Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ministry continues even (or especially) in retirement

By Jeanette Arnquist
Guest Writer

Greetings to friends and former colleagues in the Diocese of San Bernardino.

I began thinking today that I might write a few paragraphs to you as I approach the first anniversary of retirement. A lot has happened in that time. Cliff and I have moved to Tucson. We witnessed the birth of our second grandchild, Rafael. We bought a house, which meant moving again. We have become involved in ministry in our parish, Most Holy Trinity. Cliff is in the choir, I am on the Social Justice Committee. We traveled to El Salvador in March with a delegation from the parish to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero. We participate in Soup Patrol, a ministry that delivers hot soup and hot chocolate to the homeless people of Tucson.

In the last couple of months, we have become involved with Samaritans. It is an interfaith ministry that provides humanitarian aid to migrants crossing the desert. Why?

The first thing you have to understand is that crossing the desert between the Mexican border and Tucson is very dangerous. There is NO water. None. Well, there are some cattle tanks that amount to e-coli soup with a side of salmonella, but even these are far apart. The terrain is brutal. It is rocky and steep. Some places there are trails, others just tracks and others just bush whacking. In Arizona, most of the vegetation is full of spines or thorns. There are rattle snakes and scorpions. And it is hot. At least this time of year it is hot.

Migrants crossing the desert typically do so with a group led by a “coyote.” The coyotes are accountable to no one. There are no Google reviews of various coyote services, so sometimes the coyotes, themselves, take advantage of the migrants or abandon them.

Human remains of hundreds of migrants are found every year. Most die from exposure, especially lack of water. And so the Samaritans provide humanitarian aid by placing water and food along known migrant trails.

Cliff and I have been out in the desert dropping water and walking on the migrant trail. Every time I have done it I have encountered Christ, one way or another.

Last week I out on a water drop with another woman, Rebecca. We had spent a few hours on various migrant trails south of the little town of Arivaca. This meant each of us loaded up our backpacks with two-gallon jugs and hiked a half mile or so off the dirt road to place the jugs at pre-determined locations. We didn’t see a single migrant until we were back on the paved road just ½ mile away from Arivaca. There we saw a young man sitting beside the road alone, in full view of all traffic. He was holding a Mexican water bottle that appeared to be empty. We pulled over and he jumped up and ran toward the Jeep. Before Rebecca even turned off the engine, Border Patrol pulled up. So the guy was caught, headed for deportation. The agent allowed us to give the migrant a gallon of water and a couple of food packs. In our broken Spanish we wished him well.

For me this was like Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. She didn’t stop his death but she did offer him some measure of compassion. The image of the face of that young man is forever etched on my heart. He has given me a gift I will treasure the rest of my life.

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