Obstacles and joys at the border - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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February 2022 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

Volunteers giving out soup at the diocesan shelter

As I write this, our Encuentro Project immersion groups are on hold because of the upsurge in COVID cases and some zoning issues. But we hope to be able to resume shortly.

In the meantime, I have been assisting at a couple of shelters in El Paso. Casa de Refugiados needed additional volunteers for a couple weeks because most of their in-house volunteers had COVID. They were seeing about a 30%-positive rate among the migrants coming to the shelter, so that was probably a factor! The shelters had to close for a few days because hotel space was no longer available for quarantining the COVID-positive migrants. There were few migrants coming, so I spent most of my time washing blankets and towels. I swear they were multiplying on their own.

Often family members are split up, and people arriving to the shelters are desperate to find their loved ones. They ask to stay at the shelter until they can be reunited so they can go to their sponsor together. Since Casa de Refugiados is a large facility, it is possible for people to stay there longer.

Recently a Turkish woman, who had arrived at the shelter, was hoping to find her husband and sister-in-law. I was in the office when she came in all excited and showed me her phone where she had written, with the help of Google translate, that her sister-in-law was at the airport and wanted to come to the shelter. I wasn’t sure that she was actually at the El Paso airport, but my question really wasn’t answered. I also explained that I needed to talk to the shift supervisor to get permission for her sister-in-law to come.

A little later, she returned with her phone, which now said that her sister-in-law had arrived and was outside! I took her to the door and found her sister-in-law and another Turkish woman. The joy of the reunion was so touching. It turned out that the new arrivals were welcome to stay. They were so grateful and were able to leave together later on. Unfortunately, I never found out if her husband was able to join them or not. I hope so.

With the Marist Brothers in Juárez, Mexico

The numbers of migrants being released from the detention center in El Paso varies, with no real rhyme or reason. The Diocese of El Paso has opened a smaller shelter that only accepts migrants on Mondays, so I am helping out there now. Since it has only limited indoor space, the intake and COVID testing has to be done outside.

Since it is winter, our morning temperatures are only in the 30s, so the folks getting off the bus are cold; they only have on sweatpants, t-shirts and flip flops. (The state of Texas takes away all their clothing at the detention center and does not return it.) Volunteers hand out coats, sweatshirts and socks until they can come inside and get warmer clothing and shoes. Also, nice hot soup is available while they await the results of their COVID tests.

I have been busy preparing and participating as a delegate in the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Mission Assembly. We were hoping to meet in person for the Feb. 14 – 24 sessions, but with COVID fears that was not possible, so we will continue to meet virtually. This Mission Assembly is to set the course of Maryknoll Lay Missioners for the future. We hope and pray that our meeting will be fruitful and lead us to better serve in mission.

In January we welcomed a new lay missioner to our region, Deirdre Griffin, who is a Sister of St. Joseph and an immigration attorney. She is now spending a couple months at language school in Mexico before returning to El Paso. We Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Marist Brothers who work with us in El Paso all went over to visit the Marist Brothers in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for a day, so Deirdre and I could meet them.

Debbie Northern

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

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.