You don't have to travel far to change your heart
Sometimes I feel like my generation is obsessed with traveling abroad. Well, let me rephrase that.
Sometimes I feel like, in the upper/middle-class society that I have grown up in, people my age almost have this inborn desire to study/travel abroad to just about anywhere and everywhere as long as it is not in the US. Whether it be due to the invention of planes and sky miles or due to the insidious side effects of social media envy, every summer my facebook and instagram are filled with photos of friends going to new places to see and experience new things.
I too have become victim to this pandemic.
And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I am a huge fan of travel. But I have also recently come to the conclusion that I think we may put too much emphasis on just how far we have to go to get this so-called great experience that comes from broadening our horizons.
Over winter break I had the opportunity to go to a town called McAllen in southern Texas.
Yeah, southern Texas. Really branching out. I know.
In McAllen we visited and worked in communities mostly filled with lower income Spanish speaking immigrants who crossed the border in search of a new and better life here in the United States. We also had the privilege to welcome refugees from countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras at a refugee center where we gave them clothes, food, and a warm shower before we sent them on buses to meet their families here in the states.
It was a combination of saddening, rewarding, and humbling, to say the least.
The amazing thing about this little road trip to, we’ll say, another region of Texas, is that it wasn’t really until this trip that it occurred to me that not everyone has the opportunity to travel abroad. That not everyone has the means to even go to college, let alone go to college in another country. And it never quite occurred to me that for many people, leaving their country to go to another one isn’t called “studying” or “traveling” abroad, it’s called escaping.
And maybe it’s not that these things had never occurred to me, it’s just that they never really seemed real or relevant.
We hear so much about what we should be doing to shut down the borders – especially in Texas. They talk about building walls and sending troops. Or they’ll talk about what needs to be done to fix the problem, what policy needs to be made, and what money needs to be spent.
But the thing we don’t hear about is who these people actually are that are coming into our country.
(That is, unless of course they’re a drug dealer or sex trafficker, we’ll hear about those. But they are not the majority.)
The people we cared for and the people we welcomed into this country were not criminals, they were not looking for a free ride, and they intended us no harm.
They were people. People who deserved to be treated with respect. People who had left behind families because they felt like the only option they had was to come here so they could work and send money back home so their government wouldn’t steal from them. People who had walked anywhere from 7-20 days with small children on their backs just because they knew anything was better than staying where they were. Young people, who should be in school, but instead were forced to try and find a new and better life, even at the risk of costing their own.
I drove 8 hours. I never left the continental U.S. I never even left my current state of residence. And my heart has been forever changed. I fell in love with the people of Central America and I can’t even speak their language. Their humility, endurance, and gratitude for even the smallest gifts overwhelmed me. Their struggles and trials both saddened and strengthened me. And their faith truly inspired me. I can only hope and pray that I did even half as much for them.
While I still have the desire to see the world, I think that I now have a stronger desire to get to know people; and I hope and pray that that desire continues to grow. Studying abroad may be a great experience, but building relationships with everyone from your next door neighbor to your friend in Vietnam, I can assure you, will be an even greater one.