The Lessons of Listening: Experiencing the Beauty of Others

American-Mexican Border

This past December I traveled with a group of DePaul students to Nogales, Mexico with University Ministry’s service immersion program. We were going on this trip in order to learn more about immigration down at the border. Although we met several times prior to the trip in order to prepare, we fell extremely short of actually being prepared. We saw much more than I believe any of us expected. We sat in a courtroom and watched undocumented migrants be prosecuted in large batches, only to learn that this is actually unconstitutional. We slept in migrant shelters. We visited Border Patrol. We spoke with a rancher who lives on the border. We went to a maquiladora factory. We passed back and forth across the border with privilege we were all suddenly much more aware of. We spoke with so many people. It began to feel strange to think that it was a ‘service’ immersion trip. What we were actually doing for most of the time while we were there was listening.

Every time we went somewhere, whether we were visiting with a public defender or sitting in a cold migrant shelter or in someone’s home, we were listening. So many people had so much to share with all of us. As we ended each day, we found ourselves tired and ready to rest, even though all we had done was sit and listen to people talk to us throughout the day.

It’s almost strange to say, but the listening at times was exhausting. With listening comes processing, and we never knew what we would be hearing and how it affected us. There were times of incredible emotion as we heard from migrants who were left with no where to go. There were times of great joy, like when we shared music and dancing with young people in Agua Prieta, Mexico. There was incredible frustration as we heard from people who didn’t seem to place any importance on human dignity. Each time we came back together to try and deal with everything we had heard throughout the course of the day. I had never realized so fully the importance of just listening to people’s stories and asking questions.

Everyone on the trip was coming from a different place. Some had more secure ideas about their faith, and others were still searching or uncertain. We all came from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds and it affected how we received what we were hearing. Although we were hearing and feeling everything a little bit differently, there was some comfort in coming back together as a group to deal with what we were experiencing.

After we spent the day listening to others, we made sure to take time to listen to each other. I learned an incredibly amount about border issues and my own faith by listening to people for ten days. Building bridges and discovering where peace can be found is truly as simple as just listening. It may not be easy, and it certainly may leave a certain amount of discomfort, frustration, or sadness, but it can be just as simple as listening.

– Ellen Romer

Interfaith Scholar 2009-2010

Published in the March 2010 Issue of the Interfaith Review

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