“We can differ on immigration policy. But what we must agree on is that all immigrants are children of God and deeply loved by Him.” -Evangelical Immigration Table

Last Friday while in El Paso visiting his parents, B. Sterling and I were given a profound opportunity.  We got to tour one of the 32 shelters in El Paso that are serving the thousands of migrants coming over the border from Central America. 
Our dear friends, Sami and Marianne live in El Paso and Sami heads up Ciudad Nueva, a non profit after school program in downtown El Paso that serves underprivileged families.  He is also on the front lines of the effort to help refugees, in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico giving tours of shelters to leaders from all over the country that want to really see with their own eyes the faces of the Central American refugee crisis.  Sami speaks Spanish; his heart beats for justice, and he’s a real citizen of the world sort of guy.  We jumped at the chance to go to one of the shelters with him.  Before we left the house, B. said, “I’m going to bring my guitar, just in case.”
We pulled up to a warehouse, located about a mile from the Mexico border, mammoth in size, concrete and numbing.  The only real indication that something humane was taking place behind its walls was the diminutive Salvation Army sign hanging precariously on the chain link fence beside the building.  We really had no idea what to expect when we walked through the door marked “Donations and Volunteers.”  We were greeted by a guy named Chris who works for Annunciation House, which is an organization in El Paso that is committed to being the hospitality of Christ to undocumented immigrants.  Annunciation House runs the shelter in the warehouse.  Chris was gentle and soft-spoken but laser focused too.  He wasn’t righteous in a quest to educate us to the realities of the situation, but he welcomed each and every question and made space for the truth of the answers to really sink in.  He seemed totally committed and present to his mission to serve and care for the refugees. 
For the next hour Chris answered our group’s many questions about the refugee crisis. At one point Chris said, “The people here at this shelter are the “lucky ones” so to speak. They have a sponsor, someone here in the States that can vouch for them.  These people will spend only 48 hours in this shelter and then they will be sent to that sponsor to await their court date.  But even with a sponsor their likelihood of being deported back into Mexico is 80%. They have a 20% chance of being permitted the chance to stay.” 
I had a lot more (and new) questions when he said that. But it was getting close to 5pm, the time when the Salvation Army would provide dinner for the refugees. Our group went on to tour the rest of the huge facility, including the vast room where the refugees slept on cots.  It was all clean and well organized; the volunteers smiled at our group as we walked through.  But it was shocking to think of the thousands of immigrants that had limped through these doors and slept on these cots. Just 48 hours to rest, get showers and eat and then they must move on or go back. 
As we finished the tour B. pulled Chris aside and said, “Hey man, this might be weird, but I brought my guitar.  Any chance the refugees might like to hear some music during dinner?”
Chris looked stunned, “Really, you brought a guitar? And you want to play to the refugees?  Of course that would be ok!”
B. and I were a little surprised by that.  “Are we the first people to come offer music?”
Chris said, “Yep, the first. We’ve never had a musician come sing.”
B. went out to the car to get his guitar and he and I talked about that.  We had assumed other people had come to sing to the refugees.
Perhaps this points to a larger trend with people in general. Often we don’t step in and help because we assume someone else already is. And is probably doing it better than us.
But there weren’t any other musicians coming to the shelter to sing and play guitar to soothe and uplift the migrants.
There was just us.  I guess we would have to do.
You never feel very prepared.  You can always imagine a better time to help or a fancier set-up.  We need to prepare a little more. Let me get a little more organized and I’ll get back to you about helping.  But there isn’t another time.  There is only a right now kind of willingness. 
Like I said, it was an enormous concrete warehouse.  The eating area was terrible for sound quality.  And B didn’t have his trusty PA with him.  He had his Collings guitar and he found a mic stand in our car.  The Annunciation house had a PA that kind of worked and a microphone. So B. turned the mic to pick up some sound from his guitar and just belted out the songs with his voice as well as he could.
I sat and watched the refugees react to B. playing music for them.  The children were like all children.  They were interested in the music immediately.  Several came and stood right next to B’s guitar.   He waved at them and they turned their heads shyly.   Just like my children do. 
Some of the adults looked befuddled.  They hadn’t expected to hear a guitar and songs as they stood in line to receive their dinner.
Once all the refugees had their plates and were seated, things shifted in the most amazing way.  After the fourth song, a bold guy clapped. Couldn’t help himself. He liked the music.  And that sparked an awareness in the room.  Oh, this musician is here for us. He’s here to sing to us.  Suddenly everyone seemed present to their dinner and concert experience. That was the turning point, and after every subsequent song, the room clapped brightly.  I turned in my seat to watch.  A few women sat back in their seats between bites and their shoulders seemed to finally relax.  Their kids were listening to the music and eating nicely. The mothers and I exchanged understanding smiles.   Another man gave two thumbs up when B. closed a song with some speedy, impressive guitar finger picking. 
One guy was headed back to the serving line for seconds, but came right up to B to give him a fist bump.  Everybody chuckled. 
Miracle, I whispered to myself.  Music is a miracle maker. 
B had run through a standard repertoire of praise songs. “J, what should I play next?”  And because it’s me, I didn’t hesitate: “The Beatles.  ‘All You Need is Love.’
B grinned and tuned his guitar for it.
It’s a song that frames my life in many ways.  It’s a Beatles song that is part of my father’s history. I wrote about it in my memoir.  So, it was something incredible to hear B. sing it to hundreds of refugees.  Suddenly I heard the words all new.
At the bridge, a gorgeous thing happened.  One of the Annunciation House volunteers was singing along and realized that maybe the refugees weren’t quite as familiar with the Beatles’ tunes as the rest of us.  So she called out in a loud voice in Spanish, “AMOR!!!”  The whole room gave a nod of realization. Just that one word needing translating, but not interpreting.  It was the only word they needed to understand.
When B. closed out “All You Need is Love,” the refugees cheered and clapped and waved their arms.  Afterward, B. went up to them and shook their hands.  One family had journeyed from Ecuador, another from Brazil, another from Venezuela and on and on…
And I heard in my heart again that crisp clear voice like a bell, “For God so loved the whole world…”

B plays at shelter