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Saturday, 27 April 2019 15:15

Border Volunteers from Kirkland, WA

Written by Roger Schiltz
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Roger Schiltz – Seattle Chapter

In March, Kitty and I welcomed asylum seekers from Latin America on the Texas-Mexico border at McAllen, Texas.

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change.
– Pope Francis, Lent 2017 

Volunteers from Kirkland ready to cross borders to welcome refugees. Photos courtesy of Jerrie Drinkwine

Bienvenido! Welcome! We welcomed the families, moms, dads, and kids with smiles, handshakes, and kindness. Moms and dads were immediately relieved to be in a safe, kind, and loving place—the Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. We felt like real Americans with our history of welcoming strangers into our country and real Christians with love in our hearts.

Sr. Ann, a Sister of Mercy from Philadelphia, oriented us to the well-used former nursing home. We followed her wondering what task we could do as volunteers. The first room was packed full of donated clothing from all over the US that needed to be sorted into women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing. Someone had to do this separation of clothing. Next were the rooms for clean clothes, a separate room for infants’ clothes, shoe room, coat room, and men’s clothing rooms. The women’s room was a special place for the women volunteers and women to meet. They fitted and refitted clothing considering style and preference. What a beautiful and loving experience for all. I didn't think I would be of much help here. 

Guess who missed the group photo—Kitty and Roger Schiltz.

 Asylum seekers, with only these clothes, will go to all corners of the United States to sponsors (usually relatives) who are paying for their trip. They will live with their sponsors awaiting their trial as asylum seekers for up to two years or more. They will not be able to work at this time or travel far as they have ankle GPS to show their whereabouts.

In the next room, three or four volunteers were making ham and cheese sandwiches for the 500 people who process through this facility each day. Kitty volunteered with others from 9AM to 4PM, making over 2,000 sandwiches each day. The sandwiches were part of a lunch a bag that included 4 sandwiches, 2 bottles of water and 7 snacks per family. This lunch would be packed for their Greyhound bus ride to their sponsors.

We continued our guided tour of the Respite Center. No one had chosen a place to work except a nurse and her translator. They would be in the clinic every day. One day they saw 90 patients. All food, clothing, and the facility for these 500 people a day were donated privately.

The cleaning crew, l to r: Robert Wynne, MM, Roger Schiltz, and Sunna Todd

Sister Ann led us to the far end of the former nursing home. The building is on its last legs, but the facility functions with athletic mats for beds in small private rooms and space for children to play outside. Sr. Ann led us to the last place. All 17 of us listened. Sr. Ann said, “The toilets haven›t been cleaned in 3 days (500 people a day), and the showers have to be cleaned, and towels (for 500 people a day) have to be washed.” Fr. Bob, Sunna, and I volunteered.

 “God promises refreshment and freedom to all the oppressed of our world, but he needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help...above all, God needs our hearts to show his merciful love towards the least, the outcast, the abandoned, the marginalized.»  Homily, Mass for Migrants, Pope Francis 2018

The two women’s toilets and the two men’s toilets were flush toilets that plugged up if toilet paper was put down them. Used toilet paper was placed in trash cans beside the toilets. Garbage overflowed the cans and a foot-high pile of soiled toilet paper remained on the floor. We wore two pair of plastic gloves cleaning and emptying the soiled toilet paper. What beauty! (There is irony here.) What a beautiful experience we had working together cleaning the filthy toilets and washing towels and clothes.

Using all our senses and our hands, working together in community making Christ alive, we are the body of Christ being God’s hands in the toilets and laundry room in the Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

After 24 hours or less, the migrants leave the Respite Center after a shower, a meal or two, and a nap. They have been welcomed, given clean clothes and a ticket to travel to their sponsors in the United States. They have a lunch and a note saying they do not speak English to be used along the way. They will travel many miles away from their homes and the border seeking a better life in the North.

Back at the Respite Center, the work will continue with the same activities again and again. New crews will come to volunteer, and the whole beautiful welcome will continue as well.


     

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between ‘master’ builder and the worker. We are the workers, not the master builders, the ministers, not the messiah. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

—From “A Future Not Our Own,” by Bishop Ken Untener, written in memory of Saint Oscar Romero. This painting appears near the hospital chapel where he was shot during Mass.


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