It sometimes seems that joy can be a hard commodity to come by when working with deported migrants. This week, for example, I had a long conversation with a severely depressed migrant. He does not know what he will do next and has little hope for the future. His family in Pheonix has not been answering the phone and he told me that he recently started to cut himself. In a word, this place seems to be of despair and not joy.
And yet, as Henri Nouwen writes in The Return of the Prodigal Son, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.” He goes on to say that joy “is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. I am tempted to be so impressed by the obvious sadness of the human condition that I no longer claim the joy manifesting itself in many small but very real ways.”
So recently I decided to work on my discipline of joy.
Joy is a daily exercise. Every morning when I am running up and down stairs to work out I look over the mountains and let the gorgeous sunrise fill me with joy. As I register, survey, and answer questions from new arrivals I hold on to the joy of every smile that I get in response to my effort to give the friendliness bienvenido possible. When the migrants leave el comedor and thank us for our work I grasp the little piece of joy of knowing that these few moments of food and safety have been a positive part of their day.
There are special time of joy too. Such as a week ago, when one of the migrants took the microphone after lunch and serenaded us with beautiful songs while we cleaned up. Or when a group came from Phoenix came with such overwhelming excitement at being here and love for my migrant friends that I could not help but smile all the more widely.
But my favorite part of my work here is finding out what gives the migrants joy. Such as the 19 year old who loves to play basketball and recounts to me the stories of his daily games. Or a proud father who told me excitedly about how hard working and intelligent his kids are. Or one young man who only wanted to speak in English because he is so proud of the fact that he speaks almost perfectly after only 5 years in the States.
So, day by day I choose light. Not out of naïveté but out of faithfulness that there is light in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.