Stories of Change

Laura with the CWS asylum and border team and technical unit staff

A Border Visit Inspires a New Advocate

Last November, CWS volunteer and advocate, Laura Stoner, was spending some time in Colorado when she was invited by her church, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, to participate in a pilgrimage to the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso. When Laura said yes to the invitation, she didn’t know the profound experience and new connections that awaited her.

Originally from another border town, Laredo, Laura thought, “If the Coloradans see fit to go down to my border in Texas, maybe I should be there too.” The group attended various educational and advocacy sessions and volunteered at the Rio Grande Borderland Ministries shelter site, which is supported by CWS.

During one of these sessions Laura met Emily Miller, CWS’ Associate Director of Asylum and Border Services, and remembered that her church in Austin participated in CWS CROP Hunger Walks every year. This connection generated a lasting impact by empowering Laura to become a CWS advocate when she went back home to her church in Austin. “One of the unexpected benefits of the pilgrimage was that I was able to come back and give witness for Church World Service by sharing a little bit about what I learned from CWS, that I had met some of their staff and sat in on their advocacy sessions,” Laura said. “I considered it a big privilege to help bolster the support of the CROP Hunger Walk.”

Laura was so moved by the experience that she returned for a second time this past May. In addition to the panaderias in El Paso that welcomed Laura with sweet Mexican treats, she was deeply drawn to the work on the border because of the resemblance to her own community. “What I was hearing didn’t resonate with my experience growing up in a border town and what was hard was that once we actually met the shelter guests, these asylum seeking families, they didn’t look any different than the people that I grew up with. And yet this is who the media was demonizing, calling them invaders. And I’m just looking at them thinking, ‘Are we talking about the same people?’”

Laura remembers the people she met and encountered with vivid compassion. She shared that whenever a new family came into the shelter, they often walked in crying and the group couldn’t distinguish whether they cried tears of relief, grief or fear. One of the women who left a lasting impact on her was a Guatemala mother who came in with four young children, the oldest who appeared to be about eight years old. As Laura and Emily were speaking with her, they realized that she did not speak Spanish but spoke a less commonly spoken indigenous language. Laura remembers feeling even more shocked when she found out that the family was headed to Maryland and still had various airports and flights they needed to navigate. She remarked, “The courage it must have taken for her to make that journey and get that far with all those young boys…”

This was just one of the many harrowing stories Laura encountered and in each one, two common themes stood out. The first was grief. “You know, the loss of your country, your home, your people and your food. There’s a lot of grief, and they’re just in survival mode trying to get to their next breath, their next meal.” Just as intense as the grief she saw, however, Laura recognized the resilience of these individuals. “That’s part of what to me is so special about being there. Those people gave me strength. They’re a gift. Seeing what they have endured and seeing their strength and their faith, frankly, it’s just incredible,” she shared.

These visits allowed Laura to see what she reflects as “the body of Christ in action,” meaning the collaboration between every moving piece to support these newcomers. As part of all these pieces, CWS is thankful to be in it together, with motivated and passionate individuals like Laura, who amplify our work and show the deep humanity of our newest neighbors.

To learn more about CWS’ Asylum and Border Services program, click here.