Kim Nunez – New Orleans Chapter
Our mission program (see Janet Rousso’s article) was an accompaniment, rather than doing for, as we connected with the people whom we visited. Little did we know when we planned the trip in the fall of 2017 that we would be there during the height of the Zero Tolerance Policy for migrants seeking refuge and asylum—and that hundreds of children were being put in detention facilities and separated from their mothers and fathers.
We spent time at the Border Wall and with the ARISE and Proyecto Juan Diego programs, both located in the heart of the colonias, getting to know families they served. While at Proyecto Juan Diego, we also sat in on a citizenship class as residents prepared and learned about being citizens in the United States. At La Posada and the Respite Center in McAllen, which serve mostly refugees, we met people from the Ukraine, the Congo, Mozambique, Guatemala, and Mexico. The Respite Center, a few blocks from the bus station in McAllen, serves both those coming into the US initially and others after they leave detention, who will join family/friends in another part of the country while they await a court date.
But what happened to me during my visit and has continued upon my return? I was transformed by the people I spent time with: Rosa, Julia, & Mario, to name a few. Immigrant, refugee, and migrant are no longer just words; I see faces of real people and their fortitude, belief in God, endurance. It has moved me to tears and changed my prayer time. While immigration was something I cared deeply about before going, I am still carrying the people who live and work in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in my heart. Now that I am home, I have begun to share the story—most people have reacted by saying thank you, because they understand the situation much better than they ever could by watching tv or reading about it. Perhaps my transformation can also open the eyes and hearts of others; that may be exactly why taking part in a mission program is so valuable. We accompanied each other there, but the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley continue to accompany me in my thoughts, heart, and prayer. As I reflect and pray, Matthew’s words now have more meaning and impact than ever:
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.