Alive in Gallup, New Mexico

Dear friends.

My mode of writing necessitates a lot of time to prepare this post. Therefore, if any of this seems disjointed, it is due to the fact that this post has been written over many days.

I began my trek to Gallup, New Mexico on Sundays. August 26th, with a brief stay at an airport hotel so as to be able to arrive at the airport with ease the following morning. The border crossing at the airport was the easiest one I’ve ever had going to the US. The day was long due to a delayed flight which subsequently meant my missing the connecting flight. Instead of arriving at Albuquerque at 5pm, I arrived at 1am. I was ecstatic, however, that upon my arrival at my hotel that my room had been upgraded. I was on the club level at the Sheraton. It was a great treat after such a long day.

The next day was uneventful. I bought a cell phone at radio Shack for 10$! Phones are so much more inexpensive down here (as is everything else! I saw at a grocery store today a bottle of yellowtail sheraz for 5.50$!). I arrived at the Gallup train station at 7:08pm to two sisters waiting for me. They brought me to the shelter and so began the journey.

The shelter/soup kitchen has a volunteer area. I live there mostly by myself. There is another man here who looks after the men’s shelter, but his schedule is different than mine. He is a child of God with heart if gold and has been here for 25 years. I eat and pray by myself with the exception of Mass with the sisters at their house which is six blocks east of where I am staying. I walk there every morning at 6:30 to arrive for 7am mass with time to spare.

My day starts at 9am. I help with cleaning the shelter then go to the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal. The morning work ends at around 11:30 and I am free for the next four hours, which I use to eat, pray, and read. The sisters arrive back at 3:30 and I go and fold the clothes and towels for the men using the shelter that evening. The kitchen opens at around 4pm (though there is no such thing as a “set time” with the MCs). I will drop in for the first group of people to pat the guys down to ensure they are not hiding weapons, drugs,or alcohol (though it is alcohol we are worried most about and find most often). The first group goes into the chapel to pray with the sisters. I go back, usually, to folding the clothes and prepping things for the shelter and, when done, help out in the soup kitchen. Things wrap up by 6pm and that is my day. This goes on for 6 days a week as the sisters spend Thursday as a day of prayer, so the kitchen and shelter are shut down. It is therefore my day off too.

That is a general outline of my day, let me now get into specifics. The people we serve are largely Navajo people who struggle with alcohol addiction. Very few Mexicans come through here. The area is also flanked with stray dogs. My walk to Mass in the morning is a daily act of faith, though sometimes I detour so as to avoid the stray doverman pincher. The sisters,however, are going to give me the use of one of their cars and this may alleviate the issue. I have faith in God, but the phobia sometimes just takes over too much and I can’t control it. So this has been a trial as I have found myself staying inside most of the time due to this save for my journey for Mass.

I watched over the shelter for two nights as the man (the child of God I spoke of earlier) went home to visit his mother. I am in there for around an hour in the evening. I have had some interesting conversations with some of the natives in these brief visits. Most have been to rehab many times. A couple told me they have been in rehab 11 times. The problem, they say, is that something about the 12 steps doesn’t click with the native way of thinking. They get drunk to run away from pain, anxiety, etc. They want to stop but can’t figure out how to. It’s sad to say the least.

I woke up this morning to find one of the guys staying in the shelter having a seizure. So called 911. That was tough. Apparently this is common for him. After I let everyone out, I saw three people sitting next to the soup kitchen entrance, already drunk at 6am and talked to them. There is great sorrow in their hearts. It can’t help but move you. Christ really is there.

Here are some other things that have occurred in no particular order:
-One morning we found a bed and pajamas with lice. They are nasty little things. You have to drown them in bleach because they survive in water. That was fun. I took a shower almost immediately after being done the morning shift.
-The accommodations are quite good, actually. There is lots of food to help myself to, though I try to supplement it with healthy things as most of the things the sisters get is either loaded with salt or just plain unhealthy. It is way better than I had expected re: a room and kitchen, etc.
-The sisters pray a lot while working. I am averaging 3 rosaries and at least one divine mercy chaplet a day all because some sister decides to start praying one while working. This on top of my usual prayer schedule. So lots of prayer, for which I am grateful.
-They usually close the kitchen and shelter on the first of the month because it is when many people get a cheaper or payment of some sort. But they didn’t this month. So most of the people were quite drunk this particular evening. This night sister asked me to preach on the gospel of the day. I had to figure out what to say and the Lord provided me with the words. You haven’t preached until you have preached to a crowd that is mostly completely plastered. Let’s just say that they don’t prepare you for these types of situations in preaching class! It was the gospel about the master and the slaves who are given talents to invest from Matthew 25. I was just about to start when the Lord gave me a direction to go that would deal with the circumstances of those I was preaching to. Who knows how it was received, but definitely a new preaching moment I have never had before.
-The sisters have no washing machine or dishwasher. They have a dryer only because they can’t hang dry the clothes during the winter months. So I wash my clothes by hand. It is a great joy. Manual labour does great things for the soul.
-I just found out that for the next three months I will be enjoying the company of a guest priest every week. I met the first priest on Sundays evening and he is a wonderful, joy filled, and holy priest. We talked for three hours on Sunday and we are looking forward to hanging out all week. Who gets the opportunity to meet priests from all over the US? God has been good and has loaded me with consolations and acts of divine providence.

What have I to say then after all this? There have been and I continue to have ups and downs, which is only natural in such a situation. I had expected to work with the people more and to, well, work more! I also thought I would have community with whom I would pray, eat, and work with. My days are about 6 hours of actual work plus my time of prayer. On Monday and Tuesday, we will have the kitchen and shelter closed to do some needed cleaning. I love all the manual labour, but had hoped to work more directly with people.

However, there have been positives. My days feel balanced and I feel I can just be myself. I love the manual labour. I realize I am preparing meals, cleaning floors, folding clothes, etc all for Jesus. He is the One Who comes to eat and sleep here. I am growing in reminding myself this with each small action and it starts to challenge my actions in other such as “I will eat this for Jesus” or “this drunk person I am hugging or who’s dirty hand I am shaking is Jesus”. It is amazing how this little thought can change so much in our heart so quickly. It changes the way we do things and we no longer begrudge it but rather embrace it with thanksgiving and joy. Mother Teresa was very emphatic on doing all with a smile, and thus to accept what has been given with joy as from the Lord. She is right. Indeed no justify it because in the times I have felt alone and rejected, it isn’t God punishing, but me refusing to accept the givenness of the reality and moment in front of me.

I think that is enough for now.

In Christ through Mary

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Alive in Gallup, New Mexico

  1. Pingback: Alive in Gallup, New Mexico | Catholic Canada

  2. LeAnna

    It sounds like God will really be using this experience to stretch your comfort levels, and it also sounds like you’re handling everything well. You’ve been in my thoughts & prayers a lot recently and it’s good to see this update. I know that you will be a blessing to the people that you meet and work with. As soon as I can get to the adept level of balancing a squirming Walter with one arm I’ll begin a letter to you 🙂

    Also, you can handwash your own clothing!!! That is impressive!

  3. Michael Birch

    Harrison – I must keep my eyes open for a copy of Ian Tyson’s “Navajo Rug”; it can become the opening song of your day!

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