Reports from Sisters Serving at the Border
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from the US East-West Province are serving at the US-Mexico border in various temporary capacities. Here are some excerpts of their reflections:
From June 2019 in McAllen, Texas
Peggy Cummins, SNDdeN:
I can still see the long lines of women, men, children, infants from Central America lined up at the center waiting for food, clothing, a shower, medical care, help with travel arrangements, etc. There was no sign of impatience or a lack of gratitude, but what stayed with me was the lack of joy, laughter, conversation…. For me, it gave new meaning to Julie’s words, “Give them what they need for Life.”
We saw the wall near the Rio Grande or I should say walls. There are many types- long, high slats, wires and stone walls. I had a long, friendly talk with a border patrol office while he was sitting in his van. I listened to his perspective and experience at the wall and he listened to mine. I brought up the word compassion and he jumped in to say that he had compassion, too. He said that they bring the migrants to respite centers like the one where I worked. We did agree on two things- a wall will not deter the people from migrating and there is a crisis at the border.
I got involved in the kitchen and distributing food. At one point we ran out of soup, so a young man named Jesus suggested we had more broth to make it go further. Later, we resorted to huge amounts of ramen noodles that actually smelled good. Some days we have so much food because a group brings in the meal, but other days we struggle to get the available food cooked and ready to serve. Today, all of a sudden there were hundreds of mangoes delivered. What a treat. The food line never ends.
I gave out tortillas with another woman. I had the feeling that it was a communion line and we were acknowledging that they all were the Body of Christ. The woman beside me said that she was a Methodist minister and she felt the same way.
From May 2019 in McAllen, Texas
Kathy Gallivan, SNDdeN:
…The image of the hundreds and hundreds of families just released from the Detention Facility and now arriving at the Respite Center will stay with me. The Center was overflowing. …I found myself in the baby room giving out diapers and powdered formula. There were so many babies and pregnant women…
I met a man who had just arrived on the ICE bus and was standing in line to be processed. He was alone, carrying his daughter, Sophia, about 5 months old. He had somehow made his way from Romania and was just so grateful to be in the US.
Most of the families are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, fleeing through Mexico and then crossing the Rio Grande to be picked up by the Border Patrol and brought to the Detention Facility before they arrive at the Respite Center. About 700 people come through the Respite Center daily.
An image that will stay with me is a young mother who had walked from Guatemala with her ten-week old daughter. Hopefully her husband would come later. She was so grateful for the bottle of water I gave her.
Much of our time was spent in the “Sandwich Room” where we made hundreds and hundreds of ham and cheese sandwiches and prepared bags with water and snacks for the trips the families would finally take, mostly by long bus rides and some by air to finally (hopefully) connect with family or friends here in the US and find a new home.
As with so many times I offer service, I come away feeling blessed and knowing that I have received so much more than I gave.
Jennifer Pierce, SNDdeN:
We met a Honduran mother, Lidia, who arrived at the Respite Center with a broken leg. The ICE-Border Patrol bus had brought her and 50 other refugees to the Center from the Detention Facility. Her leg was wrapped in a make-shift, dirty cast and she was in severe pain. She told us that she had broken her leg eight days earlier in Mexico when she was running from the feared Mexican Immigration agents and she fell in a hole. We asked her how she had managed to escape the Mexican agents with a broken leg? She said: “My son, Carlos, carried me on his back to a safe house several miles away.” We all praised and hugged her 15 year old son, a thin, timid boy sitting by her side. Then we found an old wheelchair for her, and the nurse on duty gave her ibuprofen for her pain. Later, a Respite Center volunteer brought her to a local hospital where she was fitted with a decent cast and crutches. The next day, Lidia and Carlos left us with smiles, “gracias” and renewed hope.
The pain of people’s journeys was easy to see, but their gratitude at being welcomed and given things as simple as hair elastics or a toothbrush was profound.
One day, we got word that visitors were coming to see the Center: Three Senators (not sure who), immigration officials, coast guard officers and the Auxiliary Bishop of Brownsville, TX. The Coast Guard officers stopped in the sandwich room and thanked us for what we were doing. They told us we were entitled to a free rescue!
Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN:
One of my jobs was to do the buying of snacks, (chips, crackers, cookies) at Sam’s Club which would be put in the bags that each family takes on their long bus trip. I was wearing my Catholic Charities Disaster Response T- shirt. As I was pushing the cart up to pay, a young woman came up to me, gave me a $100.00 bill and said: “I want to help! I have relatives who are immigrants.”
Every day in McAllen brings an experience, both meeting the refugee families and hearing their stories and meeting the volunteers who come from far and wide with hearts open and welcoming and proving the essential goodness of the American people, a goodness often over shadowed by cruelty and racism too often raising its ugly head. For me, the meaning is that the goodness and Jesus’ inclusive, compassionate message will prevail, already is prevailing!