Ximena and Cody will be dropping some knowledge on ya today, live from McAllen, TX, in the lobby of the Hotel of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle. On this wonderful Thursday, we loaded up the Momma rockets (vans) and drove over to Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen for a Spanish mass at 8:15.
Even though it wasn’t in English, our Catholic mass is structured enough that we always knew what part of the mass that we were at, and tried our best to follow along.
After every mass at Sacred Heart, the community always came over and thanked us for being there, as well as checked in on how our week was going. They were very happy to pray with us. Their genuine interest in our work, and their joy in celebrating faith with a group of young people made us feel very at home and welcome.
We then transitioned over to the refugee center, where we snapped into action with 18 refugees arriving in the 9:30 group. This was the biggest group that we had served so far. By now, everyone had found a place in which they enjoyed serving, whether it was walking with a family through the process and picking out new clothes for them, or maintaining the showers outside. We all bounced between these and other duties throughout the day, eventually welcoming 29 refugees with an enthusiastic Bienvenidos!
It was very eye opening to see that most of the refugees coming through were a parent with one or several children. We thought that it was very interesting to compare the common perception of immigrants coming and taking American jobs, when most of the immigrants we have met this week were under the age of 21, and unable to work. It was incredibly humbling to listen to their stories about the violence, poverty, and injustices they were leaving behind, and the hardships that they had along the way. Coming here from Central America, these families had journeys lasting anywhere between 17 and 24 days, and they had to walk for a great part of it.
At the end of our last day here with the refugees, we got to literally walk with them for a short part of this journey. The head of the center, whose name is Eli, asked our group to accompany the refugees to the bus station, about three or four blocks down an alleyway from the church. We walked amongst the parents carrying their children through the darkened alley, and it was a very powerful moment for all of us, because it almost felt like we were getting a glimpse into what it was like for them to walk into the unknown. It allowed us to imagine ourselves walking with them in their previous journey, though we knew it could not compare to it at all to it. Moving alongside a smiling father holding his sleeping infant and a mother clutching her daughter’s arm with loving concern amidst the silhouettes of the rest of the traveling family of refugees pushed down the walls of life that may have been separating us, and let us step into their reality for a brief, but beautiful, moment.
There are really no words to describe what we saw and experienced, but it was a love and understanding which we won’t forget.
Afterword, as we were leaving Sacred Heart, Red Leader (Dan) spotted a group of people worshiping under a big awning in another alleyway. We quickly stopped, piled out, and hustled over to join them. They greeted us with hugs, kisses, and hallelujahs, and welcomed us into their praise and worship. After clapping along to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” we decided to depart to more hugs, kisses, and hallelujahs. What we thought was going to be a Mariachi street performance, turned into an awesome experience of faith on the streets of McAllen.
Oh by the way, things got a little tongue-and-cheek today when Eli slow-cooked a cow tongue and cheek for us in his Dallas Cowboys crockpot. We both preferred the cheek, though both were authentically delicioso; one of the many new experiences in our time down here in Texas, USA.
In Tar’s words, it was a knockout day, and we’re really excited for all that the Lord has left in store for us on this trip. But for now, as NSYNC so deftly put it, “You may hate me, but it ain’t no lie, baby bye bye bye, BYE BYE!”
The Morning was packed with goodness on all accounts. We started out by going to Sacred Heart, but there were so many volunteers that we decided to let the other groups get a chance to encounter the richness that our friends, the refugees bring. After leaving Sacred Heart we went back to the Basilica and did Stations of the Cross. The Basilica has life-sized statues of the stations on a walkway that spans all the way around the Basilica. This gave a lot of people a whole new view of Jesus. It was different being able to see how the size can relate Jesus to us. All too often we only see Jesus on the cross or in a painting, and not really up close. Being able to see the facial expressions made the feelings of Jesus present, and we were able to encounter Him in a whole new way. Having to walk between the stations was a way to be with Christ on His walk so that we may join him and take up our own cross. We were able to connect the struggles and injustices that the refugees have faced with the trials of Jesus in his crucifixion. From there, we had lunch and went back to Sacred Heart.
