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All Aboard to Tucson: Facing My Fears. Mission Accepted.

Blog Headers 2023-24 (16)

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Julia Pinto reflects on how God strengthens her to face her fear of driving so that she can serve migrants at her ministry site.

March 13, 2024
Lengthy disclaimer: When you go on mission, especially to do some hot-topic work like humanitarian aid on the US-Mexico border, people often act like you’re a saint for what you’re doing. The reality is that I get tired super easily and have to take days off each week to regain my emotional and physical strength. I get numb to the pain around me quite often in focusing on the tasks at hand. I start thinking that it’s about me and what I’m getting out of it. Sometimes I dread going to ministries and want to stay in my bed. And the truth that I want to convey most is that each person who’s doing their best wherever they are is doing good work. Serving on mission doesn’t make you a saint more than any other calling. Sometimes life can feel mundane, but there’s beauty in commitment, perseverance, discipline, patience, rootedness, and stability. You’re glorifying God in whatever you’re doing if you do it with love.

Those who know me well know that I really dislike driving. It stresses me out. I would rather walk or bike somewhere than risk being in an accident and hurting someone else. In fact, one of my favorite things about living in DC and here in Douglas has been the walkability of the cities (in sharp contrast to my beloved Dallas, Texas). My preferences and comfort level, however, don’t seem to be enough to get in God’s way. 

When Border Patrol agents drop off migrants at our Douglas church shelter, we are relieved to sometimes have a bus from the county to transport folks to the airport or shelter in Tucson. On the days when the county cannot send a bus, which is becoming more and more frequent, our volunteers have to find a way to get people to the Tucson airport so they can fly on to their sponsor. Sometimes we can use the commercial shuttles in Douglas, but as the day leader for Saturdays, I’d rather not send a family with little kids or folks with little to no money to the shuttle station to figure it out on their own. 

From Douglas to Tucson, it’s usually a four- or five-hour drive roundtrip, mostly on narrow two-lane highways winding around mountains through the uninhabited desert countryside. That means no streetlights. I reluctantly make the drive in our little four-door FMS car when we missioners need to get to Tucson, and that too only when there’s daylight and good weather conditions. If one thing goes wrong with the car, you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, miles away from a gas station or civilization.

When you have fourteen vulnerable people in front of you who don’t speak English and are depending on you to help them proceed in their journey to their sponsors across the US, how can you say no to God’s invitation? Many people are shocked to see me – a short, insecure girl – climb into the Frontera de Cristo minibus and open the sliding doors for migrants to board. It’s a rickety vehicle, shaking violently and banging the whole way. The babies on board cry loudly and fuss as they sit strapped in car seats for the first time. The men yell to each other to put on their seatbelts as I finally merge onto the I-10 and drive faster than they’ve likely gone in their lives. Some folks are so exhausted that they somehow sleep through all of that. 

Please don’t think that I’m praiseworthy. I know that in my own strength I could not stomach the bus trips. “Bus driver” is definitely not my future calling. I have to pray aloud almost the entire way there, as I shoulder the responsibility of transporting precious cargo. How could I live with myself if something happened and their month-long journey from Ecuador/Venezuela/Guatemala/Southern Mexico/etc. ended tragically because I made a mistake while driving? Every time, Jesus gets us there safely and gets me back home without any issues. And every time, he gives me the courage I need to make the drive, and I find myself wondering… What’s next? I can only imagine what he’ll be asking me to do in the future. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Little by little, he helps us get to where we need to be. 

Reflection Questions: What fears are holding you back from what God has in store for you? How can you make small steps to surrender your weaknesses and anxieties to God and step out in faith?

Julia graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas in May 2015 with a BS in Mathematics and a Math Teacher Certification at the ripe age of 20. She taught Geometry, Algebra 2, Precalculus and Statistics for four years in a public high school in Richardson, Texas, as well as another year in a private school in Takoma Park, Maryland. Julia’s desire to serve and minister like St. Francis drew her to Washington D.C. to work as a Publications and Communications Associate with the US Catholic Mission Association through the DC Service Corps program, where she researched and helped support various mission organizations around the world. This call to mission now pushes Julia to venture beyond D.C. to serve as a missioner on the US-Mexico border. In her free time, Julia enjoys reading, working out, dancing, meeting strangers, and solving all kinds of puzzles.