Category: El Paso

El Paso End of Week Reflections

After an exhausting week, a trip to White Sands National Park was exactly what we needed to recoup. We left early in the morning with a group from Augustana University and drove for about an hour before arriving at the park. We passed through a citizenship checkpoint on the way. When we arrived at the park, we stopped at the gift shop to pick up some sleds to ride down the sand dunes. The weather was perfect; not too hot or too cold. The sand was so bright that even with clouds some of us still wore sunglasses. Hiking up sand dunes was extremely difficult. In contrast to the sand we had all experienced at the beach, this sand was cooler and covered a much greater area. Spending the morning outside and sledding with the other students was a refreshing change.

When we returned to the church after visiting the national park, Crystal Massey, the volunteer coordinator of the American Immigration Council in Washington D.C, presented to several groups participating in the border immersion. She talked about what the American Immigration Council does, shared some personal stories, and the process of seeking asylum. She was knowledgeable about current immigration issues. Her presentation helped piece together the information we learned throughout the week and furthered our understanding about immigration from countries other than Mexico.

Sylvia then took us on a guided driving tour through the Stahmann Pecan Farms. She shared her experiences living on the world’s largest pecan farm in the U.S. We learned that the original farm had its own bank, grocery store, hospital, gas station, and even an airport. Driving through, the rows of pecan trees seemed endless. We were surprised to see that the pecans grew on trees.

Our next stop after the farm tour was a small town called Mesilla. It was originally a part of Mexico and it holds a lot of its heritage. Many of the original shops, restaurants, and roads were still there.

After a busy day, we stopped by a local Thai restaurant to get bubble tea. We’d been planning to get it since we drove past the restaurant on our first day in Las Cruces. A few of us had never tried it before, but we all enjoyed it. So far, we have all been learning lots and felt immersed in the city and the culture. We are looking forward to sharing more of our stories from the trip when we return this weekend!

Jamie and Titus – Student Team Leaders

El Paso Days 3-4 Reflections

Wow, the past few days have been really informative. We started Tuesday out at the border wall in El Paso hearing from border control. They talked a lot about the issues that are controversial, and a lot of us students felt as if they were just defending themselves. They provided basic information but seemed to be lacking detail. It was still good to hear from them, but our host informed us of other experiences opposite of what they told us. We got to walk along the wall and also think and process all of the information we just received. We had lunch at Cafe Mayapan, a traditional Mayan restaurant. SO GOOD! We visited the Walmart memorial. From this spot in the parking lot we can see Juarez, the mountains, and El Paso all as one community. You can’t see borders from where you stand.

Our host partner shared her personal experience with migration and how it has affected her own family’s life. That was very emotional to listen to. We finished Day 3 out listening to Ruben Garcia who is the founder of Annunciation House, which has been a hospitality and welcoming place for migrants and refugees seeking asylum. He wanted to move us into action with his stories and what he’s seen and knows. He encouraged us to vote and volunteer and think about what we want for our future as citizens of this country. It was a long but inspiring day. We came home ready to sleep for sure.

On day 4 we started by listening to someone in the Immersion organization inform us on the court system. We went from this presentation straight to the U.S District Court. It was a tough experience for us to witness. We can always imagine this scene, but being there and hearing shackles and the commotion really puts your heart into a new position. Because of the “zero-tolerance” policy the court now tries immigrants with former deportation backgrounds as felons. The only crime they committed was crossing the border again. This is an issue because the USA can be seen as the only home, because it is where they have lived for so many years, either because of DACA or other circumstances. We did not sit through the entire processing, because there were 64 immigrants. This was a hard part of the day, but we got to relax and explore more of Las Cruces after. We ended the day hearing about hospitality for refugees and about the MPP (migrant protection protocol). This was a very informative presentation, considering there was a Supreme Court ruling on it today. We ate dinner with the church and other immersion groups. We have enjoyed the weather by debriefing outside and taking a short walk to Baskin Robbins.

Thank you for all your prayers through this journey of ours.


