To McAllen! On May 16, a small mission team, including church members Sharon Buckley, Tim Patterson, Chris Pickett, Nancy Pickett and me, made its way south to the Rio Grande Valley. Our aim was twofold: first, to deliver hundreds of socks, collected at the church’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, to refugees and asylum seekers; second, to witness for ourselves the ministries of welcome, aid, and advocacy now taking place on the U.S./Mexico border.
A place of rest and renewal. On Friday morning, we showed up at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, ready to spend the day serving—and yes, to unload those sock donations! We were immediately swept up in the work of the center, a way-station established in 2014 to serve the needs of asylum seekers. Most have come from Central America, fleeing unrest, violence, and poverty in their home countries. People who have made it this far have already been detained, screened, and allowed to stay in the United States, where they will continue the process of legally securing refugee or asylee status. But at this point, their fate is far from certain.
For a few hours, though—before they continue by bus to places as far-flung as Los Angeles and Baltimore—there is time to rest and recuperate. In the hallways, we saw hundreds of men, women and children dropped off that day, standing patiently in line for toiletries, clothing, and shoes as volunteers and staff hustled to give them out. In rooms that weren’t storing or staging donations, mothers and children rested in plastic chairs or on mats on the floor. Children played in the yard; men made use of the mobile shower unit. At lunchtime, families relaxed around hearty plates of food.
The pace of work at the Humanitarian Respite Center is fast, but each member of our team was equally quick to find his or her niche. Tim and I relied on our modest knowledge of Spanish as we handed out bags of toiletries to families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Later on, we put our Mobile Loaves-tested “make-ready” skills to good use, making sandwiches and snack bags for people to take on the road. Sharon found her way to the children’s clothing distribution room, where she could offer a friendly face and a helping hand to parents and their young children. Nancy and Chris set up an impromptu barber shop in a quiet corner, offering haircuts to men who had been on the road since February. This was a new feature for the center and its clients, and it was an instant hit.
When six o’clock rolled around, it was hard to say goodbye—and over dinner, it was hard to know what to say. Having had some time to think about it now, what sticks with me, what I cannot shake, is a deep sense of our connectedness as human beings. Something changes when you hold someone’s baby. Something changes when you tell a crying child, Todo estará bien, hoping beyond hope that it’s true. Something changes when you help a woman sort through the donations until you find something that suits not only her size but her style—and when you share a laugh over the leather pants that are completely ridiculous for summer in Texas. Something changes. A humanitarian crisis puts on a human face, and you can no longer look away.
Room in the inn. On Saturday morning, before returning to Austin, we drove to San Benito to visit one more ministry—La Posada Providencia, “The Inn of Providence,” which has provided shelter for immigrants and asylum seekers as they pursue legal refuge since 1989.
Over the past three decades, La Posada has aided over 10,000 people from more than 85 countries. Some stay for just a day or two; others stay for months as they work on their cases for legal asylum. No matter the length of stay, clients are required to participate in English as a Second Language classes and to “chip in” around the shelter.
As a team, we were instantly struck by the peaceful, communal spirit of La Posada. It was beautiful, from its tidy, whitewashed cabins to its windswept bougainvillea. But most stunning were the powerful stories of its residents, like those in this video. In many cases, the people we met had survived terror and unspeakable violence in their home countries. What we saw at La Posada, however, was joy, resilience, and sharing in the Spirit.
It was amazing. Looking around the table at lunch, I realized I could see people of every size, shape, age, and color—Africans and Central Americans—Asians and Europeans—Protestants and Catholics—mothers and fathers—babies and elders—citizens and refugees. People will come from east and west and north and south, I thought. To sit at table in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will look like this.
So…what’s next? Now that we’re back, our little team still has a lot to process and to share—with the mission committee, session, and the congregation—and that work is just beginning. The question of how our church should respond to the global migration crisis will not have an easy answer. But that’s okay. Might we wade into the waters of discernment together? Let’s pray about it, let’s talk about it—and let’s keep listening, too, to the voices of marginalized people—and for the still, small voice of God. Where might it be calling us?
- Rev. Claire Berry
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.