As I prepared to travel to the Texas/Mexico border for a week, quite a few people asked me about my expectations and hopes. I didn’t have much to say because I really didn’t know exactly what I had said “Yes” to doing. I didn’t know how many migrants we’d meet with harsher immigration policies in place; I didn’t know what the home looked like where I’d be staying; I’d never been in Texas before; I didn’t know if we’d cross over to Mexico; on and on the list of unknowns went.
The landscape at the Boerne monastery
Usually a laundry list of unknowns is extremely uncomfortable for me. But, as we made it through our three flights that ended in San Antonio, Julian of Norwich must have been with me. I truly felt, “All shall be well.”
Maybe it was that we were met with the usual Benedictine hospitality when the prioress from the Boerne community came to pick us up from the airport and then took us out for a meal. Maybe it was that the community of sisters welcomed us so warmly at the monastery, with a curiosity about us and joy to be with us. Maybe it was the 3-hour car ride to the border the next morning with two sisters from the community. All was well.
As you leave San Antonio and get closer and closer to Eagle Pass, the border city where we stayed, it gets flatter and flatter. You can try to imagine people fleeing from their homes and their countries into this unknown land, full of fear, questions, and full of so much more emotion. I could never, though, imagine the extent of the realities that would cause someone, or some family, to risk so much—me being from a safe place with so much privilege.
The view near the border
When we arrived at Sr. Ursula’s home, the Benedictine sister who lives and ministers there, we were immediately greeted by someone whose reality is the former. A mother and her two sons, who fled Honduras because of violence, live with Ursula while waiting a court date, while her husband lives in prison as he awaits his own. And while we immediately clicked with this mother who could not have been too much older than myself, I sat there in conversation wondering so much about her truth, her experience, and her future. Her two sons each have a truth of their own as they begin acclimating to a new school system, a new language, and a new culture. And for as much as we conversed, again, these are realities we could never fully appreciate or grasp.
Our day-to-day schedule was a new monastic rhythm for us. Later mornings meant later evenings; we weren’t living on our own schedule anymore. Perhaps the 8 o’clock dinners were the hardest part for me! I am usually in my pajamas by then, or close! We spent our days helping Ursula arrange donations, organize her food pantry, make beds for people staying over, unload trailers with items to give away—many tasks you might imagine. Then we would usually head across the border and into Piedras Negras, the Mexican city on the other side of the Rio Grande.
The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo
When you cross the bridge, you see the river, called the Rio Bravo in Spanish, that migrants must cross to make it to Texas, and it doesn’t look too wide, or too dangerous. But then you find out that the water can be 10-13’ feet deep, and you hear the stories of people dying while swimming; you understand how it gets its Spanish name.
In Mexico, Sr. Ursula has an entire other ministry, one that spans helping in any way she can at a boys’ and a girls’ orphanage, a home for migrants, a home for people with disabilities, two soup kitchens, and other ministry work. It is an amazing network of people doing good, and Ursula helps to facilitate and sustain the work at these places. It was true gift to encounter these people who have significantly less still reaching out their hands in service to others. It was humbling.
At the girls’ orphanage
After the first day or two of living a different schedule, not doing things at the exact time we said we would, lingering and talking to others much longer than we would here, I found myself in one of those spiritual sticky situations where I had to quickly let go of my idea of how things would be done; I had to give up my desire to control and learn to simply be with Ursula in her ministry, helping her in any way I could. After that wake-up call, I found myself sinking into the experiences that followed with much greater joy and gratitude and much less anxiety. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect going into this week of my life, but I certainly took myself, and all my spiritual baggage, with me!
It’s hard to describe how much my time at the border meant to me, and having returned only a few days ago, it is something that is still very much unfolding and will continue. It surprised me how drastic the change felt coming back home to the Mount and back to work; there was definite new perspective—for which I am quite grateful. I know I have much more to say, especially about the beautiful monastic spirit that is Sr. Ursula (and, of course, about all the wonderful food! Olé!), but this is a start as I begin to embrace a new truth of my own that now includes having had this deeply meaningful and moving experience.
Let us walk in the holy presence.