Journey of Faith

 

Last Wednesday, I returned from two weeks at the southern border, working among migrants at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX. Two weeks. Only two weeks. Fourteen days. A relatively short time. But those two weeks changed my life.

Prior to this trip, I thought I was fairly in tune with the plight of migrants crossing our borders. Events of these past few years aroused in me a sincere empathy for and curiosity about those fleeing their homes in search of a better life. What horrendous conditions must they be experiencing in their native lands to compel them to make the treacherous journey, on foot, across hundreds of miles. I felt for them. Deeply.

And then I went to McAllen. And the stunning reality of the situation was nothing like I had imagined it would be. Emotional…awe-inspiring…almost paralyzing.

My first few days at HRC were anything but uplifting. I was disappointed in the facility itself. Processing over 1000 migrants each day, it was dark, windowless, – a former nightclub I learned. The noise of all these voices, babies crying, children screaming in play – was deafening.  Rows of folding chairs filled with families waiting to be “processed in”, lines of families awaiting OTC meds from the “pharmacy”, a separate room with gym mats carpeting the floor, side by side, serving as beds for these weary travelers. Despite the chaos and ambient noise, no matter the time of day, families lay huddled, arms wrapped around each other, sound asleep – exhausted from their long journey. There is a clothing room where new and used donated items of all sorts are distributed. A huge kitchen and eating room lined with long tables. A small sandwich-making room where bags of lunches are packed for those who are “processed out” – leaving the center traveling by train, bus or plane to meet their sponsor family.

The center is manned mostly by volunteers from all over the country, giving up a day, a week, even a month, in some cases, to assist in making this transition a tiny bit less frightening for these your brave families. There is some paid staff and security guards always present.

I want to stop here as I mention security at the center. For the entire length of my presence there, despite the crowded and penurious conditions, I did not hear a single raised voice, did not witness any altercations of any sort. These migrants were soft spoken, loving, sharing and caring young people, who have experienced greater loss and trauma that we can ever imagine. Yet, even in these trying conditions, though sometimes perhaps through tears, their compassionate nature was evident in all their interactions.

My first few days I admit I was overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of this crisis. I thought I was well informed, prepared, ready to roll up my sleeves and jump in. But I was so wrong. Those first days I found myself often randomly reduced to tears – helpless and hopeless. Certainly not doing anyone any measure of good.

But then something happened that turned it all around for me. During one particularly difficult day, I stepped outside the center to refresh, re-energize and re-group. As I stood there, ashamed of my “not-good-enough-ness” with tears in my eyes, a long line of migrants led by a staff member, began to exit the center through a side door. Each family carried only a lunch bag, another small plastic bag containing items received at the center, and a manila envelope containing all their essential papers and documentation. On one side of the envelop, processing agents had recorded all their individual travel arrangements. On the back side, a sheet of paper was stapled reading “Please help me. I do not speak English. This is my travel information.” They were heading to the Greyhound bus terminal and to the airport.

And that’s when it hit me…they were leaving…moving on to the start of a better life. A new journey was beginning for them, one filled with hope and hopefully prosperity and security. The realization of all their dreams was within reach. I found myself jumping up and down, screaming to them…”Adios, Adios!!! Ve con Dios!! Bienvenidos a America todos!”  Literally I was lifted – jumping in the air. And they responded with hugs and kisses and fist pumps and our happy tears commingled.

These – my most vulnerable, most exposed, most impoverished brothers and sisters gave me so much that afternoon! They showered me with their hope. Their shared strength empowered me. They restored my faith in our system. They re-ignited in me a spirit that, for a few days, I had lost.

For sharing a small part of their long journey of faith, I will be forever changed. And I will continue to work on their behalf because they deserve that and because of them, I am a better person.