Sisters Joye Gros and Norah Guy and Associate Joanna Magee are ministering to refugees in El Paso, TX. Thanks to Sr. Joye for her “word picture” of what this mission is like.
You see, we had learned at 10:30 PM on February 9 that we were to prepare a noon meal for 150 the very next day, February 10. We did not know what food we had in stock in the kitchen, so we had to go early to pick up keys, take an inventory, go shopping and begin the meal. Since we cooked in one location and needed to transport everything across town, we had to do some other time-consuming things, such as turn on the gas for the stove (which frightened both of us), line the trunk of the car to protect it from pasta sauce, etc.
We put the water on to boil. You know what they say about a watched pot! We chopped veggies by the dozens, made five huge containers of salad, mixed garlic butter and grilled buns, and made five huge containers of pasta with sauce. Since the pans we had were aluminum, we had to double stack them to protect from heat and spilling. It served as little protection. We wondered – will it be enough? Will everyone like it?? When we first arrived I had wished I could speak Spanish. Now, I wished I could cook massive amounts of Italian food!
We made it to the serving location by 12:30 and created an assembly line in a very tight space. Most of our guests had to eat on the floor in the hall, but the looks of anticipation and the expressions of gratitude eased our concerns.
After the meal, Norah and I took all the pans and utensils back to the kitchen across town to clean. Now, we’re talking 10 pans for pasta, five pans for salad, three pans for garlic buns – not to mention the grill, cooking pots, cutting boards… and then we had the stove, counter, trash and floor to clean up.!
Those aluminum serving pans have those corner ridges that are hard to clean and harder to dry.
With one meal done, we sat down to make dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the ‘go bags’. Each family gets a bag with food for the journey when they depart to travel to their sponsor. They are filled according to the means of transportation (bus or plane), the number of people in the family and the length of the journey. If there is a child in the family, we also pack a toy and a soft lap blanket.
But I digress… that was February 10. As I mentioned, Sue, aware how long we had worked, said we were only to work 8 hours on February 11. And by the way, would we prepare another lunch for 150?
So on February 11, we gave a repeat performance of food preparation, with a little more confidence this time. But confidence doesn’t boil the water any faster.
Once everyone was fed, we decided we’d clean up and go home, knowing it’d take longer than Sue suggested.
Joanna had been sick earlier in the week, but she was back to her nursing detail on this day. She asked if she could check out one sick child and return to help us clean up and go home. Clean up help – that sounded great!
But the sick child needed to go to the doctor with dad. Joanna went too – after dropping Norah and me at the center to clean up. We knew the drill – seeing a doctor with no appointment and no money means a LONG wait!!
Norah and I were left at the Center to clean up, make more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, empty HUGE bags of garbage (it took both of us to hoist them in the dumpster – what a sight!) and clean the refrigerator. Finally we were ready to go home – but wait! Joanna had the car.
When Joanna texted she was on her way back to drop of the dad and child and would take us home, we were relieved. (Did I mention how cold the center where Norah and I were cooking was?)
Dad and daughter were delivered. Only Joanna, acting as nurse, had to wait in line be checked out!!
I got a text from a volunteer asking if we had any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – they were out and needed some. We did, but we had no car to bring them. She also needed jackets, stored near the kitchen. Norah and I went to the clothing store and pushed, pulled and shoved two large cartons of jackets to a space near the front door so we could load them when the car arrived. Again, we were a sight to behold!
And we’re still waiting…
Since they were desperate for our sandwiches, another volunteer came to pick them up. I asked if she would take us home, as it was 7:30 with no end in sight. She was happy to do so.
Wait – it gets better. POTUS was speaking at the Coliseum so traffic was diverted. All the familiar routes were blocked, and all other cars were gridlocked trying the same intuitive options. The volunteer driver kept saying, “I hope my car doesn’t stop” and “I hope I don’t run out of gas!”
Of course, I offered to fill her gas tank, but would the car start up again?
We discovered that GPS is wonderful IF the expressways are open – no matter how we tried, the GPS kept sending us to Interstate 10, with considering Secret Service road closures, was definitely not an option.
Home at last… 12-hour shift. Our clothing wears pasta sauce and peanut butter. But we came to serve. We came to be useful.
These days have been a rollercoaster of emotions. We’ve been frantic. We’ve been hysterical with laughter. We’ve been tired. We’ve been tearful when we heard “Muchas Gracias” and when we saw parents’ tenderness toward their children, their care for one another, and the looks of relief, hope, and gratitude.
As Norah and I struggled to make do with so little, I recalled the story of the Loaves and Fishes; as we bemoaned the inadequacy of our skills, the instruction to Put Out Deeper… and as the dishes piled high, the commission to Feed My Sheep, if only peanut butter!