YLA 2016-17: Las Fronteras

Final Reflections: Val

WOW!!!!! While being on the borderlands I have learned so much in our short time. We have visited many places that have opened the eyes of our hearts up to many different people. Something that has been very inspirational for me is when we met the founder of the Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales Mexico. He talked about how he started the shelter by just taking migrants into his home and then it evolved into and amazing shelter that had helped so many people.

Day One: Travels to Las Fronteras


Today we traveled.  And traveled.  And traveled.  But no luggage was lost, our van was ready, and we all arrived safely in Nogales in time for a delicious home-cooked meal provided by the good people of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church where we met Fr Ernie and Deacon Rodger and began to learrn a little bit abouut life in Las Fronteras--the borderlands.  Back at our hotel, we met for a brief reflection and orientation, reviewed our community covenant, and worked through tomorrow's logistics.  Tomorrow our encounters begin in earnest as we head to across the border to spend the day in Nogales, Sonora.

Day Two: Nogales, Sonora (Mexico)

Metal sculpture installed on the Mexican side of the fence in Nogales, depicting life in Las Fronteras in ancient times and modern times.

Quote of the day: “Juntos hacemos camino al audar (together we walk the way)”

Today was our first full day in Nogales! We started our day with a stop at the Mueso de Arte de Mexico (Nogales, Mexico; in the borderlands). There we met with Guadalupe Serrano, the director of the museum and a well-known Mexican artist. He spoke of the importance of art expression in the border lands through murals, painting, and sculptures. Next, we went to a basilica in Nogales, where we met and talked with the priest about the food program they run. After that we walked around around downtown Nogales and stopped at the vigil of Jose Antonio, a 16-year-old boy who in 2012 was killed on the Mexican side of the fence by gunfire shot by US border patrol officers on the US side. After paying our respects to Jose, we made our way over to the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (Home of Hope and Peace) where they give the people of Nogales values, education, shelter, and life skills. There we met Mario and Tito, people who volunteer at the center. They gave us a presentation on what goes on there daily. After we toured around the center we stopped for a late lunch at Café Leo’s. Following our delicious meal we shopped around in local markets where we bought many souvenirs. Lastly, we visited the Albergue Para Migrantes de San Bosco, a shelter for migrants that either got deported or are planning on crossing the border. We met some of the migrants and they shared their stories and the harsh and deadly reality of trying to cross the border and desert. We were moved by their stories, and they were moved that we had come all the way from Massachusetts to hear them. After meeting some migrants we met Juan Francisco Loureiro Herrerera, the founderr and director of the center and he talked about how he started the shelter. As one of our pilgrims remarked, "I think I just met my new hero."  Then we headed back to Nogales Arizona to worship and get some very badly needed rest—it was a great day, but a very, very full day.

Day Three: St. Andrews, Nogales


We couldn't resist when we found this police cruiser parked beside our van after dinner this evening:  Women on a mission!!

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “I thought the sky would look so much different here.”  (Spoken by a disillusioned migrant during his resuce on the ranch of a St. Andrews parishoner.)

Today we attended service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church here in Nogales, Arizona. We felt very welcomed by everyone in attendance. Even before the service started, we began discussing our journey thus far with the church members in the pew behind us. The Reverend Sean Carroll, S.J., a Jesuit priest who works for the Kino Border Initiative, gave the sermon. This week’s gospel was the Transfiguration story, and he discussed how we must open the eyes of our heart to be able to see God’s light in others. After the service, lunch and snacks were served and everyone sat down together to eat in the parish hall. We were surrpised and impressed to learn that this sitting down for lunch is their typical Sunday customm, and we loved the family feel of the time together.  YLA members split up among different tables to interact with the church members and hear their stories while sharing what we have experienced here. 

After lunch, The Reverend Ernie Galaz opened a forum with us and the members of the church about the Border. Val and Jenna introduced our group and our mission here and shared our (very positive) experiences in Nogales so far. A woman named Sigrid, whose family has lived in Nogales on both sides of the border for several generations, told us stories about what it was like living on the border as a child and how different the border is now. Another woman named Clair described how she has offered food and money to migrants passing her home. Others shared their stories as well. Almost everyone mentioned how Nogales on both sides of the border used to be one connected city, that relations were peaceful and the border was open and seemed more like a line into another town or state. They expressed dismay about the hostility that current protection of the border in Nogales has created.  They also urged us to stress to the folks back home that despite the images often cast in the media, Nogales is a very safe, peaceful city--on both sides of "the line."

