Becoming a Sun in the Winter of Others

At first, I couldn’t find the storage room next to baggage claim six. I’ve never had to find a storage room at an airport before. I saw travelers, families, and people patiently waiting for travelers to arrive, but I didn’t see the place I was supposed to be. Then, I noticed a rag-tag group walking with a wagon full of brown paper bags piled high.

As a deacon, I often move toward the pain, where love seems most absent. In these places, there is often haste, discontent, and cruelty. Embodying service I am a sower of hope even in hard places. You might not imagine San Diego International Airport as one of those ‘hard places,’ but that is exactly what I experienced at the airport recently.

Imagine arriving in a country that you have little knowledge of, intent on a better, safer life, and not knowing where to go or where to start once you’ve arrived… You might sit down, hungry, and wonder, “Was this worth it? At least I had food before…”  As Deacons, we are called to bring the church to the world, even to airports.

After spotting two canvas wagons loaded with brown lunch sacks, I walked over and introduced myself to the group. Krystal, my mentor, took me through the terminals. We walked the length of terminals one and two, keeping our eyes peeled for people with green wristbands.

The green wristband identifies a person who is in the asylum process and traveling to another area of the country. The process for asylum seekers entering the United States involves several critical steps designed to ensure that their entry is legal and in accordance with the law. After asylum seekers present themselves at a U.S. port of entry or are already within the country, they undergo a thorough screening process conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If they pass this screening, they are legally admitted into the country under asylum laws. Many of these asylum seekers are provided with airplane tickets to various parts of the United States to join family members, sponsors, or designated communities that can provide them with support and resources as they await the resolution of their asylum claims.

So after a harrowing journey, many times on foot, to the United States, those who were let into the country are left with little or nothing–no money, no food, and no means to survive other than what is provided by others.

The people with green wristbands looked different from the other travelers: more tired, more confused, and more lost. I remember seeing an Asian woman who smiled when we came up. Krystal said, “She’s a regular,” meaning she lived at the airport. The woman was very appreciative when I handed her the brown bag and smiled a lot. She didn’t speak any English, but she didn’t need to–the message of thanksgiving was clear. When we left, the questions swirled: How could a person live here? Could it be that the airport has become a liminal space for her? A place between her home and away from home?

Imagining living at the airport, I heard hundreds of voices and saw hundreds of bodies that might’ve prevented her from feeling lonely. And yet, there is a different kind of loneliness that can erupt while being alone amongst people. Is she seen and known here? Did this lunch and our time together comfort her? I couldn’t get her smiling out of my head because I didn’t know if it was one of sorrow, gratitude, or both.

Then there were the kids…

Migrant children are resilient! Their faces beamed the minute we approached. I suspect that they’d heard about the rice krispy treats stashed deep in the lunch bags. But, the children were, in a way, modeling for their parents, showing them (and me) how to live through adversity. The parents were exhausted and perhaps suspicious. I imagine it is hard to trust strangers after what they’ve experienced. I loved watching the kids turn on like lights when the lunches were put in their hands. Then, when we gave them the stuffed animals, you would’ve thought it was Christmas in the middle of June!

As a deacon, and with God’s help, I strive to become a sun in the winters of others–to be a source of warmth, growth, and light for those without. As a Christian, I am called to serve across borders, venturing into areas that are often hopeless, hate-filled, and indifferent. As a deacon, I feel myself more and more attracted to those situations. I know it’s love that is moving through me when I notice how I feel afterward…. ALIVE! Being a deacon makes me feel alive because I can be one light in a long string of lights manifesting goodness.

To learn more about the diaconate, please email Archdeacon Cindy Campos at ccampos@edsd.org. If you are interested in learning more about migrant ministry and the airport lunch program, please visit www.edsd.org/migration-ministry or email Migration Missioner Robert Vivar, at rvivar@edsd.org