Holy Everything: A border visit helped me see how all things connect
I’ve just returned from a week near the U.S.-Mexico border. The time was spent learning about immigration and accompanying refugee families in a “Border Immersion Experience.”
I was nervous headed into the time away. Traveling with new people, staying with a family I didn’t know, being away from my husband for a week, and managing an uncertain schedule: These were just a few of the uncertainties making my stomach uneasy as I packed my bags.
The Spirit sustained me during every hour of this visit with a deep sense of connectedness to others and to God. I was reminded all along the way that one doesn’t need to fully understand immigration legislation in order to respond to the needs of others with compassion.
Early in the week, I opened my pocket-sized travel Bible and prayed for guidance. The verses I opened to and meditated upon were from the book of Hebrews. The author writes in chapter 13, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
There were many opportunities to extend hospitality to others during the week, but more often than that, our group of five felt the gracious hospitality of others.
All of those we encountered were our teachers. I’d like to share with you some of their wise words.
“We’re here to wear this church out.” — Don
Don was one of our home hosts for the week. He and his wife, Betty, are long time members of a congregation involved in a ministry that serves refugee families. Don shared with us that a while back he served on the church council. At the time, some members were worried that the building’s kitchen was getting disorganized by having so many people using it. The council president at that time said, “We’re not here to keep everything organized and in place. We’re here to wear this church out.” What a powerful philosophy.
“We all have the opportunity to put in our two cents in this country, but we all need to do that. That’s what makes our country work.” — Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Sweazea
Early in the week we attended a federal court docket, and all the cases related to individuals who crossed into the United States at a point other than an official port of entry. For me, these 90 minutes were some of the most emotionally heartbreaking of the week. At the end of our time in New Mexico, we had the opportunity to see the same judge in a different role. He presided over the naturalization ceremony of 203 new U.S. citizens. During his comments, he encouraged all of us to get involved in our democracy.
“Each morning I say — thank you, Lord, for this day. I’m ready for the adventures of this day. … We try not to worry about things we can’t control. We have enough to do here.” — E. and B.
At some sections of the border wall, there are spaces between the giant metal panels through which people can communicate. We had the opportunity to talk to two women on the other side one morning. They were both involved in the social work field and worked hard each day to improve the lives of those in their community of Anapra, Mexico. They’re grateful, grounded spirits helped us all keep perspective.
“You have a lot to offer and a lot to share. Register to vote. Work to make a difference in your communities. Volunteer with new immigrants. Share your culture and cuisine with others. You are weaving more vibrant colors into the fabric of our country.” — Valina Salinas
Salinas was the keynote speaker during the naturalization ceremony. She’s a federal public defender, and her parents immigrated to the United States. Her words of encouragement were an inspiration to all of us.
On the way home, I read a book, “The Issue at Hand: Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice” by Gil Fronsdal. In the book, the author writes about the importance of cultivating patience. He says that one form of patience is the acceptance of truth which is “the willingness to see deeply, without resistance, the truth of the moment and the truth of the deepest levels of reality.”
During the “Border Immersion Experience,” I felt moments of the acceptance of truth, and it shifted my sense of vocational call and personal priorities. The connectedness of all beings is more apparent to me now than it has ever been.
Please partner with me in seeking out ways to extend compassion to all those involved in issues related to immigration: border patrol agents, judges, lawyers, social service agencies, refugee families, and those holding political office. Follow the Spirit’s guidance. Get involved. Pray. Serve. Respond.
Holy Everything is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor serving at the Southeastern Minnesota Synod Office in Rochester. Visit her blog at emilyannecarson.com.