In McAllen, we are staying at Border Perspective, a Christian organization that serves the surrounding immigrant communities in both Texas and Mexico through food distribution and religious guidance. Most of us attended the Sunday service, led by Pastor Hugo and his family who have been incredible resources for us here thus far. As someone who has attended many church services in my life, I assumed that it would be nearly identical to something I had seen before, with the only difference being that it was led in Spanish. Within moments of the service, I realized that this was not at all the case.
The service began with the beautiful voice of Pastor Hugo’s wife, Eunice, who led the room in worship songs. I immediately noticed that not one attendee held a hymn book, but sang every word without fail. Not only did they sing from memory, they sang loudly, louder than I have ever heard in a service, and they sang with their eyes closed, completely immersed in the music and the weight of its words. Many of the people were moved to tears from the songs and their connection to their faith. I watched Eunice and the other attendees, finding myself with goosebumps and tears in my eyes at the emotion in the room. We discussed after that it felt almost uncomfortable to be observing what was evidently a deeply personal experience for many in that room. However, we felt both welcome and loved, despite only having arrived three days ago.
After the worship songs, Eunice invited anyone to sing a song or offer a prayer in the front of the room. We clapped along as the young children sang a song and listened attentively to a man ask for prayers for his pregnant wife in the hospital. I was surprised that almost everyone there took the optional opportunity to express their love and appreciation for God in such a public way — it seemed like such an unfiltered, genuine expression of faith unlike any other I have seen in my past church experiences.
I was not expecting to be as moved by the service as I was by the end. The emotions the service brought out in the congregation members were raw, leaving me with a deeper understanding of the impact of Pastor Hugo’s work. Members of our group hold a wide range of religious beliefs (or none at all), but I don’t think anyone could witness the service today and say that what they all were feeling was not real. I deeply felt the strength of their faith and recognized the impact their God’s guidance has. We have spent the last few days diving into the more unnatural borders between the US and Mexico — ones that look very different from the one we paddled down just last week. Our conversations, while interesting, have frequently left me feeling discouraged about the sentiment towards immigration in the US and the various systemic barriers making starting a life here nearly impossible. After today, I am so incredibly relieved that these families and the others that Border Perspective helps are given the gifts of hope and guidance through their faith that may make their journeys seem slightly more possible.