Written by Sherrill Gramse
My favorite job as a registered nurse, after years of hospital, home health and long-term care nursing, was working at a free clinic for 15 years. We had hundreds of volunteer nurses, doctors, clerical, and translator volunteers to make our clinic for the poor and uninsured a success. Located in a city of 150,000 plus residents, our clinic served the homeless and “working poor” – workers able to have an income but did not have the means or access to healthcare. We also served people from over 52 different countries, with over one-half being undocumented as citizens of the United States. The policy of our clinic was to screen people to determine their eligibility using residence and income documentation, but never requiring proof of citizenship. During that time I often wondered why a person would brave traveling to another country, not being able to speak the language or have knowledge of the laws and possibly be subject to arrest and deportation.
In the early 2000’s, our son’s church was going on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico for the Casas Por Cristo ministry. They needed extra chaperones for the fourteen teenagers going on the trip, so our son asked my husband and myself to go. The group was responsible for our own costs (food, gas, building supplies, etc) and traveled to a gathering point in El Paso, Texas. There we were given a brief training on what was to be expected once we entered Juarez.
Our group had a guide that drove us by bus into Mexico and lodged us in a companion church. There we slept and prepared our meals. Each day we were driven to a site; hundreds of “homes” made of scrap lumber, pallets, and sheets of metal were lined up with dirt alleys separating them. Our host family lived in one of these “pallet homes”. They had applied to their local church and waited a year for our group to come and build them a two-room house with a concrete floor, stucco walls and roof. Electricity for the homes came from indoor extension cords secured to telephone poles running through the alleys. Water came up from the ground through a half-inch pipe with a pump handle on top. The house was no bigger than a single car garage in America.
As we worked through the week pouring concrete, building walls, applying stucco, we were able to visit and “talk” with the family. They were a family of four: mother, father and two children. Many of the residents in the alley had jobs but only were able to make in a day what people in America make in an hour at minimum wage. It is extremely hard to send children to school, to get healthcare, or to save money and move to a better home. But the people and their churches were solidly attended and supported. It was at that moment I thought how easy it would seem to cross the border and try to assimilate into another culture, even risking arrest or even death if traveling through the desert, to provide a better life for one’s children – I would be one of these.
There are many complexities to immigration policy and I heard for myself that some of the angriest people against “illegal immigrants” were other immigrants who had applied, worked and waited for legal citizenship. Asylum for persecution and refugee status are also heated topics. But what I learned on my first mission trip was to view life from another perspective and for that I am grateful. I even asked our guide, ‘why do you want hundreds of groups coming into Mexico to build these homes? Why don’t we just give you lots of money and you hire workers to build hundreds of homes? Wouldn’t that be more economical?’ and he answered, ‘But it’s better for you and the kids to see what is just five miles over the border and to understand what is needed’. Certainly all of us on that trip went home appreciating cool, dry homes with running water and electricity, food and clothing, being able to see the doctor when sick, and to be able to go to school each day.
Painted on the wall over the exit door of our old church were the words “You are now entering the mission field”. We are all in a mission field whether it is in serving at a food pantry, an after-school gathering place or in a foreign country on a mission trip. Please consider serving in whatever capacity you are gifted and led by the holy spirit; as Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21 NIV
Written by Sherrill Gramse. I am a born-again, baptized believer in Jesus Christ that accepted the Lord as my Savior almost 50 years ago. I have lived in Northern Illinois most of my life but recently moved to Southern Illinois to retire and live closer to our two adult children. My husband, Harry, and I have been married 53 years this November. I am a retired registered nurse and my husband is retired from Caterpillar. We attend Cornerstone Church in Marion, IL. We love our life in Southern Illinois, our family, neighbors and friends, and our giant dog and three bossy cats.