At the border, Posadas is every day - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2021 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

View of El Paso and border bridge from the Mexican side of the border

As we approach Christmas, I recall participating in the Posadas in El Salvador. This tradition, popular in Latin America, is based on the biblical story of Mary and Joseph looking for housing in Bethlehem and finding “no room in the inn.” We would all meet each night and accompany “Mary” and “Joseph” from house to house looking for shelter and being turned away until, finally, one household would realize who was at the door and let the couple and everyone in.

When I assist at a shelter in El Paso and another one in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, I feel like it is an everyday Posada. Individuals, couples and families have fled their countries for a variety of reasons and hope to come to the United States to find a safe shelter. They often are turned away at the doorstep. Most have no money or resources, having been robbed or trafficked along the way.

Even though asylum seekers by law have the right to ask for protection, the U.S. regularly denies them this opportunity. Asylum seekers and other migrants are told to wait in Mexico where they are preyed upon by cartels, gangs, and police. Often they have been stripped of their clothing and given sweatpants, t-shirts and flip flops at the detention centers before being sent back over the bridge into Mexico. They must try to find some safe shelter and wait to see if they will be able to enter the U.S.

The flood of migrants will continue to flow until a solution is found to the poverty, climate issues and violence in their home countries. In the meantime, they need a safe haven. Many of them have valid fear for their lives and the lives of their families if they return.

How can we as Christians respond? Are we going to turn people away or find a way to fix our broken immigration system to better address the factors that lead people to leave their country and seek safety? Most of the migrants are trying to enter legally, but the system is set up to take 20 or 30 years or more for legal entry; by then it is too late. Without recourse to a legal entry and desperate to take care of their families, migrants resort to hiring coyotes to bring them to the U.S., and many die or are severely injured trying to cross the desert, climb the wall or cross the river.

Educational material for kids in the Juárez shelter

At the shelter in Juárez where I volunteer, there are two families who have already been there for a couple of years. They are awaiting a hearing in the U.S. on their asylum cases. They cannot leave the house because they do not have legal status in Mexico. The children cannot go to school, but thanks to the generosity of some donors, I was able to get some educational materials to help them learn.

For my main ministry with the Encuentro Project immersion trips, we recently hosted a group from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, which included Bishop Thomas Zinkula, a deacon and four diaconate candidates, and the editor of the diocesan newspaper. El Paso’s Bishop Mark Seitz joined us for dinner one night, and when the group went to Juárez, we met with the bishop there. It was inspiring to hear leaders of the church talk so passionately about social justice.

Please continue to pray for all the migrants and refugees around the world so that they may find a safe haven. Also, let us remember all the migrants who have died on their journeys.

I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and happy New Year! Thank you all for your support over the past year.

Debbie Northern

I am so grateful for your continuing support of my ministry. During this season of giving, I would like to urge you to consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign. This new campaign raises money for the recruitment, training and on-going support of all of us lay missioners serving in Africa, Asia and the Americas. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us.

A group of donors has already pledged to match the dollars raised by this campaign 2-to-1. That means that every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. This campaign will ensure that Maryknoll Lay Missioners will be able to continue to send and to support missioners like me in the years to come. Please pray for the success of this campaign and if you are able, please donate at the “Walk With Us” button below. 

Debbie Northern
Based in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Northern leads border immersion experiences with the Encuentro Project and assists migrants at shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.