The Rev. Michael Jarrett is a face for Christ and the Anglican Church on the South Texas/Mexico border.
The first thing you notice about the Lower Rio Grande Valley is the wide open sky above scrub brush and low-lying buildings, interspersed with chain-link fences and frequently, a pack of roaming dogs. Every Monday the Rev. Michael Jarrett, a C4SO priest and founder of The Trinity Mission, drives his truck through this landscape to La Posada Providencia, a residential transition shelter for immigrants and asylees after they have been processed through U.S. Customs.
Since moving to the area last September, Jarrett has volunteered his time to the Sisters of Divine Providence who staff the shelter, offering himself as a sacramental presence of the body of Christ on America’s southern border. Each month, hundreds of families fleeing genocide, political oppression and cartel control in Cuba, Central America, Africa and Asia arrive at the border asking to be protected, overloading the government’s current system.
“It may be a threshold to a land of opportunity, but for many our southern border is a holding cell,” Jarrett says. “It can be a place of complete upheaval of hopes and expectations.”
Seven-year-old Sammy’s family is a perfect example. In Ethiopia, Sammy’s parents’ lives were threatened because they campaigned and voted for the losing political candidate. So Sammy’s parents fled with him and his younger sibling to South Africa, boarded a plane to Brazil, and traveled up to the border, where they checked in and pled for asylum. All four of them were taken to detention. But to cut costs for food and shelter, the government released the mom and kids after six weeks and transferred the dad to detention in Georgia, to wait for his case to adjudicate before the U.S. Immigration Court in four to six months. Sammy, his mom and younger sibling were dropped at a bus station in Brownsville in Texas’ southernmost county. Alone amongst the 1.5 million residents in the Valley and with nowhere to go, the little family didn’t know where to find their husband and father, or when he would be getting released.
That’s when the Sisters of Divine Providence at La Posada stepped in. The Sisters brought the family back to the shelter and helped them get settled in sparse but clean rooms. They offered them meals, counsel and tutoring in English and life skills. The Sisters helped the family figure out where their husband and father is, and learn the date of his hearing. Upon his release, they will attempt to reunite the family. In the meantime, they wait.
“It’s a lot of holding and waiting,” Jarrett says. “A lot of people arrive here with a lot of hope, but are in situations where it’s really difficult to maintain that hope.”
Jarrett helps at La Posada by driving immigrants to the doctor, to the bus station, or to the immigration lawyer’s office. His various other jobs have included hearing confessions, digging holes for a new building, repairing machinery, and taking immigrants to the Orthodox church 45 minutes away. On the days when he’s not at La Posada, he serves in other ways through his nonprofit mission, Trinity on the Border—a Christ-centered, Eucharistic, mission-driven community seeking out and serving needs on both sides of the border. Trinity on the Border offers holistic healthcare and education, increased access to healthy foods, and partnership with organizations like La Posada that serve the vulnerable, offering them spiritual mentorship, strategic planning, sacramental ministry and volunteer assistance.
Jarrett’s whole family helps at La Posada when they can. On Wednesdays, his wife Erica takes their daughter Zenie to lead the children at the shelter in a craft project and outdoor play. A doctor, Erica also does well baby checks at the free clinic where La Posada takes the immigrants. Five-year-old Zenie plays and runs around with the immigrant children. The shelter can always use an extra hand, and Jarrett welcomes churches, families or individuals to come down and experience the complex situation on the border themselves.
“One of our goals is to inform and engage the Anglican Church in North America on the realities of immigration and the border so we may respond appropriately, loving one another and sharing the love of Christ with the least and lost,” he says.
La Posada is a second family to immigrants, loving and helping them acclimate to American culture. When they are ready to resettle, the Anglican Church can become another, more permanent family, continuing what La Posada began.
“When these people leave here, they’re going to Austin, Seattle, New York, Atlanta,” Jarrett says. “They are going to cities all over the country to start a new life. We need a network of churches that will pick them up at the bus station and invite them into their lives and community.”
That “welcome” to a stranger can mean a hot meal, a hug or many other things. For example, churches or individuals can teach immigrants English as a Second Language. At La Posada, Jarrett teaches a class he calls “How to Be an American,” with subjects that span money, U.S. civics, social history, political history and general topics. Christians can also serve by helping immigrants learn about real estate, navigate the Department of Motor Vehicles or find good schools for their children. For Jarrett, it’s all about being an agent of God’s love in the world.
“Regardless of someone’s religion or nationality, I can go and love them as a Christian and help them find food and water,” he says. “There are so many things we can do, because each person is created in the image of God, and we’re called to respond to that image in them.”
To learn more about how you can support the work of Trinity on the Border, visit thebordermission.org.