Neal Brubaker: Why I am doing El Camino

I am ill-informed

In the vast world of immigration where there are so many issues, perspectives, and stories, I am still far behind in what I know. 

On an issue that affects millions of people, sometimes in a life and death manner, I remain relatively unaware. 

You could correctly say that my experience with immigration is more than most in my hometown, a quiet farming community tucked into the fields of central Kansas. I was one of about five hundred people. As a Mennonite (not Amish) I grew up learning about Jesus, a strong loving community, pacifism, and zwiebach. Yet our community was nearly all white, and what we knew about the lives of immigrants came from what we saw on the news. When you live in central Kansas, you care more about the border between the wheat and the corn fields than the one between the United States and Mexico. 

neal b photo

Going to college gradually increased my knowledge in this area. I attended Hesston College and Goshen college from 2011 to 2015. Both are small Mennonite institutions which seek to develop students academically, as well as spiritually and emotionally. At Goshen especially, students received a much better view of the social justice issues present in the world, but there’s only so much one can learn in academia. 

After college I found myself in San Antonio, Texas, doing work through an organization called Mennonite voluntary service. I was placed at RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) as a legal assistant. I was part of a smaller team that worked exclusively with detained women and children seeking asylum from Central America. So yes, here I learned. Here I became more informed. From only a year of work I heard many women’s stories and learned of atrocities in El Salvador, the twisted, confusing legal system, and so much more. 

I took in a great deal from this experience, and on one hand I am much more informed than I was back in my small Kansas town. On the other hand, however, asylum is just one small piece of a broad immigration picture, so my knowledge is incomplete. 

It is for this reason that I walk the Camino. 

I have a few stories that I can now share and I hope to impart the small piece that I have gained during my experience in South Texas. The importance of listening and learning cannot be overstated. Imagine the state of our politics if our leaders understood issues through the eyes of those who have experienced it. 

There is so much power in the telling, hearing and receiving of stories. I hope that through the walk we can be strengthened for whatever mission we are a part of and continue walking together, even long after the final stop. 

Neal Brubaker seeks to be a student of the world and the people around him. He recently completed work with a immigration non-profit in San Antonio and is representing Mennonite Voluntary Service during el Camino.

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