Sermon audio – Lessons from El Paso – Rev. DL Helfer
EL PASO – A NEW DAY
by Rev. DL Helfer
El Paso, Texas
Monday, January 28, 2019
I’ve lost track of how many days I’ve been here, though I know I’m past the halfway mark. Which makes me sad, as much as I miss home. I know it’s going to be hard to say goodbye here. And I’ve begun to wonder what I can/will take home, what I’ve learned, and what I and others can do from afar.
The night before last, I was the ‘overnight person.’ Which means I was the solo person with all of our guests. I was super-anxious about it, mostly because I feared my minimal Spanish skills wouldn’t be enough in the case of an emergency.
I needn’t have worried.
My biggest problems: (1) getting two young people to stop flirting with each other and go to their respective dorms for sleep, and (2) getting young men to turn down their music and sleep.
WIth the flirty couple, it was such a life-affirming moment. Through all that they have (and will) been/be through, sparks were flying.
I was also charmed, if also kept awake by, the nearby mens’ dorm. They were sharing music, stories, and dominoes with each other. In one of the few safe spaces they had been in for who knows how long?
So, I managed, with relative language ease, to communicate that I simply needed them to be quiet enough to let others sleep.
And they did.
It’s the weirdest thing — to be present for just a day or two to people I barely know, and yet care so deeply about their safety, happiness, and future.
As I was leaving yesterday, a traveling (white) choir had arrived to sing to the migrants. Perhaps it was my lack of sleep, in part, but I was immensely irritated by them. They talked to — rather than with — the guests. In that way that entitled, wealthy, privileged white people can. (Myself too, sometimes, if I’m not aware — I acknowledge that, and have to work on it with regularity.) They sang songs that meant nothing to our guests. Our guests smiled politely and stood still to listen, but this wasn’t for them.
It reminds me of work I do at home, with the UU Funding Panel. And how we differentiate “do with” and “do for” — meaning, are we working with a community or on behalf of a community?
I think that might be the work, upon returning home. To do more, ever more, WITH the affected communities. To listen, to hear, to learn. To know when to step back. And how to show up.