On the weekend of August 3-4, 2019, a group of 20 people from Austin area parishes, including St. Michael’s, St. Julian’s, and St. Alban’s, traveled to Brownsville, TX, and Matamoros, Mexico, to provide relief and support, and to bear witness to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. Included in the group were several representatives from Seminary of the Southwest.
Organized by Lizzie McManus-Dail – an incoming seminarian at Southwest – in response to parishioners at these churches, the group included McManus-Dail, her husband the Rev. Jonathan McManus-Dail (a recent graduate), the Rev. Hope Benko, Director of Enrollment Management and Admissions, and the Rt. Rev. Kai Ryan, a Southwest alumna, trustee, and Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Texas.
The group worked with area non-profits, including Good Neighbor Settlement House and Team Brownsville, that provide humanitarian support for those released from detention centers. Good Neighbor Settlement House meet migrants after they are released from detention and ensure they have a shower and a safe place to rest before they get on buses or planes to their destinations within the United States. They also help with legal and logistics advice as they leave. Team Brownsville provides sandwiches, bottled water, and other gifts at the bus station to families so they have some small measure of comfort for their bus trips. They also carry hot meals, wet wipes, and fresh underwear across the bridge to care for the nearly 200 people camping in a plaza waiting for their turn to plead their asylum cases.
The group also celebrated an Eucharist at the nearby plaza with migrants and those in their group.
“This trip was a pilgrimage, not a mission trip. We came expecting to learn and receive at least as much as gave. We came to say you and your lives do matter and God’s love is here in the midst of this waiting. We had our hearts broken through listening to painful stories. I hope we came back committed to sharing those stories and urging others to do whatever they can to stand up for the dignity of those we might otherwise ignore,” said Benko.
For Benko, a singular moment stood out. ” There was a holy moment this weekend that resonated greatly. It’s so hot at the plaza where the migrants are waiting, and there is very little shade. As we prepared our table for Eucharist, this man came and stood patiently by holding his umbrella so we could have a little shade. He insisted we keep the umbrella for the whole service. He stood in the sun so I could have a little shade while I preached. I was going home to air conditioning, and he would stay there in the heat of the plaza, but he gave us his umbrella for that hour.” said Benko.
The same weekend, the nation mourned as two separate mass shootings devastated communities in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH. The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean and President, feels it is important we bear witness to these humanitarian efforts as we cope in difficult times.
“As the rest of the country did, we woke up Monday to return to work under the shadow of the violent crimes in El Paso and Dayton. As I briefly stopped into Rather House, Hope said she wanted to tell me about her weekend. Stunned by the weekend’s events, I was reminded by Hope’s report of the ongoing work of goodness, justice, and love to which we are committed here at the seminary and in the wider church. Hope’s testimony shifted me out of a sense of helplessness into a reconnection with our shared work of healing and reconciliation.”