Victoria Gross and Sadie Escalona

El Paso – Early Week Reflections

As soon as our team landed in El Paso, we took to the windows at our gate to admire the Franklin Mountains and surrounding landscape. “Where is the border?” and “How close is Mexico?” were our initial responses as we made our way to and through Las Cruces, NM during our first days.
After a day of settling in and getting our bearings at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, we were ready to dive in and learn more about the communities around us. We started the day by assisting friend of Border Servant Corps, Carmen, in making gorditas (a masa pastry stuffed with meats, veggies, and spices). We also met our peers and fellow leaders from Augustana University, with whom we shared fellowship and the preparation of our meal.

Each of us was moved by God’s presence in Carmen’s life as she shared her story with us after lunch. Carmen felt an urgency to cross into the US when her daughter became in immediate need of a kidney transplant. She left behind her three sons with the mission to give her daughter the treatment sufficient to keep her alive. Upon reflection, it was clear that many of us related to the “angels” she cited as hers and her daughter’s saving grace. God placed people in Carmen’s life to get her daughter the care necessary to live a longer life and keep them out of the eye of immigration officials. A few of us recognized angels in our own lives who have guided us through difficult moments and reinforced our faith.  Above all, Carmen instilled in us that no matter the hardships we face emotionally or economically, we must maintain a strong foundation of faith. She stressed that material possessions and wants are nothing without the reinforcement of our beliefs, a sentiment that hit close to home after experiencing the aftermath of last week’s tornado.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon at Peace Lutheran Church learning about the legal advocacy happening in the borderlands with the ACLU. This presentation planted the seed that there are things we can do in our communities to advocate for immigrants and their families.

The day ended on a high note with a surprise private concert from award-winning New Mexico artist, Gilbert Uribe of the band ‘Nosotros’. Gilbert’s songs shared the message that we are all born of the same earth, the same God, and that we all should recognize that this human experience binds us no matter where we are from. We enjoyed his music and message in a beautiful courtyard on this sunny day. This experience allowed us to see how many positive elements are born out of immigration and how immigrants have influenced American music and culture for decades.

As we headed back to the church, we walked around downtown Las Cruces to get a better view of Organ Mountain, whose peaks captivated our attention during our drive into the city on our first day. The Mountain serves as a reminder that each of us have our own steep hills to climb, both in this weeklong journey and in our own lives back in Nashville. The peaks and valleys of the Mountain signified the emotions we’d experienced during our first days as well. Most notably, the mountain views have grounded us in the midst of thinking about our anxieties this week.

I choose to close with Isaiah 2:2: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills and all nations will stream to it.” Although we are at the beginning of our experience here, it is clear that we share common ground in the pursuit of safety, security, health, happiness, and in many cases, faith. Borders may divide, but it is clear that God is working in the lives of people in both of the nations on our minds this week.

Lauren Lauzon — Team Leader

El Paso – Midweek Update

I once heard that “you can’t hate someone whose story you know.” The El Paso trip is about coming to know the stories of our neighbors more than anything else. To bear witness to the difficulties in their journeys, the complexities of the systems through which they are processed, and the hope and faith that they cling to in the midst of it all.

On Monday night, a warm older woman named Carmen came to the church we are staying at to teach us how to make gorditas and share her own story with us. I watched as she expertly placed the masa in the oiled pan to fry, and spoke with her in Spanish in short turns. Making a meal alongside along another immersion group from the University of South Florida with Carmen was a lesson in patience as the entire first two Spanish dubbed Madagascar movies played in the background during the time that we were cooking. After lunch, she spoke to us with the help of our hostess translating of the journey which she has endured as an immigrant. Seeking medical treatment for her adopted daughter, Carmen left Juarez, Mexico and came to El Paso. Tears formed in her eyes as she spoke of doctors who appeared as “angels” and gave her daughter the kidney transplant she needed without the sufficient funds or health insurance, and of the process of getting documents which she had not originally intended to pursue. The profundity of her faith shone as she told us about entrusting her child to God in her child’s very hour of death, pulling all of us students into a sacred and beautiful space with her. “It is not God who has created divisions,” she told us, “it is people who have created divisions. To God, it does not matter if you are Mexican or Chinese or American. He loves everyone.”

