Bishop's Letter: Border reflections
This last Monday, I and a few others—Pastor Christine Stoxen, Pastor Miguel Gomez-Acosta, Pastor Mateo Chavez—visited the border at Nogales. The GCS and Episcopal Church share a ministry, Cruzando Fronteras. Deacon Rodger Babnew is the director. This ministry provides welcome and assistance to those seeking asylum. Here’s some of what I saw, heard, learned and experienced.
Who is coming and why?
Those currently seeking asylum at the border in Nogales are primarily from three Central American countries: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Asylees from these three countries tell similar stories of chronic violence, political insecurity and a culture of extortion by gangs and drug-related cartels. Daily life is marked by fear and uncertainty combined with a lack of access to basic needs. Most of those arriving at this time are families, including at least one parent and child.
We toured the shelter, La Roca, and met children, women and men who were waiting for processing. When individuals arrive at the border they are given a number. Because of the Cruzando Fronteras ministry, they can stay at La Roca while they wait for their number to be called. Some wait for weeks. During their time at La Roca they receive three meals a day, medical attention, and a safe place to sleep. The rooms are furnished with 3-high bunk beds (purchased for $380). Children also sleep on the floor under the bottom bunk. In the room for women and children there were about 50. Those who are waiting to be processed at La Roca help serve dinner, clean up after dinner and are responsible to clean the spaces where they sleep. The shelter can house up to 60, but since no one is ever turned away, they have had as many as 130. You can imagine the cramped quarters.
When I asked about feeding so many Lupe replied, “There is always enough for everyone. We just add more water to the soup.”
Pastor Chavez, who is also on the board of directors for Cruzando Fronteras, shared stories of families who were constantly harassed and dollars extorted. Life in their home country Guatemala is exceedingly dangerous and made any hope of stability for their families impossible. Their journey was difficult and costly. They were deeply grateful for the welcome, the care and the simple human dignity offered to them once they arrived at La Roca. They are hopeful for the possibility of a different future. I am grateful that the GCS – ELCA is a partner in this ministry.
There is a need for volunteers in Phoenix, up to 24 each evening. For more information, please contact Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, Ruth Escobar, 602-769-1305.
The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer
Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA