The Bishop’s E-pistle: La Casa

Last Thursday, the Nogales wind blew through the paper pinwheels strung on ribbons through the trees. It reminded me of Genesis 3 when God walks in Eden at the time of the evening breeze; the Spirit seemed palpable with each breeze as we gathered under the tree to celebrate the Eucharist.

I was at La Casa de Misericordia y Todos las Naciones, the shelter housing about 200 migrants seeking asylum in the United States, with whom we partner with Cruzando Fronteras. I was joined by Cruzando Fronteras partners Bishop Deborah Hutterer of the ELCA-Grand Canyon Synod and the Rev. Bill Lyons, Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, as we made our first post-COVID pilgrimage to visit with the residents and staff and to see the work at hand.

We began with Eucharist with all the residents, joined by Deacon Jesus David Portillo, a transitional deacon in our Companion Diocese of Western Mexico, who has been ministering at La Casa twice a week. Each bishop also had a clergy person with them.

Next, we met with the staff and volunteers who make the shelter possible. Sister Lika, the Executive Director who manages all aspects of life at the shelter; and also teachers who educate the children; an attorney from Justice for our Neighbors who assists families in preparing their paperwork for crossing the border; and a therapist who works with children and families to process the trauma they have experienced that forced them north to seek asylum. Cruzando Fronteras and La Casa care for the whole person: their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Key issues we discussed included an update on how the process of getting across the border is going (very well–Pastor Mateo Chavez described dropping people off for their credible fear interview and then picking them up a few hours later when they emerged on the other side); wondering how we can help ensure that the good foundation of mental health care received at La Casa continues once families make it across the border; and concern for the secondary trauma suffered by staff and volunteers, and how we might support their care.

Finally there was a festive lunch with the entire gathered community, and a tour of the dormitories and facilities. On that tour, each time we met someone who had a leadership position (a different resident is in charge of water sanitation, the kitchen, etc.) they introduced us to the resident who is being trained to succeed them. In a community whose membership inherently turns over frequently, leadership changes and succession planning are a part of daily life. It occurred to me that our churches have much to learn from this!

The community of residents at La Casa are a model of what it means to be a community of love: everyone has something to give, and a role to play. Teams rotate through cooking and cleaning responsibilities. It’s all very monastic: time for work, time for study, time for prayer, and time for play.

And those beautiful spinning pinwheels were made by the one resident who appeared to be older than me: a woman of dignity and age, with some mobility issues, whose contribution to the community is to make it beautiful!

Editor’s Note: Donations to assist Cruzando Fronteras in continuing this ministry can be made online through FaithStreet.