say they cannot afford to feed before releasing to the shelters or streets of Juarez. There’s only enough for the very young.

How did Sigrid know this? How did she find this new need that we could fill? Why did she even take the initiative to start this new ministry – the ministry of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich makers? And how did she ever secure enough provisions to make 1,000 sandwiches, or more, weekly? Oh, and don’t forget the snacks.

Migrant snacks
An abundance of snacks donated by the El Paso community

Well, but this is El Paso, after all. And, in typical El Paso fashion, El Pasoans respond to the need. You should know this by now, Pauline. It’s the reason you are here. The reason you uprooted yourself and created a new life in the desert. Something new that nourishes you. While you nourish the needy.

Always, you receive more than you anticipate. More than you give. I have come to know this in a way I never have before.

And something else.

I watch my fellow volunteers gathered around the tables. Take them in as they remove disposable gloves from sweaty hands, finish conversations, prepare to head home and scrub the smell of peanut butter out from underneath fingernails.

From 80-something-year-old Kay to 20-something-year-old Sy, these are the soul friends I’ve made along the journey. The ones who show me what is possible.  A world where everyone has enough to eat. Where abundance is shared. And laughter, prevalent.

Migrant PB&J
Friends gathered at local restaurant finish packing migrants’ PB&J snack bags

I recognize it, too, in the loyal “Usual Suspects.” The folks who made the beans and rolled them into tortillas to feed traveling migrants passing through our Loretto Nazareth shelter. Whenever our supply got low – I’d text Sue or Jeanette, prime “suspects” in this stalwart group with the “unusual” name.

Miraculously, more burritos would appear. Week after week. For years.

Now they’ve swapped bean burritos for PB&J sandwiches.

Still, they participate in a loaves and fishes story.

How do I give words to the beauty of this real-life parable? Of this fulfilling nourishment that’s been manufactured right here, in El Paso?

A quote from Frederick Buechner comes to me: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

For me, that place turned out to be accompanying migrants in El Paso shelters.

And is this where God is calling me now?

To Sigrid’s mother’s Mexican restaurant on the west side? To spoon grape jelly onto processed white bread? Slather peanut butter from end to end? To join dedicated friends to make sure migrant families whom we can no longer receive can at least receive a bit of protein before they find their way into the streets of Juarez?

frederick Buechern 2

No matter. It has simply come down to this. Hunger can be filled by a small act of kindness placed between two slices of bread.

May more of us acquire a taste for it.peanut butter jelly Jiff

Manna in the Desert

Las Cruces August sunset
Sunset over my desert home

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a metaphor. Or a Bible story.

There’s a desert. Grumbling. (That would be me.) Perceived lack of food and water.

And, always, brown dust. The promise of a strong sun.

Desert sun over Organs
Sun rising over Las Cruces mountain range

 

And more.

The sufferings of those around me. Those who make their way through the desert. Remembered Bible stories fuel their hope. Stories of manna in the desert. From a God who never abandons them. A God who provides unusual food. Water from an unlikely source.

Sometimes that source is people I know. People at a shelter that waits for them to arrive. Empty cots longing to caress them into sleep. Give them dreams beyond imaginations held in their homelands. Dreams that only come when a rock transforms into a pillow.

This God source has provided in other ways as well.

With provisions for times when it feels as though the desert takes too much. Too great a toll of flesh demanded for the promised freedom. Too great a toll on desperate travelers forced into a more desperate Juarez. Too great a toll on exhausted, hungry children arriving with abuelas, tίas and tίos. They are taken from the only family they know. Pulled away and placed in shelters far from the desert, in rural American countrysides, hidden from view.

The toll seems unforgivable. Unimaginable to us who remain in the desert, watching, bearing witness to the inhumanity.

“Where is God in this?” we ask.Chihuahuan Desert

Where is God in the long aridity? When it feels like provisions are lacking?

In asking the question, the answers come.

I begin to notice provisions for the journey. The gifts in the sand.

The tireless female attorneys, mothers themselves, crossing the port of entry daily. Checking on clients. Seeking those with hearings in unsympathetic El Paso courtrooms. Holding up in the heat, the long lines at the bridge. No matter how few asylum cases they will win. Unfaltering despite the odds.

Manna in the form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. El Paso volunteers now prepare these sandwiches for migrants waiting in Mexico to be processed. The people are hungry.peanut_butter_and_jelly_2

And Mexican federal immigration officials do not have the provisions to feed so many before releasing these families to shelters. Or worse – the streets of Juarez. The migrants – and the Mexican agents – welcome PB&J manna with smiles.