While the weather outside was stormy, the atmosphere in Sacred Heart was anything but gloomy. We were able to spend time with volunteers from other groups and share the experiences we have had with the refugees. We all enjoyed being able to help in any way possible, from cleaning showers and playing with the children to going to get food for the refugees. We were in awe of Eli, who is the director of the center, as he made the refugees brief stay as comfortable as possible. He sends each group off by carefully explaining what they can expect in their journey to their destinations to be with their loved ones. He wishes them a safe journey, and expresses his desire to hear of their safe and successful journeys. His compassion and dedication was evident in these interactions. Being able to understand Eli’s devotion was simply amazing. Truly a blessed Soul!
Taylor and John
Welcome to the blog post of AJ and Taylor! Proceed with caution…
Beginning the day with mass at Sacred Heart Parish was a great way to get our corazones de servicios started. From there, things only got better. We spent the next part of the morning helping clean and organize the inventory. Eli, who is in charge of the Sacred Heart Refugee Center, took us to the El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consulates, where we were able to see and hear from the people that work at them. They opened our eyes to the different types of lives which people have that come across the border. The crime and dangers that surround them in their home countries are greater than we could ever imagine. Each country has its one issue and reasons as to why they leave. For Guatemala, it is because of the poor economy and lack of jobs where as Honduras and El Salvador are filled with violent cartels, which threaten lives. Young men are at great risk of being taken by the cartels and if they refuse, the cartels threaten the lives their families.
From there we went to lunch at Maria’s where the laughter was flowin’! Between the funny jokes and lighthearted conversations, this group is one that we are sure thankful to be apart of. Katie managed to close line herself in front of the restaurant, which gave everyone quite the laugh. After that we headed back to Sacred Heart where there were 14 migrants that we were able to be with. Thinking of their journey, it was hard for us to imagine ourselves in their shoes with the amount of danger and perils that they have to face. There is little to no security and everything they own was on their backs. They didn’t have anything to go back to and everything in front of them was risky and undetermined.
Along with these, so many blessing filled our day. Today was filled with eye opening experiences that is giving a wider perspective of the world around us. We are excited to see what tomorrow will bring.
Taylor and AJ
(Representatives of the unicorns in McAllen, Texas)
March 6, 2016
Hola amigos! Today, we started our morning with a beautiful mass at the Basillica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. The mass was in English (while they do offer bilingual masses) with a mariachi band that lead us in song. It was unlike any other mass we’ve been to before. After, we enjoyed some breakfast burritos at the cafeteria located next to the Basillica, we then journeyed to Sacred Heart, located in McAllen, to begin our service. At first, we toured the facility and learned about some of the refugees/immigrants and their stories. Since the first group didn’t come in until 3:30, we grabbed lunch and visited a park located right next to the river that separated the US from Mexico. After some reflection and good food, we headed back to Sacred Heart to begin our service. There, approximately 13 immigrants entered the building. We welcomed them with a well-deserved applause, warm smiles, and a big “bienvenidos” to acknowledge their journey to the states.
From there, the families sat down to fill out paperwork and talk about the next step to get to their final destination. Some were staying in Texas and others were going far beyond McAllen to places such as Los Angeles or North Carolina. After, they were directed to a table where the facility provided hygiene packs filled with toothpaste, combs, lotion, shampoo, etc. We then fed them with soup and tortillas while we asked about their clothing sizes and picked out a new and clean outfit for them. The families then had the opportunity to shower and get all cleaned up. Throughout this process, many graces were received and God’s presence was apparent. First off, not many of us speak Spanish, adding a frustrating but beautiful struggle to the way we all interacted and attempted to learn the stories of the families. The young children in particular were so full of joy, laughter, and life even in the face of the hardships they encountered traveling to America. The strength of the families was overwhelming, and learning about the realities they had been facing in their country and the means by which they traveled exposed our ignorance. We have experienced many emotions, learned many things, and are anxious for what the days ahead hold for us.
Hasta luego amigos!
Karlie and Val