In leaving from the mission trip to Arizona and Mexico with YLA, I am taking back with me confirmation that undocumented migrants are still genuine human beings who deserve love and listening. I discovered this confirmation in talking to and feeding the migrants. Hearing their stories- where the people told me they had families at home worrying about them, they wanted to be better people, or that they had not slept in a long time- really inspired me to want to help. Especially stories where migrants were leaving their homes because of violence moved me, since I cannot imagine it.
Even before our trip started, we were told to listen to the stories and take what we have learned from the people back to our churches and communities and tell their stories. Throughout the week, there were several stories that stuck out with me, and I will be keeping and sharing along my travels. We have heard how media plays a role in the misinterpretation of the problem at the border, both with border patrol and with the immigrants themselves.
During our short week in Arizona/Mexico I have learned so much. The experiences I have had this week opened the eyes of my heart and mind and have touched me in many ways. Leaving this trip I want to take the stories from the migrants and others home with me. One moment that really meant a lot to me was visiting the Juan Bosco migrant shelter in Nogales Mexico.
I will remember this week forever. We met so many selfless and hospitable people this week. What stood out to me most was the number of truly selfless and giving people that we met this week. The Reverend Ernie and the congregation of St. Andrew’s welcomed us as soon as we arrived on Friday night with delicious authentic Mexican food, and they were so open in telling their stories to us during the forum after the service on Sunday.
Most of us braved the 103 degrees to walk the labyrinth outside of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix during our visit to this church.
Quote of the day: “The migrants are the heroes here, the strangers in our midst who are angel in disguise.” (Gene LaFavre, No Mas Muertes, making reference to Hebrews 13:2
We started off the day in our hotel in Tucson. We then drove to Phoenix for our last day in Arizona. We visited Gene LaFavre, the founder of No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths). Our guide Ricky is a volunteer with No Mas Muertes, and introduced us to Gene. No Mas Muertes is a humanitarian aid organization that takes trips into the desert and leaves water for the migrants. The program was started because a group of people, including Gene, were upset about the amount of migrant deaths in the desert. They started three organizations, No Mas Muertes being the last one. The program was started in 2004. Gene is in his late 80’s and is still going out doing water drops! Gene talked about some of his encounters with migrants and their outstanding stories. He told us about a women with her two kids that had prayed to god for an angel and the next day Gene and two other volunteers showed up. She said that God had sent her three angels to bring her water. Gene said that he likes to think of the migrants as the real angels.
We then had lunch at a fusion sandwich restaurant. The restaurant was two blocks away from the Episcopal cathedral, Trinity. We toured the worship space and altar. There were some beautiful stain glass windows. We finished with dinner at La Piazza and ice cream at Novel. We are staying at a hostel tonight to finish the year in a place with a feeling of community and togetherness.
We look forward to getting home to our families and friends, but we will miss Las Fronteras, with its beautiful landscapes and beautiful, heroic people.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.