One of the provocative and sometimes dangerous things about being a deacon is that our servant ministry allows us to travel beyond church walls and into the places where longing, desperation, and grace meet.
It was Monday after the third Sunday in Advent, and while I had not proclaimed the gospel in our church the day before, I certainly preached it. Archdeacon Cindy Campos and I were driving east of San Diego toward the desert and a place called Jacumba. It is one of those towns where the highway drives straight through.
We parked behind a van where a woman inside smiled at me, “Hello, my name is Nicole. Who are you looking for?”
“Sam, the man from Jacumba!” I replied.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” she hollered back as we walked around the front of the building.
At the entrance in fading paint were the words, “Youth Center.” It seemed odd for a youth center to exist in the middle of nowhere. I came to this “nowhere” to hand out Beanie Bundles, a bundle made up of black beanies, knitted gloves, socks, and three candy kisses tied together by red and green velvet strings.
The Beanie Bundle Ministry is a ministry led by the Deacons of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego designed to help migrant farm workers and those migrating with little or nothing to the US, Mexico border. During the development of the ministry, people said, “I think they’re cold, and we need to keep them warm.” What a simple and vital thing…warmth. And we can offer it.
The Youth Center was far from being a recreation facility for adolescents– it looked like a dumping ground for people’s donations, but it was actually “the concierge,” a place where volunteers gathered, sorted, and loaded supplies.
“Sam the Man” introduced himself. He looked like a guy from Star Wars—only the German version. He sported a German hiking/military hat that looked like it was from a film, a green button-down long-sleeve shirt, khaki shorts that were held up with a thick brown leather belt, and black boots that went well past his calves.
We left the youth center with Sam the Man, who led us to the camps where we’d be distributing our Beanie Bundles. Driving along the border fence felt like tip-toeing aside a sleeping giant– the fence towered over everything and stretched for miles. It felt dangerous like a silver and rust-colored serpent slithering across the land. I thought of the history of that fence, and the horror people experienced with it.
When we arrived at the camp, I went up to a tent and heard children laughing and giggling; with their tent completely sealed, I announced myself, “Hola niños!” The tent’s door unzipped, and a little boy with his two sisters came out. As I explained what the beanies were, each of them got very excited when I told them about the three chocolate kisses inside. I watched as smiles brightened their faces. “Gracias!” they said, returning to the tent–giggles resuming. But this was the only tent in the camp where the inhabitants were from Mexico.
The other tents housed people from Brazil, China, India, Turkey, Haiti, and Africa. The sheer range of nationalities stopped me in my tracks, but so did the poverty.
There were probably fifty tents at this site. The tents were small. There were small fires burning, women and a few men milling about, most hunched over, some with hats, others with hijabs. “Why were they here?” I wondered–but then again, I know and wondered anyway.
A few minutes later, we were rolling up to the next site. Sam the Man was right, this was a big camp. About four times the size of the other. When we stopped the car, I saw over a hundred people come toward me, and it was chilling.
I opened the trunk of the car and began handing out the bundles–so many hands and faces from all over the world and grateful voices telling us thank you. The more people that came up, the more urgent the giving became. I felt joy. These simple acts were making me more aware of who I was as a deacon–following Jesus’ servant way.
During our return journey home, the archdeacon and I shared our experiences and the profound impact they had on us. Gazing out at the long fence stretching into the distance, I felt a deep yearning to relive the day, to continue making a difference in the lives we had briefly touched. This experience, though just a single day in the vast timeline of the migrant crisis, left an indelible mark on my understanding of service, faith, and the human condition.
If you are interested in learning more about the diaconate or the Beanie Bundle ministry, please contact Archdeacon Cindy Campos at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about EDSD’s ministry to migrants, visit www.edsd.org/migration-ministry
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