One night in Mexico
Editor’s Note: Lay Missioner serving at the US-Mexico Border Rhonda Eckerman recalls a time spent serving at the Migrant Resource Center. She candidly shares some stories from her first night.
The Migrant Resource Center is a small two story building located approximately 20 feet from the port of entry turnstile that rotates into 1st Street, Agua Prieta, Mexico. Migrants who have been apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) are expelled back into Mexico through this turnstile. Many of these migrants are lateral deportees meaning that they have been contacted in an area by CBP far away from this port of entry, but for reasons not known to this writer, they are taken many many miles away and expelled into Agua Prieta. Additionally, many are not from Mexico and have traveled thousands of miles through Mexico and are now finding themselves in another strange town. They arrive at the Migrant Center with a backpack and one change of clothes, a phone, shoes but no shoelaces and in desperate need of food, water, and often medical care. The shoelaces are taken by CBP to prevent the captured from running away.
I feel blessed to volunteer at the Migrant Center, serving coffee, sandwiches, and providing basic medical aid to these weary brothers and sisters. Shifts at the center are short, ranging from 2 to 4 hours per day but I find that most volunteers leave only when everyone is safe and well fed. Recently, Brother David and I have agreed to take the Saturday night 8 pm to midnight shift.
Our first Saturday shift at the Migrant Center was a frigid cold night and as the night progressed, so did our added layers of clothes and blankets. Picture this, two people sitting on folding chairs outside next to the turnstile, bundled up and shivering. In between the two chairs we had bottled water and food. Not but an hour in, a woman pulled up in her car behind us yelling “Senora, senora.” I did not turn around as I was convinced she was not talking to me. She then got out of her car and came over to us speaking in Spanish. It took me several minutes to realize she was asking me if I had a home. Her expression showed a tremendous amount of love and concern. After reassuring her that I was not homeless and thanking her for her kindness, the woman left. We continued to wait and watch for any cold souls to come through the turnstile. About 30 minutes later a young man walked over to us and handed us money;, he too was thinking we were homeless.
At midnight, handing out only two sandwiches, we closed the center and headed back across the port of entry to our cars. This is a trek of about six blocks and involves going through US Customs, answering questions such as where are you going and where have you been and then walking blocks to get to our cars. We were cold, tired and probably a little punchy. I began to talk about the dirt-road turnoff to my home and how hard it was to see in the dark. Brother David commented that it sure was a shame that there was not an orange cone out there marking the exit . . . but what I heard in my frigid tired state was that it was a shame that there was not an orange cow standing there. The conversation got even sillier, when I responded, that this plan would not work, because it would be too hard to find an orange cow and that it probably would not stand there very long. It was such a wonderful 20-mile drive home as I could not stop laughing the entire way.
Several things surprised me about that first night in Mexico. First, Mexico gets really cold at night, second, frigid temperatures do not stop people from being kind and finally, I don’t think my hearing is as good as I thought it was.