Raft

By Jeanne Rossomme

 

One of my New Year resolutions has been to create a more regular prayer practice. My hope is to drown out the noise of daily life and to create space for God’s peace and guidance.


My husband and I are spending this January in an Air B&B in Key Biscayne near Miami where we raised our children almost 20 years ago. On Tuesday morning, I plugged in the “Pray as You Go” Walking Retreat and set off for a sunrise walk down the beach. The narrator gently prompted me to be in the moment with all my senses: to smell the ocean breeze, to feel the sand between my toes, to taste the salt in the air, to really see the beauty of the sky and the sea.


I was about 20 minutes into my walk when I noticed the sun glinting on something jaggedly out of place: rusted barrels welded together. What was this washed-up debris marring the clean beauty of the beach at dawn?


A man, another early morning walker, stopped just as the realization hit me: this was a raft, and it had carried people to this beach sometime during the night.


“Cuba or Haiti?” the man asked.


We looked at the barrels more closely: they were drums that once contained oil and honey from Cuba. The man was an engineer, and as he examined our find, he noted the care and skill in the welding. He picked up a propellor still inside the boat. It was handmade, a spare, obviously carried as a precaution in the event the engine powering the raft failed. The improvised vessel had a 6-cylinder, 250-cubic-inch engine, salvaged from a 1950-era Chevy.


“Risky decision — crossing 90 miles of ocean in the middle of the night,” the man said, “but good choice of engine – that engine was a commercial workhorse.” That day, news reports confirmed that a Cuban raft had been found, and noted “the significant uptick in maritime migration from Cuba to South Florida over the past year due to deteriorating political and economic conditions within the island nation.”




When Holy Trinity parishioners visit the desert during our Kino Border Project trips, we look at relics: the possessions that migrants leave behind on their perilous journey to the United States – a child’s teddy bear, family photos, empty water bottles.


Now this well-constructed vessel joins my mental inventory of relics — a hard visual testament to opposing conditions — hope and desperation — that provoke the heartbreaking question: Did this family arrive safely? Or were they lost to the sea — or to the indignities and new perils of detention?


I cannot get this raft, and the passengers it carried, out of my mind. They join the men and women and children whose journeys we’ve been blessed to accompany as part our Migrant Team familia:

  • Hadia, fleeing stalkers after two colleagues were murdered by the Taliban for speaking out on social media.

  • Asila, crossing the Pakistani/Afghan border with nothing but a backpack because she could not reach the Kabul airport during the official evacuation.

  • The Sevilla family, escaping drug lords, walking to the United States from Honduras with 4 little boys.

  • Julien Patrick, passing through the hellish Darien gap, burying the body of a baby en route.

  • Blondy, who fleeing torture in the Congo, smuggling himself in the bowels of a cargo ship for the two-month journey to Ecuador, then walking overland through South and Central America.

  • The Mbala family, also escaping Congo — with 3 small children.

  • Mugahid, fleeing violence in Sudan, first to Egypt, and then Ecuador, walking overland, then locked in detention, where he contracted COVID, pre-vaccine.

  • Yanilson leaving Honduras after his house was burned down due to his transgender identity, and then sex-trafficked en route as a minor.

  • Bernadette, jailed for her human rights advocacy, fleeing Gabon with her then 3-year old daughter.

How many others will cross the 90 miles from Cuba to Key Biscayne during the month I am here? How many will walk across continents to find safety? Immigration policy is complex, but at its heart are the real lives of men, women and children like the passengers on this skillfully constructed metal raft — whose story broke into my “Pray As You Go” Walking Retreat — and whom I pray God is now guiding to refuge and new life.