I didn’t have a restful night of sleep and I walk into work hoping it might be an easy day—folding toilet paper, cutting vegetables, speaking Spanish with someone who has the patience to talk slowly and clearly. I ring the bell and wait. A volunteer opens the slider on the door, verifies it’s me, and then opens the door. The first thing I see as the door opens is a young boy, probably about 8 years old. Crap.
Immediately, the volunteer asks me to go help with registration. I put my stuff up in the office and navigate my way past the two (almost three) year old girl who has been with us for almost two weeks now with her mom. I register a couple men in our computer system before a mom and her daughter come in. I mainly ask the mom the questions and then copy and paste the info in for the daughter. I ask the daughter just a few things directly. She tells me she’s 12 years old and her trip has been fine. I catch her later watching me try to convince the two-year old that the pen is for paper, not for drawing on her hands. I can tell she’s amused by my desperate (and mostly useless) negotiating. She gives me a sympathetic smile of encouragement.
I go sit in the kitchen and await my next task. Another boy approaches me, I figure he’s a little older than the first one. Maybe also 12. “You remind me of my cousin, Gaby,” he tells me. “Oh, I do? How old is she?” I ask him. He tells me she’s 14 and asks what my name is. I tell him Courtney. Sometimes I use Leigh because it’s easier to pronounce, but I have confidence that he might be able to handle Courtney. He repeats my name and I’m right. He tells me that my name is pretty and I say thank you. Someone asks me for a favor and I get distracted. When I turn around, he’s already gone off to play.
I send a quick text to a good friend:
“Sometimes I hate my job.”
Then a fast wave of shame washes over me. I don’t think missionaries are supposed to hate their jobs. I must really suck at this.
But it’s been a few days since then and I’m really working on self-compassion these days (just not that day in particular) so I realize I probably don’t actually suck at this. After my text, I focused on the tasks in front of me. I peeled carrots first, then later folded toilet paper. All in all, probably would’ve counted as a pretty easy day. If only there hadn’t been so many kids.
Seeing kids in the shelter is the worst part of my job, I think. Under 14, they’re usually accompanied by a parent (usually their mom). Over 14 varies a bit more; sometimes they’re with a parent or uncle (and usually they’re boys) but sometimes they’re unaccompanied. The volunteers try to watch the kids’ behaviors closely to see if anything seems off. I’m still new and I worry often about missing something. Women and children are at particularly high risk for human trafficking and abuse. I’ve sat in on workshops that taught me about the unique dangers and human right violations for which these kids are at risk (both in their home countries and during transit). I often think about the girls at Oasis in Guatemala with whom I did art camp for two years in a row and their stories of struggle, abuse, and violation and how hard they’re working to overcome it. I know these kids could have some overlap in their stories. I hate that these stories exist at all.
Fortunately, all the kids that day are with moms. Everyone seems to be okay and participating voluntarily. I inwardly cringe when I realize it’s a school day. They’ve probably been missing a lot of school. I relax when I realize they’re probably traveling together. Safety in numbers.
I think it’s probably okay that I sometimes hate my job. It’s probably okay to hate seeing children missing school in order to ride on top of a train in hopes that they might have a better life/opportunities when all is said and done. It’s probably okay to sometimes hate the feeling of not being enough to solve all of their problems. As a new caravan catches media attention, I know the news is about to become inundated, even more so, about the fictitious border crisis and Trump’s shutdown over whether the government should be funding a border wall (they shouldn’t). Next month I am going to the US/Mexico border for a retreat with my YAGM cohort and I will learn about what life is like at the border and how people are doing God’s work there. I anticipate a lot of inspiring stories and seeing God in a lot of places. I also anticipate a lot of pain that week and a lot of really difficult stories. I anticipate thinking about those kids while I’m there and wondering if they’re okay. Recently a man came to the shelter on his way back to Honduras. He was pretty badly injured. I don’t know his story exactly, but I know his son and 3 friends died trying to get to the border. I’ll think about him too.
I love my year here. I’ve got a great family who I love dearly. I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning a lot about immigration and human rights. I’m trying new things. I’m getting better at Spanish (good enough to help translate for a visiting group of college students the other week). But my life isn’t glamorous. I’ve struggled to write a blog recently because I didn’t know how to tell you all that sometimes, I hate my job. Sometimes, the secondary trauma of knowing what happens to the people I meet and the circumstances from which they are fleeing is really really hard. Seeing kids and their moms is sometimes really really hard. But I’m realizing that’s the year that God has called me to experience. It’s okay.
And I have to tell you about how sometimes there’s darkness. Because we have to talk about the hard things in order to come together to bring light to them. Or as author Brené Brown wrote, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of light.” This year, all of it’s ups and downs, will not be wasted on me because I will never want to stop demanding the light. I won’t want to stop trying to be the light. I won’t stop asking you to be the light with me. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). So as the dangerous rhetoric about “illegal aliens coming in massive swarms to invade our country to be rapists and murderers” continues to rear its ugly head again (data supports none of those stereotypes by the way) as part of the great debate over the wall and the government shutdown, I hope you’ll consider these kids AND adult migrants the way that I do—as the beautiful humans that they are; infinitely and unconditionally loved by God and by their own moms and dads and families on earth. I hope your heart will hurt for them as mine has and that you will be willing to sit with me in the darkness sometimes, so that together we can find/be the light.