Day Four: Plan B

The pilgrims outside the Kino Border Initiative's commeador in Nogales, Sonora, where we helped to serve dinner to 80 men, women, and children migrants.

Quote of the day:  "We serve beans and rice and Jesus Christ."  (Ben Wenke, Executive Director, Nogales Rescue Mission)

Today gave us plenty of opportunities to practice flexibility, grace, and fortitude--and it turned out to be a great day, just not the great day we had planned.

We started by waking up at 4:15 am for a hike on a portion of the migrant trail with Ricky. Already some of us weren’t feeling well and stayed back reluctantly. However, when we reached the trail head there were large streams of water coming down the trail, and we couldn’t even drive up to the start of the hike. It is monsoon season, afterall, and heavy rains in the mountain turned the little gully into a rushing stream.  We returned to the hotel by 6 am and more of us were beginning to feel the effects of the minor but hugely annoying lower GI thing that seems to have joined our group. We called Deacon Rodger from St. Andrew's to see if he had ideas for us. While an alternative itinerary was developed, went back to lie down for a few hours and attempted to nap (some were successful, others not so much).

Then at 9 am Roger  took us to the the Santa Cruz Training Program, which is a day-home for people with developmental disabilities. Roger’s wife Irma is the director of the center, and the center was full of love and joy and color. There are many different, fun rooms there, where the clients can spend time relaxing, mingling, exercising, eating and dancing. Right next door is the work center which provides jobs for disabled people in its bakery and café and its garden and landscaping business. Melinda gave us a tour of the grounds and we later bought empanadas from the bakery.  (None of us wasup for eating an empanada at that particular moment, but they smelled delightful so we bought some for later.)

Next we went to the CrossRoads Rescue Mission, a member of the international Gospel Rescue Mission network.  The Nogales, AZ center provides food, shelter, and counseling as well as spiritual encouragement for people in need. After that the unpleasantness in our bellies continued to rumble, so we returned to the hotel for a couple hours of siesta time resting before we toughed it out to volunteer at Kino Border Initiative’s Comeador (Soup kitchen) right over the Mexican border, which we walked over. We served food and drink, and talked with the migrants there, which was very rewarding. We worked alongside a group of Kino Teens from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, who were also volunteering.

Overall, despite our health issues we all pulled together and had a positive, while chaotic, day. We are mostly feeling better now at the end of the day and are saying prayers that whatever bug went around will soon be completely out of our systems.

Day Five: Homeland Security, Local History


The diocesan director of the Office of Youth Ministry trying to hide beinnd a pole as seen through a hand-held "white heat" scope during our tour of the Border Patrol Station in Nogales, AZ.

Quote of the Day:  “They told me that if I was a man, I would have gotten the job right away.”  (Sigrid Martrejean, Primeria Alta Historical Society, Nogales)

After we packed the van first thing, we headed out to talk to the border patrol  agents where we learned the training that it took to get into the field. We listened to a presentation about the structure and organization of the Border Patrol and then got a tour of the whole facility! We started in the brief room where the agents begin their day to receive their assignments. We continued to a station where we were able to sniff their pepper spray bombs, wear the vests, look through special enhanced vision scopes, and hold some of their weapons. We then got to look through the glass into the area where they monitor the cameras out in the field. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures because the cameras are live feed. But in the past 4 years their monitor room has gotten a extreme makeover and is very impressive. We walked through the gym and workout areas to get to the enclosed areas where they temporarily held some of the migrants that needed medical attention and processing, including the huge containment cells that were used several years ago during the wave of young people migrating from Central America.. We continued to the stables where we met many very friendly horse agents.

After we went to the boarder control headquarters we went to the Pimeria Alta Museum in Nogales. There, we met up with Sigrid Martrejean, who we first met Sunday at church, and got an exclusive tour in what used to be the old fire station and town hall. The museum has a huge collection of town history artifacts. After her extensive tour of fthe museum and local history, Sigrid told us a little bit about her own background and what she has done for work in the past, including an impressive career in the State Department, stationed all over the world.  She noted that the first time she applied for the Foreign Service she was told she would have been hired if she had been a man, but that as a woman.  Several years later she tried again and by then, the Foreign Service was trying to recruit women.  She was hired and went on to serve in posts throughout the world.

After the tour we said goodbye to our Nogales host, Rodger from St. Andrews, but not before leaving with him a donation from our fundraising money to support his ministry in the arera. We promptly loaded into the van and made our way up to Tucson and ended our day with dinner at a beach themed café (in the dessert).

