His Name is Engel

I didn’t know his name a week ago, when I agreed to write an essay on immigration policy for the Sojourn Grace blog. Pointed political commentary is not my genre of choice – I said yes to the prompt mostly because it intimidated me, and I’m trying to make a practice of moving in the direction of things that intimidate me.
At this moment, I’m not sure which direction Engel is moving. It’s likely he’s being taken south, back toward the Honduran border. In a network of nations that requires three answerless days of pleading and phone calls and threats to issue a simple Amber Alert, it’s nearly impossible to track a five-year-old little boy.

I learned Engel’s name at midnight last Friday morning, in a Facebook messenger exchange with an acquaintance who reached out to me as her only San Diegan contact. “There is a boy being brought up to the border,” she told me, “and he has asthma. Would you be able to bring some medication across to the shelter he’ll be in?” His mother and brothers were with her in Portland, OR. Engel was on his way to be reunited with them.

I said yes, even as I hesitated. The yes pushed its way through the myriad doubts that immediately crowded my thinking, each of them rooted in bias or insecurity or fear. How can you possibly dig out the root of a stranger’s story? How can you look knowingly into the eyes of a need and discern what it will cost you? How can you weigh risk from the distance of miles, through the filter of borders, from the literal white sheet safe haven of your bed? To my thousands of questions, to my fear, to my bias, and to my Facebook messaging friend, I said “Yes.” Not because I am especially brave or especially kind – I said yes in the way I would put my body between my own five-year-old and an oncoming car. The yes of an instinct that is larger than mind and louder than reason. The yes of the way spirit moves.

The next few days were a crash course in the nuance of unaccompanied minor border crossings, of asylum seekers and legal aid and asthma contraptions and family dynamics. They were a lesson on the stubborn hearts of committed women in search of a child, but also the complicated ways women can bruise and break with trauma, with addiction, with fear. For a moment, Engel was in a car en route to the white sheet safe haven of a bed secured for him, in an AirBnB stocked with new clothes and meds and the promise of someone to hold him when his grandmother delivered him to the dividing line.

The next moment, he was gone, evaporated into the atmosphere of a country, lost in the brutal proximity of a thousand unsearchable doorways and alleys and rooms.

There is no question that we are moving through a world that has been introduced to a new kind of trauma. We are trailblazing, pioneering the potential and risk of so much knowing – of the news and aches and tragedies streaming in near constant onslaught across the hive mind of our screens. I’m not convinced we’ve even begun to learn how to navigate all of our knowing. But if you’re like me, sometimes the impossibility of sureness – the question of who or what to trust when there are a thousand voices screaming – can lead you to retreat into apathy. Trying to take in the entirety of the horizon can blur your vision until you feel the migraine coming. Until you collapse inward, shut the curtains, turn off the lights, lock the doors.

Hear me: Do all of that when you need to. Rest. Take your time.

However, when you are ready, I believe it helps to give all of the chaos and brokenness a name. A single name, and perhaps you can borrow this poignantly heavenly one: Engel.

Engel, because we cannot understand nor solve all the broken moving pieces of our world. Engel, because they are many, and staring at the lot of them, we fail to focus. We fail to begin. Small Engel, because our own smallness is terrifying, our limitations obvious, the weight of futility heavy on our fragile, tired souls. Engel, because it isn’t easy to spin the mental pirouettes necessary to justify risking our own safety, our resources, and our safe haven homes and bedsheets if we are trying to right a whole world full of uncontainable, unquantifiable wrongs.

But each of us would throw our body between a five-year-old child and an oncoming car. The yes of the way spirit moves.

I said yes in the way I would put my body between my own five-year-old and an oncoming car.

The yes of the way spirit moves.

When I think about Jesus, I imagine him human, like you and me, a human doubting and moving and placing his calloused hands on the sores of lepers, smearing their mess on the sacred temple furniture, flipping the tables and letting the cost and risk and wound of justice puncture his skin. In a world full of uncontainable, unquantifiable wrongs, he looked in the eyes of the need in front of him, and though I’m skeptical he knew all it would cost him, he said yes from a holy place that is larger than instinct and louder than reason. I don’t know if he knew, the way we know, the scope of the world and the scale of its madness and the depth of its beautiful, diverse, and complicated souls. I don’t know if he knew the thousands of years and stories and harm and good that would be done in his honor. I don’t know if he knew if what he was doing really mattered at all.

Maybe, when it was all too much and he didn’t know where to begin, he focused in on a single life, a single need, a single name.

His name is Engel, and I don’t know where he is at the moment, or if his mother will find him. His grandmother, lost in her own trauma and wounds, has taken him somewhere, and my hope is that her love for him is keeping him safe, and fed, and warm. When he is found, he has an army of friends here, lawyers and caretakers and new clothes and sturdy roofs and the white sheet safe haven of a warm bed. I don’t know if we will find him. 

But I do know that we have within us a yes that is larger than instinct and louder and reason, and I am asking us to say it in his name. I am asking us to learn the name of whatever need is nearest, to say it over and over again until it focuses our vision, until the movement becomes clear, until we can open the windows and unlock the doors and love one small only everything need. One small only everything boy, wherever we see or find him. He may wear a thousand different faces. We may have a thousand different questions. All we know, all we need to know to act, is simple:

His name is Engel.


About the Author

Karyn is a writer, mama, and Realtor in San Diego, CA. You can find more of her writing at www.girlofcardigan.com, and stay tuned for her passion project, The Virago Collective, a network dedicated to empowering women to buy, sell, and invest in property that will launch in the spring of 2018.