Editor’s note: FMS’ previous development associate Sarah Sokora relates her experiences of service and shared giving while volunteering at the Texas border.
“Lord, You know that I want to serve the homeless. Please give me the opportunity to do so.”
I prayed this prayer at the GIVEN Forum, hosted by the CMSWR in June of this year. Not a day later, I was listening to a sister speaking about people who were not only without a home, but without a homeland. The sister was Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ, and the people she was speaking of were refugees fleeing violence in Central America who had crossed the US border illegally into Texas, my home state. After being held and processed by US Border Patrol for 3-5 days, these refugees are left at the bus station, sometimes for days, to wait for the buses that will take them to their families in other cities and states, where they will await their court hearings. These refugees have little or nothing to call their own, haven’t showered or changed clothes in days, and hold babies without diapers and children without food.
Sister Norma and Catholic Charities had responded to this need by opening the Human Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church. And they needed volunteers.
This resonated inside me as a very obvious answer to my fervent prayer.
Now, I had never been to the border and my parents – wonderful and rational folks that they are – were not big fans of the idea. I didn’t know anyone down there, my Spanish is pretty terrible, and I didn’t have a new job lined up after FMS. Immigration is a very divisive topic these days, and I knew that many of my family and friends would disapprove of my decision, or take it as unbounded support of illegal immigration. But I could not ignore the strength of the call. So two weeks after finishing my time as an Office Associate with FMS, I found myself driving down the Texas coast to “The Valley.”
It was a Wednesday afternoon when I approached the red, chipped back doors of the Center. Inside, I found a mountain of trash bags to my left, tables and racks of clothes in the center of the room, and a mass of milling people directly in front of me. One of the head volunteers, an incredibly kind abuela named Alma, gave me a vest, thanked me, and sent me to organize t-shirts. And I was off!
Over the next two weeks, I delivered Omar’s medicine for his throat infection, walked Marisel and her three little girls to the bus that would take them to their father in Oklahoma, helped Jose’s kids get bundled up for their trip to New Jersey, and fed a host of new arrivals dinner.
What a gift and a blessing, to be able to be such a small part of the journey of all those I encountered. The little girls who took such an interest in rearranging my bangs, the adults whose “gracias” was accompanied by looks of profound gratitude, and the three-year-old who let me feed him his lunch – all these people gave me a much greater gift than I gave to them. I helped clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless. They, in turn, fed me with their hope, clothed me in their gratitude, and sheltered me in their joy.
Pope Francis has said that the works of mercy “reawaken in us the need and the capacity to make faith live and work through charity. I am convinced that through these simple daily gestures we can effect a true cultural revolution.” This cultural revolution starts with and within us; mercy transforms the world by first transforming our hearts.
Let us then move joyfully towards Christmas to allow Christ’s merciful Incarnation to transform our hearts so that we can love because He first loved us.
Reflection question: Listen to Sister Norma Pimentel’s talk on serving the vulnerable and reflect on your own daily life. How is God calling you to deeper service to the needs of those around you?