Provisions of friendship. The gift of camaraderie – of soul friends committed to the refugee, to the hurting, to those fleeing enslavement, a life of extortion.

We come together, share food and drink. Sing songs of a world we know is possible. The gift of laughter lightens the burdens. Our common prayer rises to the “column of cloud” guiding our journey.

Provisions of expression, of expelling the grief. Lisa offers the gift of her therapist skills, a free-will offering to those of us “living on the cusp,” living in the midst of the atrocious effects of the pharaoh’s dictates. She desires to help us. Her provisions fall like manna from the sky, alighting on our souls so in need of nourishment.

This heart I’ve been given – this too is a gift, a “talent” I’ve been asked to magnify on the journey. Even though it sometimes feels like a curse. A weakness. A vulnerability that needs alteration.

Then Brother Lalo gifts me with the words of St. Paul: “It is when I am weak that I am strong.” He tells me this is what comes to him when he thinks of me.

His supportive words, another provision in this desert. A reminder of another Bible story. The weak will befuddle the strong.

Yes, I call these “provisions for the journey.” And I hear God ask, can you trust that you’ll be given what you need? Just for today? Can you trust that I’ll be with you again tomorrow? Even when night descends?

Quotes_Creator_2Cor I am strong

 

 

 

Wade in the Water

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The pain of heartache flows in the narrow river. I watch the ripple from the footbridge above, feeling helpless, hopeless. There is little I can do.

Do I let my heart feel the sorrow, the grief? Sometimes I do.

Sometimes I cry with the young wife and mother who lost her 2-year-old daughter and the husband carrying her on his back. Or with the Honduran woman whose husband did not want to come but listened to his wife’s plea. “It’s only for a few years,” she told this strong man who could no longer keep his family fed and safe.

He did not make it across the Rio Grande.

Nor did the 21-year-old female who’d been sent to wait in Mexico. Alone and vulnerable. No one to protect her from imminent rape. She tried to venture back across.

El Salvadoran wife and mother of drowned migrants 2019
El Salvadoran wife and mother of drowned migrants

Taking the risk in the water was better than the risk of waiting in Juarez.

Single women, mothers with children – they are the easy targets.

I’ve heard courtroom reports of Guatemalan women pleading with the judge at their initial court hearing not to send them back. “Put me in a cell,” one tells the judge. She would rather be locked up while she waits than be “free” in the homicide capital of Mexico.

“They extorted my family for money,” another one says. “I’m afraid to go back.”

Two women sob in the courtroom, with their young children in tow. Intruders tried to rape them at their shelter.

Those of us who live at the border – we all know it’s not safe in Juarez.  There is nothing protective about this outrageously unsafe policy, the complete opposite of any kind of “protection” for migrants.

Even the El Paso City Council denounced the “Remain in Mexico” policy 6 to 1 back in July. Still, it continues.

I read about a priest who was kidnapped in early August by a gang for not letting them into his shelter to kidnap migrants. He is still missing. Another priest was killed outright in Matamoros.

Juarez shelter
Juarez shelter; photo from El Paso Times

Now at our hospitality center, Casa del Refugiado, in El Paso, a different kind of migrant passes through. The kind that can take a plane across Mexico and land closer to the border. The kind that have cell phones and are cellphone savvy enough to make their own travel arrangements quickly. Some leave our center within less than 24 hours of arriving.

Granted, not all are like this. But I hardly see the desperate, disheveled, dirty faces anymore. Those who had to leave their country just to survive. And started out on foot.

Facing extreme hardships. Extreme suffering. Extreme roadblocks along the way.

Wait in Mexico? They have been waiting. Especially the Guatemalans, the Hondurans, the El Salvadorans. Waiting for justice and safety that do not exist.

So, this tiny patch of water that separates two cities, two countries, poses a minor obstacle.

Still, the river can be deceptive.

The water churns, swirls, gains power.

So many stories are buried in its silt.

I ask, what can I do? Plead? Wail?

And then I do one thing I know I am asked to do. I pick up my pen. I tell others. I write the stories, hoping those who read will know that we cannot stand on the shore watching. We, too, must wade in. Feel this churning, swirling power.

Maybe it will change us. Maybe it will cause us to act.

