Tender Mercies

Most days I see the world as a place of hope.  I wake up with a grin on my face and watch the birds at the feeders.

Kitchen duty at the comedor

Mercy #1:

But sometimes the world looks very dark to me when I walk the hot, dusty mile to the comedor in Nogales, Mexico. There is the noise and frenzied activity of the American worker bees building the wall that divides us. On my last trip across the border I tried to take a photo of a banged up sign that said “To Mexico” adjacent to the boundary line. A Border Patrol agent stopped me and told me that this was a “security area” and no photos were allowed. I looked around at the huge machinery and cranes zig-zagging about wondering what was so important about this particular spot, but quickly put away my camera. Rules are rules. His voice was stern. He stared at me with his uniform of kevlar and assorted weaponry.

Securing our border

On this particular day our driver, Jack, was unable to transport the piles of clothing, medical supplies, and toiletries to the comedor. Jack has become an indispensable member of the Samaritan team; he carries loads of needed supplies into Mexico each week saving our troupe of hikers the burden of carrying the load on our backs. But today we put our shoulder to the wheel and carried huge plastic garbage sacks full of jeans and t-shirts and soap. It was 95 degrees at 9 AM, and the hike across the border was a struggle. No one going our way (truckers, tourists, pedestrians) offered to help. We had to stop every twenty steps to rest and wipe the sweat from our brows. It was a mini-migrant experience. I cannot imagine carrying a heavy pack for miles in the desert.

How do they do it?


Carrying the load together

And then a light appears in the most unexpected ways.

Immediately after crossing into Mexico our exhausted group approached an old beat-up pickup truck parked on the side of the road. An elderly Mexican man saw our little band of panting senior citizens balancing those unwieldy plastic bags on our backs. He hopped out of his truck and asked, “Where are you going? Can I help?”

The Hondurans look over the caps

When we told him we were heading to the comedor, he invited us to toss our bags into his truck and he would deliver them for us. We all practically broke out in song. Heaving the bags into his truck, he drove the rest of the way to the comedor and I followed along thinking that this fellow must be an angel or one of Santa’s helpers. Arriving at the comedor a group of migrants helped unload the truck and soon we were distributing the clothes and toiletries to over 100 people. The man in the beat-up truck helped us as well.

Full of smiles

And I thought about all of the reasons I love Mexico. There is a sense of gentle community and people helping people, with nothing expected in return. It just happens.

Mercy #2:

The sun was bearing down as I walked from the small first aid station in Nogales, Mexico, back to the comedor—about one-half mile. It was high noon. I was with a couple of students who were doing a “border immersion experience” during the summer. It was the hottest time of the year, with humidity rising and a monsoon storm brewing. We approached a little fruit stand on the street, one that I have passed many times over the past year. Unable to buy any of the melons or papayas to take home with me, (Our laws do not allow fruit to be carried back into the U.S.) I often felt guilty and deprived about not purchasing any of the vendor’s offerings. On this particular day he came out from under the shade of his cart with a platter of sliced watermelon.

Perfect watermelon.

He approached us and told us to take a piece of his fruit on this intensely hot day. We were all stunned and grateful and eagerly dug into the delicious red fruit. He would accept no money. Between the three of us we ate half of a melon. Our hands and face were sticky with the juice. Is there anything better than a truly perfect watermelon when it is 100 degrees and rising?

Pilgrims full of hope

The vendor, looking pleased with himself, saw my t-shirt with “Samaritans” emblazoned in red, and thanked our group for coming to the comedor each week.

It was another sweet moment of light.

Passing out the clothing

Mercy #3:

I have a couple of Samaritan friends, the two Johns I call them, as they are both named John and have been friends for many years. They live in Green Valley, Arizona, and volunteer for desert searches regularly. Rarely have they found lost migrants, but they have learned about the back country and remoteness of the Sonoran desert on their searches. On this particular day they were playing golf together on the Tubac Golf Course near their home. A migrant staggered up to them on the golf course saying he had been lost in the desert for days and was having chest pain. His name was Santiago. John #1 attempted to give him food and water, but the migrant was unable to digest the nourishment and promptly vomited. John #2 called the Emergency Medical Team at the golf course and Santiago was transported to a hospital in Nogales, Arizona where he was treated with intravenous fluids and evaluated for possible heart damage.


Trying it on for size

The next day the two Johns showed up at the hospital with new clothes, shoes, and a small duffel bag. When Santiago saw them enter his room he burst into tears. So did the two Johns. Santiago did not know their names, and yet they came back to check on him. I am told that it was a sweet moment. Not a dry eye in the room.

There is much more to this story—calls to Santiago’s son in California, transporting Santiago to the comedor for a few days of good food and time to heal, purchasing a bus ticket to Tijuana. The story is convoluted and there are many questions about our encounter with Santiago. But this I know: John #1 and John #2 did a good thing out there on the golf course. They were Samaritans in the truest sense, and probably saved his life.

Sister Rosalba, the Virgin, and the vegetables

I grab onto these tender mercies. I think the expression “tender mercies” is from somewhere in the Bible, a psalm perhaps. Mostly I recall a wonderful movie many years ago with Robert Duvall called “Tender Mercies,” about those sweet moments of light when things look the darkest.

There is always light when I visit the comedor.


Walking the walk back to the USA


~ by Peg Bowden on August 29, 2012.

6 Responses to “Tender Mercies”

  1. Thank you for “Tender Mercies,” Peg. Welcome back from Oregon. You were missed.

  2. keep writing Peg, you have an important story to tell

  3. Peg,
    Another beutiful and reflective entry to your journal that causes me to think wistfully about returning to southern AZ and resume my work with Samaritans. Up here in the northland, one can get lazy, and there is so much work to be done: to save the lives of crossers and to try to give them hope with a smile and a touch.

    Thanks for reminding me.


  4. I really enjoy your perspective. Keep writing!
    Nina, Norway

  5. Hi Peg,

    Great post! “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Even in the midst of the worst, the best surfaces: tender mercies. From the Bible, a Psalm perhaps? Right on! The words “tender mercies” occurs ten times in nine different Psalms.

    May God continue to bless your work and that of the rest of the Samaritans.


  6. Beautiful stories. You’re so eloquent in describing them. I’m so glad to hear of these “tender mercies”.

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