It was a horrendous trip – delayed by a winter storm far worse than expected with states and citizens not prepared or used to the amount of snow and ice. We sat three hours on a closed highway in Oklahoma. Then once we got into New Mexico, we were trying to beat another storm so we kept going. Unfortunately, it caught up to us about half way through the state and late into the night. I won’t go into the details but we were traveling much slower than the speed limit and had a few harrowing moments.
Part way through this journey we realized that our experience might have some similarities to those of the refugees that we would be interacting with. We were all desperate to get to El Paso… we wanted to escape the danger of the snow and begin our service, they wanted to escape the violence of gangs and poverty and begin a new, more promising life. We were both at the mercy of the government… we needed them to plow and salt the roads, they needed to be processed and sent to a hospitality center. We all needed rest and refreshment after difficult journeys.
But there were some big differences. We could afford to stop at a nice hotel to wait out the storm. We had a safe, warm vehicle to travel in, plenty of warm clothing, and nutritious food. We knew where we were going and how to communicate with others if we were stuck. The asylum seekers were not so fortunate sleeping rough, bringing little more than the clothes on their backs, and with little money for food or shelter. Most had never travelled by plane and where afraid of this final leg of their journey to their sponsors.
We arrived safely in El Paso after 18 hours or so and completed our ministry in the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of El Paso. Each of us shared the gifts we had for language, cooking, organizing, and cleaning. We met some courageous mothers and fathers from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and Russia whose only desire was to live in peace and provide for their families. We were blessed over and over again during our two weeks. It was a journey that was meant to be.