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Freedom and Solidarity

Sea lions closeup
Sea lions lounge together on rocks in Kenai Peninsula

Alaska.  What a spectacular, breathtaking vacation!

But I wasn’t two days into it when I realized something.

Just how much I needed this break.

How much I needed to relax.  Have fun. Do whatever the heck I wanted. And, most particularly, I needed to get away from the border.

Yes, I did say that.

It had become more of a weight than I realized. This daily barrage of disheartening news, of mistreatment of other human beings, of lack of due process and other human rights abuses.

I needed a break from the weight of our border reality.

And I didn’t know just how much until I had left it all behind.

My phone went silent. No more daily text messages about how many families were being sent to which shelters. How many volunteers were needed where.

No more disturbing news about what was happening — unless I chose to look at it on my phone.

And every day I got to choose.

Choose how I was going to spend the day. Where I was going to go. How long I’d stay. What and when I was going to eat. Whether or not I wanted to splurge on some unanticipated treat.

Plane view
My biggest treat – the view from this 4-seater plane

Adventure was my companion. Spontaneity became my best friend.

I felt special, spoiled, so grateful, and so free.

As I reflected at the end of each day, I saw how privileged I was to have such freedom. I also noticed how easy it is to to get lost in a bubble – that kind of enclosed space in which only what affects me, and those I care about, is all that matters.

It’s true I had to put El Paso aside for awhile. To not think about the border. Yet, despite the need for self-care, I found I could not take the people out of my heart. I know this because I readily and easily talked about the border situation whenever anyone asked me where I was from or what I did.

One stranger who sat down next to me at the Seattle airport in between connections genuinely thanked me afterwards for informing her about this side of the immigration story.

Being a voice of truth in solidarity with those who are hurting is a responsibility that I believe comes with this unbelievable freedom.

Tomorrow is the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its abolition. This is another area in which I am coming to better understand my privileged freedom. And the need for solidarity.

Recently I heard from a presenter at our gathering in Albuquerque that as a result of our Living School experience, we are more aware of the pain in the world. Certainly the Living School has brought more awareness to the plight of people of color and of the marginalized.

I think that what is also true is that as a result of my experiences at the border and my exposure to the driving factors of migration, I am more aware of the pain in the world.

And in my awareness of this pain lies my awareness of my responsibility to be in solidarity with a hurting world.

No matter where I find myself. Whether doling out donations to migrants or gliding over gorgeous glaciers in Denali.

Ann Voskamp Quotes_Creator

 

Love in #ElPaSOStrong

El Paso Strong Love

Davis was the first to check on me. Thousands of miles away, yet he knew what was unfolding in El Paso before I did. And he wanted to make sure I stayed away.

Incredulous, I quickly checked the news. It was worse than I had feared.

But the hate that brought that young man all the way from Dallas to inflict so much pain and fear in our beautiful community was overpowered tonight by the love of El Paso.

Tonight our community came together – it looked like thousands of us – at Ponder Park just behind the Cielo Vista Mall where this hate-filled act took place. We came to pray together at an interfaith vigil. To share our pain, our grief. To support one another. To show the nation, and the world, who we are. And what it means to be #ElPasoStrong.

There was music. There were beautiful prayers and heartfelt messages offered by leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, B’nai B’rith, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths. I could feel the healing and the power in the words. I knew Love’s presence was among us and within us.

El Paso Strong crowd Aug 2019
Some of the families gathered for the 2-hour long event

There’s so much love and warmth in this city. I think that’s what I felt right from the beginning when I first came here. And that’s why I have felt so connected to this community.

I had been planning to write my next post about my trip to Alaska, what I experienced there, the insights I received. But that will have to wait for another time.

Because tonight, this is what I want to write about more than anything. The unbelievable example of love this community has shown.

For one another. For the stranger. For the immigrant. For the suffering.

Yes, the love in El Paso is so strong. So very strong.

El Paso Strong

In one very powerful exercise, a female speaker asked us to turn to someone next to us that we didn’t know and ask them if they were alright.

I turned to a stranger. “Are you alright?”  I asked sincerely.

Her eyes moistened, as she said, “I’ll get through it.”

Immediately I felt my own tears.

And then she asked me the same question, and I agreed. Yes, we will get through it. And I’m glad I’m here.

Then the speaker said if we noticed that person got teary eyed, give them a hug. And so this stranger and I hugged. Our hearts mutually hurting for this place we love. And simultaneously beginning to heal.

