“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9.
The seeds of my personal call to ministry among undocumented persons and refugees were sown during the general election campaign of last year. What most concerned me during the political debates was the very diverse proposals for immigration legislation among the main parties. However, on election night last January, aware of the immigration proposals of the new administration, I knew in my heart that I needed to put myself at “ground zero” to do all in my power to be an advocate for the immigrants as Scripture calls us to do: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35.
There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Exodus 12:49.
After consultation with our General Leadership Team, especially with Sr. Jean Durel, who has had experience in ministry on the El Paso/Juarez border, I contacted Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation and Casa Vides houses for refugees and was accepted as a volunteer at Casa Vides. Today I am completing my 7th week here and I can truly say that I have been blessed by my contact with the immigrants, whom we refer to as our “guests” and us volunteers as “Guest servants”. We place ourselves among these poor so as transform our understanding of what constitutes more just relationships between peoples, countries, and economies.
Although we work as a team, each of us bring our unique personal qualities. The basic quality for a guest servant is to have a spirit of service reflected in:
- Presence: make our heart available to each person;
- Joy: reflect the Good News with a smile;
- Sacrifice: move from a love of self to selfless love;
- Reverence: The poor are God’s special people; through them we discover our own holiness.
- Hospitality: Helping the stranger feel at home. We are welcoming those who seek to belong.
Annunciation House has been working in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez since 1978 operating houses of hospitality for migrants and refugees. It is a Catholic organization that accompanies the migrant, homeless, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education. It has an all-volunteer staff who place themselves among these poor so as transform their understanding of what constitutes more just relationships between peoples, countries, and economies.
VOLUNTEER COMMUNITY GATHERINGS:
On Monday mornings, we usually have a gathering of the volunteers for an all-morning prayer and refection on specific themes related to our ministry to the refugees. We have discussed topics such as: Discipleship; Holy Women, the Sanctity of Mothers; Worldview of Abundance; Faith.
On weekdays, we begin our day each morning with prayer and reflection where we take turns preparing a specific topic. One day we reflected on our “guests” as the “Prophets Among Us”. It was a call to be open to the person who shows up at our door and what message he/she brings us. We then shared with each other the gifts we saw in each one.
The team shared the following about my gifts: “Rosaleen: You came as a prophet and your message is shown daily in your reverence for other persons. You are truly a helping person. Instead of asking “puedo ayudarlo”, you just extend your hand and reach to assist. Your attentive listening is reflected in your eyes. It is obvious that you “hear” with your heart and spirit. Your awe of simple things is expressed with quiet wonder and gratitude. I am so very glad that you are here.”
That feedback helped me to discover where I could best use my personal gifts. Usually I am the team member who has the privilege of welcoming our “guests” as they arrive from the detention center and dismount from the border patrol bus. They look tired and worried as they enter our house, but quickly they begin to feel at ease as we explain the services we offer: free room and board, contact with a family member who will buy their bus or airline ticket and transport to the bus station or the airport. We are fortunate to have a roster of local people who provide free transport for our “guests.”
BORDER AWARENESS EXPERIENCE:
Understanding the US/Mexico Border through experiential education.
In the early 1990s Annunciation House developed the Border Awareness Experience (BAE). The objective of this program is to facilitate face to face meetings and encounters between participants and people and groups on both sides of the border. It intends to raise consciousness about the issues facing the border such as immigration, economic development, human rights, and social justice. The BAE also educates North Americans about our role and responsibilities in today’s globalized world.
The BAE is an immersion experience. More than being an informational tour, it seeks to immerse the participants in the border culture and realities of the many people and groups that live and work here. The food that they eat and the conditions which they live in are as much a part of the experience as the people and groups that you will meet. A typical day may include: visiting the US Border Patrol, listening to the stories of migrants and refugees, meeting with human rights activists, and staying in a migrant shelter.
By Sr. Rosaleen Harold
Originally published in the Blog of CCVI’s Congregational Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation