Before visiting the border with Abara Frontiers, I felt completely unsure about what was happening at the edges of the United States. I was even less sure of what my response to the issue of migration could or should be, and in light of this disconnection, my involvement level remained nonexistent. It all seemed distant, foreign, and separated from my everyday life. I have found this sentiment to be common.
In this space, I knew I wanted to learn more about what was happening at the border. In the summer of 2018, the headlines broke about the children separated from their parents and living in cages. One Sunday at church, my pastor stopped our service to pray, and we all circled up together to ask God for healing in this fragile place. It felt impossible to pray for something and remain aloof to the very topic. If I was asking God to move, surely I should know what I was asking Him to move about.
In the summer of 2019, I read about an opportunity to visit the El Paso/Juarez border with a group called Women of Welcome, facilitated by Abara Frontiers. I knew I wanted to learn: now was my chance. I tried to prepare by quieting my heart, but I knew I couldn’t fully anticipate what I would learn or how it would shape me. I wrote in my journal, “What if the suffering is true? What do I do with all this fear? With my desire for protection and stability and constancy? I would rather close my eyes to it all. I wonder – could I trust Jesus enough to ask him to rewire my entire heart towards generosity and courage and sacrifice and love?”
I boarded the plane and landed in El Paso. The experience facilitated by Abara was comprehensive, eye-opening, and tender. It was well-facilitated and addressed many of my questions. What was happening at the border? Why were people coming? How should the church respond? What does God say about immigration, refugees, and asylum seekers? What does the Border Patrol say? What do the asylum seekers themselves say?
All these questions, and more, were addressed, discussed, and answered as we met with and learned from community leaders, Border Patrol agents, and migrants themselves. I wrote in my journal, “I knew learning about what was happening at the border would be extremely heartbreaking – and it has been even worse than that. ‘Wake up, church,’ I want to whisper or yell, or both – but I know that I’m asking for people to let their hearts be broken and to cast their fear aside.” You can find more resources about what I learned and responses to those questions in the “Issues” section of this website. I now knew what was happening, how asylum seekers were coming to our border fleeing violence and persecution, and the trip left only one question remaining: how would I respond to everything I’d encountered in El Paso/Juárez from my own city?
My first response was to share. I wrote about my experience here. I wanted people to know what I had seen. But then, what was next? I prayed, dreamed, and brainstormed about what my role could be in responding to asylum seekers. How had God wired me? What was my story? Where did I fit in this narrative? One specific, unique opportunity came to mind: I work for an airline, and employees have the ability to provide select standby tickets to our connections throughout the year. I reached out to Abara and asked if plane tickets could assist them in their work. “Yes!” they responded.
As asylum seekers are released from detention, they sometimes have the ability to stay with host families throughout the US. Using my standby ticket benefits, we were able to partner together and fly asylum seekers all over the US to their host families. I’ve had the opportunity to fly African asylum seekers who experienced torture because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I’ve flown Central American asylum seekers as they have attended their court hearings. As I’ve played a role in connecting asylum seekers with their host families, it has been one of my favorite things, one of God’s sweetest gifts to me. As co-workers have found out, they’ve wanted to be involved too, and now the movement has grown! Hear below from one asylum seeker about his experience and the role Abara Frontiers played in his journey to safety.
You might be just learning about what is happening at the border of the United States and how it connects to the global refugee phenomenon. If so, a great next step could be to learn more by checking out this resource, this podcast, or this book. Or maybe you’re ready to take a next step in fulfilling God’s calling to welcome the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19), and there are innumerable creative ways you could choose to engage. Right now, the most practical need is for resources to help protect asylum seekers from COVID-19 and its repercussions, and if interested, donations can be made to Abara’s relief fund here.
“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me in,” Jesus declared in Matthew 25:35. May we each prayerfully and creatively find new ways to make this declaration true in our everyday lives.
Sarah Steinmann – Border Encounter Participant, September 2019