Some of the other stories we have come into contact with are refugee families who are being hosted for a night or two by churches in the area of Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. These families who are seeking asylum in the United States have just been released from the detention centers they have been held in and are about to embark on a journey to another part of the country where they will live with a host family, awaiting a trial in immigration court. These church and non-profit organization volunteers provide a place to stay, some basic resources, and help organize the travel arrangements to the host families. On the weekends, a La Quinta Inn allows these churches to organize hotel rooms for the families to stay in, and during the week, they are hosted on air mattresses in one of the rooms of a church. Volunteers help pass out donated supplies such as clothing, shoes, and plastic bags with various toiletries, as well as make meals for them. As a group, we have gotten the opportunity to serve two meals so far, one of which we cooked ourselves, to these families. Embodying solidarity, we eat alongside them and use what little or much Spanish we know to speak to them and let them know that they are seen and heard.

On Tuesday morning, we also witnessed formal snippets of immigrants’ stories through a Federal District Court’s proceedings of criminal cases. We watched defendants hear their charges for such things as “illegal entry without inspection,” which is entering the country at a place other than an official port of entry, and “reentry of a removed alien,” which is entering the country again after an individual has been deported in the past. These men pled guilty, and were led out in handcuffs to eventually be “removed from the United States, denied citizenship, and denied admission to the United States in the future.”

An immersion trip to El Paso is an immersion into stories, the realities of our neighbor’s lives, and an education on the deep complexity of the issues and experiences encountered along the U.S./Mexico border. Hearing and seeing stories help us become informed, and spark our compassion for our brothers and sisters in the borderland regions who, as Carmen called it, “live in the shadows.”

— Hannah Rae Melis, El Paso Trip Student Leader

Student Take: Calla Quinn

Today, Calla is sharing about her experiences so far serving in Tennessee, and her anticipation in serving with Border Servant Corps in El Paso, TX over spring break. We are excited for you to hear Calla’s take on preparing to go on Mission with Belmont on Mission!

“I grew up in church and have had experience serving primarily in the Nashville area. Never having been on mission out-of-state, I am equally excited and curious to go on Immersion to El Paso!

I chose this trip for several reasons, but what first caught my attention was the circumstances of the people we’ll be serving. As a pre-law student interested in immigration policy, I was drawn to this trip in particular because I know it will provide me with insight and fuel my passion for serving the underserved. The opportunity to encounter such a divisive subject in a fiercely direct and personal way will offer me a broader perspective and help me better understand the cultural and political dynamics surrounding this issue.

That being said, there are plenty of things about this trip that scare me (in a good way). I know I am going to experience things that push me out of my comfort zone and leave me with more questions than answers. Many of the folks with whom I’ll interact are living as marginalized people in every capacity; racially, culturally, and economically they are frequently categorized as “unwanted.” I hope to unlearn my ignorance through this trip by navigating uncharted waters. Most of all, I hope to grow in my relationship with God by learning and developing the ways in which I’m called to show others His love.”

If you have any questions about Calla’s experience, Belmont on Mission, or any upcoming trips, please reach out!

Host Partner Spotlight: Border Servant Corps

Each spring, many Belmont students choose to spend their spring breaks on a mission trip with Belmont on Mission. Some students participate in Immersion trips, which are a chance to be immersed in a local culture and to grow in understanding of the cares and concerns of communities here in the United States. Students have the opportunity to see what God is doing through domestic churches and ministries, and join them in awareness and mission.

In just under two months, students will work with Border Servant Corps in promoting and demonstrating justice, kindness, and humility. This will be achieved through the exploration of community, simplicity, social justice, and spirituality in the U.S./ Mexico border region. In every interaction, Border Servant Corps functions out of the call in Micah 6:8 to “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.”

Students will travel to El Paso, TX to experience accompaniment-style immersion, during which they engage relationship and first-hand educational experiences about border issues, and community engagement, ensuring that members of the community are also engaged and immersed in the education and service of the borderlands.

Border Servant Corps seeks to love those who are in the midst of trying times, and educate those who have the ability to serve them. If you have any questions about Border Servant Corps or upcoming Immersion trips, please reach out!