At one point during the event, we heard car engines revving as they drove around the park. I heard shouts but could only make out the word “Alabama.” Strange and unnerving. People turned to see what was happening. Faces concerned, apprehensive.

This is what such an act of terror can do. Put people on edge. Make a once very safe community not feel so safe. Create a reason to have a large police presence at a gathering that not so long ago wouldn’t have required any police.

I know that this past year things have changed in terms of threats being wielded at El Paso and at the hospitality centers where I volunteer. Knowing the hate that’s been growing unchecked, I take these threats seriously and have been concerned. But I continue to do what I do, where I do it, because of this love.

As Bishop Seitz said, prayer heals.

El Paso Strong Mexican_American flags
A participant at the prayer vigil displays both the Mexican and U.S. flags

Our community’s love is much more powerful than hate.

We know how to love our neighbors, no matter what side of the Rio Grande they live on.

And love is stronger than death.

Most importantly, El Paso will always love. No matter what is wielded at us. That’s what we know how to do.

Maybe some people at the top could learn from this community’s example.

Sold Out

Voice of voiceless statue

In a matter of weeks, all the dinner tables were sold out. At $50 a plate.

Who would pay such an exorbitant price for a dollop of pinto beans, rice, and a tortilla?

Or spend their Saturday night witnessing reenactments at the border that make you feel uncomfortable?

And who would delay their family vacation in Colorado so they could attend?

Yet, these were the people who came to Annunciation House’s annual Voice of the Voiceless fundraiser recently.

We were there to support Ruben Garcia’s calling – a calling he has been passionately following for more than 41 years.

We were there because all of us have been touched in some way by the migrant poor at our door. Whether it’s through personal encounters at the dozens of hospitality centers set up throughout the Borderland community or through personally witnessing the harsh conditions under which many have been held after their arrival, such as the fenced-in outdoor areas under the port of entry bridge.

For us, eating this simple plate of food is more than symbolic. It is an act of solidarity with our brothers and sisters. It is a statement that we will not sell out. Our integrity, our values, our care for one another in our common humanity – these are not for sale.

Good Samaritans like Teresa Todd, who was the winner of this year’s Voice of the Voiceless Border Witness award, have proven that. BTW, she is the one, along with her entire family, who delayed their vacation so they could personally attend our dinner.

Teresa Todd_Voice of Voiceless 2019
Teresa Todd, second from left, with our border volunteers

I was thrilled to discover Teresa was this year’s recipient. I had recently read a New York Times article about how this single mother, a well-respected elected official and county attorney of Jeff Davis County, was being prosecuted for helping three El Salvadoran migrants who had flagged her down on a Texas road one night.  The three siblings hadn’t eaten for days. The young men’s 18-year-old sister, Esmeralda, was lying on the ground in pain, unable to walk. Her muscle tissue was being eaten up.

Teresa told us that as a mother, as a Christian, as a woman whose parents raised her to care for those in need, she did the right thing. Thinking of her own teenage sons, she helped the three young people into her car and made some calls to local officials for help. Instead of assistance, Teresa was taken into custody by Border Patrol and accused of “harboring aliens.”

Now she is facing federal charges.

Teresa saved the life of Esmeralda that night. And she told us she would do it again.

No matter the current political climate.

She didn’t sell out her values. She acted with courage and compassion. And she kept her moral character and integrity intact.

Unfortunately, we as a nation are not.

As Ruben told us that night, “…the relentless and insidiousness process of dehumanizing human beings is threatening the core of our being.”

That is why Ruben chose this year’s fundraiser’s theme, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ as a reminder.

“What is being done to refugees stands in stark contradiction of the fundamental principles and values that brought the United States into existence,” he told us.

Time and again we have heard the word ‘crisis’ used to justify practices that violate the very character of a nation that has been 243 years in the making. The real crisis on the border is a crisis of character and morality.”              Ruben Garcia

Neither Ruben nor Teresa are alone in believing this. Many others are expressing or thinking similar beliefs about our moral compass.

This was evidenced by the numerous out-of-state donors listed in our program this year. Sponsors from North Dakota to Maryland, from Alabama to Indiana.

I thank God for people like Teresa Todd and people across the country who have stepped up to volunteer or financially support those who are suffering in our name.

And I pray for all of us, as a country, that we do not “sell out.” That we stop finding ways to justify or ignore cruel and inhumane treatment of others because our business is thriving or our economy is doing well.

