New beginnings at the border - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2021 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border


Preparing food packages at La Tilma, a food ministry at Sacred Heart Parish near the border in El Paso.

Hello Everyone,

In August I drove from Virginia out to my new ministry assignment in El Paso, Texas, to work on the U.S.-Mexico border.

I am now living in the Encuentro Project house, and my main ministry will be working with the immersion trips for groups who want to learn more about migration along the border. For the most part, the groups are Jesuit high schools and colleges or from dioceses across the country.

In addition, I also plan to do another ministry across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Until my ministries are set up more firmly, I have helped out a few times with Casa del Refugiado, a shelter run by Annunciation House for people who have been released from detention by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It offers short-term housing and transportation to the bus station and airport for migrants who are in transit to sponsoring family or friends. When there, I give out supplies like toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, etc., and bedding and towels for those who will stay over. I also help get those who need it additional clothing and shoes.

The migrants who have been picked up on the border are given sweat pants and t-shirts to wear, and they want to have regular clothing before traveling. I also help serve the evening meal. Most of the migrants are Spanish speaking, so I can communicate with them. However, one day we had a Turkish family who spoke no English. We had to rely on Google Translate to communicate.

I also helped migrants at the airport get to their flights. For most, it was their first time ever flying!

Outside Sacred Heart Parish.

One day I assisted preparing food with fellow missioner Coralis Salvador at La Tilma, a food ministry of Sacred Heart Church for homeless persons and day laborers. That day we also had former lay missioner Merwyn DeMello helping out. He is currently volunteering for a few months with Annunciation House.

Being here on the border, I am able to witness first-hand what the migrants go through to enter the United States. Those who have been held in Mexico waiting for clearance to come in, have often been there for a long time so have been able to pack a small bag. Those crossing the border have nothing with them except cell phones and a few personal items.

All are risking enormous odds to flee violence or other situations that make it impossible to stay in their countries of origin.

For those of you who know my love of cold weather and snow, you can imagine how hard the adjustment is for me here — with temperatures in the 90s every day! Fortunately, there is air conditioning. Also, at the end of August, we got a nice break one day when we Maryknoll lay missioners, the Marist Brothers and other volunteers went to the mountains in New Mexico, where it was 20 degrees cooler.

I appreciate all your prayers and support.

Debbie Northern

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.