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Two Desert Days

4.23.21 rhonda

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Rhonda Eckerman describes two days from her time in mission at the US-Mexico border. She dives into the details of her experiences of encountering the harsh realities and hardships of a migrant. 

I am in the first months of my border mission here in Douglas, Arizona and recently have had two different yet inspiring experiences in the desert.

The first desert day began with a caravan of seven vehicles starting from Tuscon and traveling miles into the desert south of Arivaca, Arizona.  I was told as we were headed to the site that we were going where Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros lost her life 13 years ago, and I knew that this was going to be an emotional day.  

As the twenty of us hiked to where Josseline was found, I experienced a fraction of the rough terrain that she and other migrants had to navigate.  Josseline was a 14-year -old girl walking with her 10-year-old brother and a group of other migrants.  They had been walking for weeks, but Josseline, like so many before her, was not prepared for the harshness of the land.  Struggling to keep up, bravely, she told her brother to go on without her.  She later died cold and alone.  

On this day, the anniversary of her death, these twenty people celebrated her life by planting a cross, singing, and praying for Josseline, her family, and other migrants who have lost their lives cold and alone.  Although her family was not present, Josseline’s mother was contacted and had expressed her gratitude for this day of celebration.  Amazingly, her brother did survive the journey and we were told, is currently married and has a daughter named Josseline.  

At the end of the day I felt overwhelmed and drained.  But one thought kept coming back.  People came from long distances, drove over extensive primitive roads and hiked over uneven rocky terrain to celebrate the life of someone they never met.  I felt guilty . . . had I ever gone to such lengths for someone I didn’t know? 

The second day in the desert was another emotional experience.  On this day, Franciscan friar Brother David Buer, OFM and I traveled three hours from Tuscon into the desert to take part in what is called Samaritan patrol. 

Samaritan patrol consists of walking along known migrant trails, distributing jugs of water, blankets, and canned beans and, if the opportunity presents itself, humanitarian aid to anyone you meet along the way.  Brother David took me to an older known migrant trail near the town of Ajo, Arizona. I was told that because migrants will use different trails and change their trail frequently this one may not currently be used.  We loaded our backpacks with jugs of water; I was carrying an embarrassing two, while Brother David had six.  I was excited when we saw remnants of migrants (empty jugs of water and food cans). Migrants had indeed been on this trail.  As we distribute each jug of water we would write encouraging words in Spanish, like “safe journey” or “peace and prayers.”  It was a good day and, despite some vehicle issues, we distributed approximately 30 gallons of water that day.   

Here is what I learned in my two days in the desert:

I learned a little of the hardship and terrifying landscape that people of all ages are willing to walk for a better life.  I learned that finding something to do, even the smallest thing, can alleviate some of the helplessness you might be feeling.  And I learned the impact you can make to the life of someone you will never meet.  

Rhonda is a Returned Missioner who served on the U.S.-Mexico border. As she prepared for her time on mission, she often reflected on the verse where Jesus says "I thirst" (John 19:28). Her first encounter with this verse was upon reading about Mother Teresa, who had such zeal about these two simple words. Focusing on the thirst of Jesus helps Rhonda draw nearer to Christ and love more deeply.