When we do so, then we have sold our integrity for greed. We have lost our moral compass. compass true north

And we cannot continue to claim that immigration is about observing the law when we as a country ignore the law when it isn’t convenient or doesn’t match our current agenda.

This was so evident when articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were read at the VoV dinner. The United Nations General Assembly declared these fundamental human rights in December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.

We, as the United States of America, are in defiance of articles such as Article 14, the right to seek asylum; Article 16, the protection of the family; and, most especially, Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Voice of Voiceless 2019
Lady Liberty holds a different message these days

 

I believe our country is at a crossroads.

We are still evolving into the real truth of the words of our forefathers: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Let us declare that these truths are not for sale.

Article 5: https://youtu.be/jL6IH1AesW4

#Voices

whispering children

Sometimes the voices can be so clear.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to live the gift that has been given to me. At a deeper level there has always been a deeper truth that this is what I am supposed to be and to do. We all want that sense of meaning and purpose in our lives….Don’t let your life go by without hearing what God is asking of you. Make sure you listen.”

This voice is Ruben Garcia’s.

He spoke these words five years ago. I had been interviewing him by phone for an article on his faith journey. And although he hadn’t been offering this advice to me personally, the voice was clearly speaking to me.

I got off the phone and cried. Spirit had accessed my heart.

At the time I had recently returned to Virginia after volunteering in El Paso. I was trying to settle into a daily routine while discerning what was next. Feeling uncomfortable and uncertain. I wanted to know what God was asking of me. I wanted to have Ruben’s certitude.

For that to happen, I knew I needed to be still and listen.

I began to pay attention.

Las Cruces cloud formation
Coming upon an unusual cloud formation above Organ Mountains

 

If you’re a regular reader, you know by now that listening more deeply is what inspired me to make this grand move to El Paso.

But what keeps me here? After all, it hasn’t been a once-and-for-all kind of message.

There are moments of doubt, moments in which I’ve wondered where this is all going, what it is I think I am doing. In those challenging moments, I’ve tried to listen more deeply. Tried to pay more attention to my Higher Self and give less credence to the distrustful, worrisome voices.

And sometimes that still, small voice accesses my heart through the voices of others. Like it did that day through Ruben.

Like it does through my border community and fellow volunteers.

The voices of Joe and Linda, for example. They leave their home in California periodically throughout the year, to come to El Paso for several weeks at a time to volunteer with us.

When Joe says, “This is church – this community. It’s lifegiving,” his words resonate in my core. Yes, Joe, I truly get that.

When Linda says, “We all know that this horrible immigration system is broken, and until something is done to change that, this is what I can do,” I know this is why I am here, too. To do something positive to counter all the ill and hate being heaped onto immigrants.

2_Linda accompanying family at EP airport
Linda accompanying mother and child at airport

And when Janet, an El Pasoan who has been with us since the early days of Loretto Nazareth, says” “This has been my most powerful experience of God in others,” I hear the truth of that. Because it has been for me, too.

I’ve experienced it in the simple gratitude of the migrant women. Voices that humble me and remind me again that something greater is holding all of this: “Muy amable, gracias.  You have been so kind. You have given us back our dignity.”

Sometimes the voices pose questions. Questions that don’t require an answer, yet cause me to go deeper.

 “What are our souls longing for, that we would do this work for the immigrants?”

Sr. Missy asked me this more in amazement than anything. She’d opened her congregation’s house on Grandview Avenue to board the countless volunteers who came from out of town to help at our hospitality sites over the years. She wondered aloud about the dedication of so many.

Her question stayed with me.

In listening, I discovered that what my soul longs for – the God I long for – is right here, hidden in my encounters at the border. It is here that God continues to access my heart.

But do you realize how few people listen to that voice, much less follow it?”

This question is Peter’s, my spiritual companion. His voice carries Spirit’s desire for me to acknowledge and honor my faithfulness. And I pause, and take that in.

This Saturday, many more voices will access my heart as I attend the Voice of the Voiceless, Annunciation House’s annual fundraising dinner. It’s an opportunity to honor those who speak for the least among us. But this year’s dinner is unusual in that Ruben is honoring those who don’t normally have a voice – refugee children.

Many of us have heard these children’s voices. We’ve heard their cries for their “mami” and “papi” (mommy and daddy). We’ve heard the tapes after their separation and witnessed their pain close up. These are clearly the most challenging voices of all to hear. And they are still crying out.

Will we let God access our heart through these voices?

Annunciation VOV

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