On Faith in the Borderlands

 In Telling a Better Story

by Clara Duffy Shelter Connector + Border Encounter Facilitator, Abara

I think responding out of faith, upon chocándose with (or encountering) someone in need, must require compassion, or co-suffering. I learned this in part from a pastor and shelter director I met in Ciudad Juárez this year. First, Pastor Juan sees people.

“Aparte de todo el dolor de venían recorriendo, desde donde salieron, hasta llegar a esta frontera, que fue realmente un movimiento muy difícil para ellos…incluso expusieron su vida más de una vez. Algunos llegaron enfermos, lastimados, y sin esperanza…”

(Beyond all of the pain that they are fleeing in the place they left…arriving at this border is in truth a very difficult maneuver for them. They are putting their lives in danger over and over again, and they are arriving here sick, hurt, and without hope.)

Secondly, Pastor Juan allows seeing people to move him to action.

In their context, taking action in compassion means Pastor J and Pastora D may accept more guests without knowing whether they’ll have sufficient food for the day. This doesn’t make sense according to any human metric or logic—their co-suffering has meant making beds on the floor for new arrivals, over and over again, because compassion doesn’t always fit inside clean numbers or codes or regulations.

“Y Dios ha seguido mandando la ayuda, como se ha ido necesitando.”

(And God has been sending the help, in the moments it has been needed.)

I think there’s a gap here that’s worth recognizing. We can believe with our heads that God will provide for our needs. We can affirm that in scripture and in history. But will we faithfully move in the gap between the need and the providence?

I see that sort of faith in Pastor Juan and Pastora Dolores — welcoming the stranger BEFORE they have everything they need. I think this is because the nature of their co-suffering, their compassion flowing from faith in a suffering God, will not let them turn away from the stranger at their door. They are already too surrendered to God, whose very character is to leave comfort and meet us in our weakness and need. So in faith, they are acting in the gap, when the needs are not yet met, trusting that God will provide. What true and exceptional faith displayed in our friends here on the border! Thanks be to God for Pastor Juan and Pastora Dolores.

Pastora Dolores passed away suddenly in late 2022. A new shelter building has been dedicated to her, and she is deeply missed by her family and friends. Her legacy is profound and rich, and Pastor Juan continues to do this work in her absence. 

Abara inspires connections beyond borders through mutual understanding, education, and meaningful action. The organization supports churches providing temporary shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez for over 10,000 asylum seekers each month. Abara networks with site directors, understands current needs, collects & distributes donations, and connects volunteers. They also offer immersive experiences to further understanding of border realities and needs.

Read the original post, as well as the version of this reflection in Spanish on Abara’s blog.

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