BY ANNA FERGUSONApril 17, 2014

My alarm buzzes, I roll out of bed, stretch as my feet hit the floor and I open the shades. Sunshine and a pang of longing greet me. I flash back to a memory already three weeks old: Waking up in sunny El Paso, TX.

Three weeks after my Spring Break Service & Justice Trip in El Paso for a border immersion, it’s not the personal stories I’d heard from migrants and those who work with migrants, it’s not the three hour hike up and down Mt. Cristo Rey, during which I participated in a Migrant’s Stations of the Cross and it’s not the desert meditation I had at the border that I think of first.

Instead, what my heart aches for most each morning that I wake up these first weeks back is the simple yet powerful setting in which all these experiences took place.

Each morning in El Paso I’d wake up in a rather barren, chilly bedroom in the Columban Mission Center—the Columbans, a Catholic religious order comprised of both priests and religious sisters, emphasized simplicity in their sparse living conditions as well as sustainability in the limited heating and cooling energy sources they use. I’d rise, say a quick prayer of thanks for a new day and look out the window at the sun rising over the Segundo Barrio, the “Second Neighborhood.”

The Segundo Barrio is a mix of modest houses, industrial buildings, run-down shops, palm trees and desert. The border is within walking distance of the Columban Mission Center. Churches and Mexican grocery stores fill the streets downtown, which always seems cluttered with people and street vendors all rushing in different directions. The International Bridge stretching between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico is perpetually backed-up with eager families trying to reach other from both sides.

The Segundo Barrio was the setting for a week that profoundly affected me in ways I am just beginning to understand. A migrant woman cooked my group dinner and shared a harrowing tale of how she had to flee Juarez for her life and the safety of her family.

A young man pursuing a social work degree at the University of Texas in El Paso shared his passion for and the pain involved in working with unaccompanied minors who cross the border.

An older man committed to social justice rallied us and challenged us as he talked about the work he does with Annunciation House—a migrant shelter kiddy-corner from the Columban Mission Center. This man, Reuben, showed us the ways we unwittingly contribute to a system that oppresses migrants.

On our last day in El Paso, my group met and played with a large number of migrant children from Annunciation House for over an hour. In the melee of beautiful sunshine, shrieks of joy and laughter, and children running in every direction, we realized just how connected we are to each other, that we are all brothers and sisters yearning for love.

Nearly every moment that brought me to tears, filled me with anger, gave me sweet joy and set my heart on fire happened at the Columban Mission Center in the Segundo Barrio—or atop the mountains overlooking it all, overlooking two cities—El Paso and Juared—that really function as one.

My week on the margin, living nearly up against the fence of the border, revealed stories and experiences of brokenness and courage, inspired me to love bigger and advocate for a more just and humane immigration system that keeps families together and provides safety for the most vulnerable.

Every morning I wake up, I think of El Paso, of the Segundo Barrio and the people I met and the experiences I had there. I feel El Paso on the warm, spring breeze, I see the people I met there in the faces of others here in Omaha, back at Creighton University, and I hear them asking me to remember it all. Every time I open the shades here in Omaha, I’ll remember waking up and looking out the window at the Segundo Barrio, and I’ll carry the people and their stories in my heart as I pray for and do as much as I can to contribute to just immigration reform. The sand may be shaken from my shoes but the migrants’ stories will never be shaken from my heart.