Listening with Open Hearts: Reflections from a Border Trip (Part 1)
The last week of June, Women of Welcome (WoW), a community dedicated to diving into the whole of scripture to understand God’s heart for the immigrant and refugee, led a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, hosted by Abara, with a group of 15 women. During the trip, these women heard testimonies and stories from people who live and work on the border serving immigrants and refugees. We asked a few staff members and participants to share a little about their experience. We’ll be sharing their reflections here over the next month.
Brittani Farrington’s Reflection
When I found out I’d be heading to the Southern border with Women of Welcome, there was one major concern in my mind. Would my 30-weeks-pregnant self be able to withstand the desert heat and long days on my feet? Would I be able to show up as an active learner and helpful resource, or would I be hiding in any patches of shade we could find, chugging water and gobbling down granola bars? Could I handle it?
I was not the only woman living out her pregnancy in the desert. On our first day of the trip, we planned to visit a shelter in Juarez, Mexico, to spend time with migrants waiting for their chance to cross into the United States. The plan was derailed for a great reason – everyone at that shelter was able to leave and start their asylum process that day! In the end, the team at Abara arranged for us to visit a shelter for the most vulnerable: pregnant women, women with young children, and women fleeing domestic abuse. This divine detour was a gift in more ways than I have space to tell you here.
I had been worried about how I would withstand the desert heat for just two days. But many of the women I met traveled hundreds and thousands of miles through the desert while pregnant. We differed not only in the intensity of our respective journeys but also in the circumstances we were leaving. I was leaving my comfortable home and my supportive husband. They were leaving unimaginably difficult and dangerous situations. An arduous, weeks-long trek through deserts was a safer option for them than staying home.
Patricia, the shelter Director, has been serving there since they opened three years ago. She is a trained psychologist and, along with her sister, serves around the clock supporting the women there. If she is weary (and how could she not be!), you would never know it. She told us that the best part of her job is being constantly surrounded by new life. Thirty-two precious babies have been born there in the past three years: born into a community that loves them dearly, but that faces so much precarity. Will their mothers find safety in the United States? Will they qualify for asylum? (Even if they in fact meet the requirements to qualify, will they have the documentation to prove it?) Those questions linger, but the joyful squeals and candies and Minnie Mouse shirts hanging up to dry are testament to the work the leaders and mothers have done to create a happy environment for children amidst the deep pain and uncertainty of waiting.
As I was about to leave the shelter, Patricia pulled me aside. She touched my pregnant belly and said she had something for me. She gave me a gift that she gives to each baby that is born there: a rosary. With its purple beads and humble cross, our little girl is now woven into the stories of the other babies that came through that shelter. The difference: by virtue of the passport I hold – which really isn’t a virtue, as I did nothing to earn it – I was in a position to say goodbye, give many hugs, and make it back into an air-conditioned van and back across the border. The others remained, waiting for their chance to access the protections that I was born into.
Sarah Walton’s Reflection
I sat with tears in my eyes as I looked around at the worn faces of refugee mothers and children that bore the weightiness of the horrors they’ve endured out of desperation to save their families from the daily stench of violence, famine, or death. Here I was, sitting among women and children from six different countries, all with uniquely painful stories – yet with a level of courage and strength rarely seen. But what struck me most was the tenderness, kindness, and gratitude that they embraced me with. It didn’t take long for tears to roll down my flushed cheeks as I sat in the uncomfortably hot and humid living quarters that these women were grateful to call home when no one else would receive them. My tears were mixed with grief over these precious image bearers of God who are rarely treated with the dignity and humanity they deserve, amazement over their perseverance, sacrifice, and fortitude out of love for their family, and conviction over how many sweeping and misguided assumptions I have made in ignorance to those pushed to the fringes of society.
Brittani Farrington lives with her family in Holland, Michigan and is the Discipleship Coordinator for Women of Welcome.
Sarah Walton is a mom of four children and the author of Hope When it Hurts, Together Through the Storms, and Tears and Tossings. She and her family reside in Colorado Springs.