Ministries at the Border

Healing Balm in a Broken World: Reflection on Immigration Work at the Border

By Sister Bárbara Gutiérrez, SNDdeN

This article initially appeared in the inaugural issue of our magazine, 'Sowing Goodness.' The full issue is available here.

Since we arrived in America in 1840, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have educated immigrant children and adults in our schools. The work has not been easy, nor has it been welcomed or supported by everyone. In the 1850s, Irish immigrants in Boston and Chinese immigrants in California faced discrimination and legal restrictions, similarly today, immigrants and refugees from Latin America continue to face the same conditions. And just as importantly, SNDdeN continue to advocate for them, serve them, and love them— different women, same mission. Our work with migrants and refugees continues despite the obstacles we face in dealing with our immigration system and public opinion.

During the past December and January, I had the opportunity to join our SNDdeN in Phoenix, Arizona, where Sisters from around the country contribute to our work with asylum seekers. There, I witnessed some of the brokenness in our world. It is tragic and difficult to get my head around the fact that there are more than 100 million displaced people in the world according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

What can we possibly do to help 100 million people experiencing hunger, violence, threats, discrimination, and lack of medical services? Like any other mind-blowing statistic, it changes when we put a face to a number and a name to the face, and we do what we can to make a positive impact by helping one person at a time.

My experience in Phoenix helped me not get disheartened about our global reality but to carry on. I listened to horrific stories of people who wanted to be heard; while those stories of brokenness made my heart heavy, the faith and hope reflected in the faces of men, women and children soothed my heart and gave me hope—paradoxical situations every day!

A little nine-year-old girl whose feet hurt because the black canvas slip-on shoes she received at the detention center were too small for her found joy in a new pair of shoes. Her toes were red, and she had blisters. We had five new children’s tennis shoes at the Center, and one pair fit her perfectly. I helped her put new socks on and try the shoes. In a ‘Cinderella’ story, the shoes fit, and the child became a princess. She smiled as if she had received the greatest treasure and she could not stop looking at her new shoes. It was a bittersweet moment for me as I could not stop wondering when was the last time she had a new pair to wear.

A man traveling to North Carolina on the same day he arrived at the Center told me he had not seen his son in four years. When I said to him, “You will be holding him in your arms before the end of the day,” he wept. There was pain reflected in his face but also hope and joy. Is that even possible?

These are two of the many situations that made me feel grateful, humble and powerless, all at once. The experiences reminded me that although we cannot solve all the problems in our world, we must do the little things we can. We do our part through small and seemingly insignificant tasks, and through the grace of God, we become a healing balm for broken hearts in a broken world.

Sisters Bárbara Gutiérrez and Meg Walsh in Phoenix, Arizona.

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