By the way--we are all feeling much better.

Preparations: Meghan

As I am preparing to go on this pilgrimage with the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), I remind myself that I will be with all of my friends and familiar people, as my biggest concerns are having to meet with new people and having to speak in public. I am looking forward to being able to see how others outside of my community live, discover all of their struggles and the journeys that they have had and to be able to experience all of these things with them. Their “best” may not be the same as what we perceive as being great. Our lives are not nearly as hard as theirs, but they feel happy and are grateful for what they already have. Many of us often do not feel the way that they do  in the United States, and I feel that we expect too many things to be handed to us when others have to work hard so that they are able to earn what they need in order for them to survive. I am very excited to observe and learn about how people deal with the circumstances life throws at them. I feel that this will help me to become more grateful for what I already have and give me more strength and confidence to go outside of my comfort zone. Through this journey and with the support of my peers, I choose to let go of my fear of public speaking and know that I will be able find the right words and my use of my voice. One thing I will be keeping in the back of my mind is that “Happiness comes from Hopefulness”.

~Meghan, St. James, Amesbury

Preparations: Emily

In order to respond to God's call on the Arizona/ Mexico trip, I need to let go of any nerves I may have. Worrying about small things in the craziness of traveling will not give me any help in connecting to God and the people of Arizona and Mexico. In fact, it will only bring stress to me and other members of the team, making the trip a negative experience. Any factor that could distract me in communicating better during this trip is one that I would like to leave behind. Nerves can result in feelings that I don't want the trip to be associated with. In order to make sure that nerves do not take part in the mission trip, I need prayers. So before the trip, it needs to be prayed that everyone will remain calm and happy (instead of nervous and stressed). Also, another prayer I would love for others to take part in before the trip is that our group will not get caught up in the panic of traveling and will try our best to communicate with others and God. Doing this will not only make our trip better, but affect us for the rest of our lives by giving us a better relationship with God and his people. All these prayers will result in a fun, educational trip that will stay with all of the YLA members forever.

- Emily, St. Paul's, Lynnfield

Preparations: Autumn

As I prepare to go on this pilgrimage I need to leave behind my anxiety. That will be difficult since anxiety is a mental illness and something I can not just get rid of. For this trip I want to fully embrace God's call for me by putting my anxiety to the side. I want to experience this trip in the best way possible without stressing too much about every little thing. I need to leave my overthinking and stressing in Massachusetts as we embark for Arizona. On this trip I want to listen and understand other people's stories. I want to spend time with these girls, who are the best friends I could ever ask for. I want to have a great time and understand others' experiences. I want my perspective on life to change in a good way. To do all these things i will need to try my hardest to manage my anxiety for this trip and give my all to follow God's call for me. On this trip I will not let anxiety restrict me or my experience in Arizona and Mexico. I want to let go of overthinking about getting sick, overthinking about speaking my mind, and overthinking about where we are going. I need to let go of these things and manage my anxiety to follow God on this trip and be my true self.I hope my friends and family can pray for me on this trip. I hope they pray for me while I battle my anxiety on the trip. I hope they pray and believe that I can get over it. I also hope everyone prays for the other girls and the struggles they are facing too going into this trip. With these things in mind i will experience this trip in the best possible way and live life to the fullest.


- Autumn, Grace Church, New Bedford

Preparing: Claire

As I delve deeper into my faith during this time of elongated prayer, there will be several things I will wish to leave behind. I plan on leaving the items, both physically and through thought, that would hold back my learning of faith on this week long trip to Mexico and Arizona. Physically, I plan on leaving behind my cell phone, which would take away from the experiences of beauty, and distract me from living in the moment. However, I still want memories to be made, so I will be bringing a camera. Leaving this behind, I am hoping that the negative views I have been given by the media will stay in the back of my mind. Leaving this behind, I hope to understand what these people are going through, because they must also have hardships. This connects to the media because news and online social lives are what feed us the information about the border. We also truly have no idea how people on the border live. We again only hear horror stories about life on the border, but this could be incorrect. There could be beauty and happiness there, but we cannot see it because of everything we hear, and do not see. Lastly, I want to be able to live in the moment. This is something I have trouble with. My mind always wanders ahead, and I want to be able to keep a clear head and understand what is happening in the moment. I hope God can help me with those things, and guide me and my friends along our journey.

- Claire, Grace Church, New Bedford