Early one Sunday morning in March, 24 students and staff from ASU’s Newman Center piled into a couple vans and headed south of the border to spend spring break on mission. Driving in, we witnessed families visiting along border wall, the iron dividers just wide enough to fit an arm. The level of poverty in the neighborhood of Bella Vista where we ministered was jarring. Children played in the dirt outside of their homes, and emaciated dogs roamed the streets. Addiction plagues the city of Nogales, and many children would go hungry without HEPAC, the non-profit organization that serves the local children. The theme of our mission trip was Matthew 25:40 which "coincidentally" was the Gospel reading for Mass on our first day there. ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Around every corner we had the opportunity to meet the suffering Christ and practice the works of mercy.
Our mornings began with Liturgy of the hours, formation, and worship, with a special petition asking God to help us in our mission. We spent our days with the children of the neighborhood, sharing lunch, teaching parables and helping them with English. We visited the homes of the neighborhood and offered to pray with those we encountered. In the evening, we went to the shelter of San Juan Bosco and spent time with the displaced migrants. Putting a face and a name to the issues of immigration and deportation was impactful. Matthew 25:39 echoed in our minds: “Lord when did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” With each interaction, the goal of the mission trip became less about us being Christ to others, but us seeing Christ in the faces of His children, and them in turn ministering to us.
Spending time with the poor put our ideas of suffering into perspective, and made the “first-world problems” joke a bitter antiphon for mere discomfort. After our four day mission trip, we went home, scrubbed ourselves clean from the dirt, the sweat, and the discomfort. We gratefully, perhaps guiltily, sunk into our warm beds and prepared for a good night's sleep, but the faces of the migrants and the children remained in our memory. It’s a relief, frankly, that physical poverty is not our cross to bear.
But isn’t it? Are we not all called as Christians to be Simon of Cyrene and help the suffering Christ in others? For most of us, it is not realistic to drop all of our responsibilities and flee to a third world country to live and serve among the poor. Yes, many great saints lived this way, like Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Vincent de Paul. In reality, we do not need a passport to be on mission. A deep need is present among our peers who are suffering in spirit, starving for the Bread of Life. God calls us to serve the spiritually poor, of which there is no shortage, especially on our college campuses.