The tenderhearted and gracious presence

IVEP partner insight

A woman smiling for a photo
Miriam Nita (Spain) during work at Casa Alitas Welcome Center in Tucson, Arizona. Photo/Christy Stewart

Day after day the big dark-paned buses rumble up to the beautifully muraled entrance. The uniformed guard steps out and announces something along the lines of “Seven females, 56 males. Are you ready?”

And the Casa Alitas team nods our collective heads. We are ready. We are ready with face masks, intake questions, COVID-19 tests, new shoelaces and answers to travel questions. But most of all we offer up a cup of water, albeit a Styrofoam cup, to those whom the world often considers the least of these, the asylum seeker, and look them in the eye, smile and say, “Bienvendios.”

Our guests stumble in, weary, confused and yet ever-so-gracious. Border Patrol has told them that they are going to some church, and what an odd-looking church we are. However, we are a church — a joined fellowship of God’s children. And after the heartbreaking decision of a long arduous journey through the Darien Gap or across the dry Sonoran Desert and a very humbling process of requesting asylum, they pick up their phones, and call their family members to whisper over and over, “We are safe. We are safe.”

ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) or Border Patrol drops the families and singles off at Casa Alitas Welcome Center in Tucson, Arizona, as do buses arriving from drop-offs in rural areas such as Ajo and Yuma. Approximately 500 travelers arrive at our hospitality centers in a day, although we are expecting numbers to rise.  

We provide this safe place to rest, rehydrate, eat and care for their children. We also provide a change of clothes, hygiene items and a chance to wash up. We address urgent medical needs to permit our guests to travel to their sponsor. We help contact family members in the U.S. and also support the sponsor purchasing bus or plane tickets. Sometimes family members have been separated and we have a team who works at finding them and putting the families in contact.

It has been a joy to also welcome our Romanian-Spanish IVEPer into this community. Miriam’s family also left their home and traveled to a new world, a new language and a new life. Perhaps this has made her particularly tenderhearted and gracious as she welcomes each guest. Perhaps because of that warm quality, she is often assigned one of the most challenging tasks, informing guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 that there is one more detour in their challenging journey: a five-day quarantine in a nearby hotel. Again and again, she explains the situation, answers reasonably disappointed questions and finds a change of clean clothing for each of the family members with encouraging kindness.

Miriam brings a rich sweetness to our team, a fresh perspective and it is always fun to introduce her to the Saguaro cactus standing tall up and down rugged mountains, the glorious sunsets, and the funky deliciousness of the Sonoran hot dog.