Water in the Desert, and a Prayer for Migrants

by Katerina Friesen
Watershed Discipleship Editorial Team

In 2016, I walked 75 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border along with over 60 other people on The Migrant Trail, an annual walk to bear witness to the thousands of inhumane deaths that migrant sisters and brothers have suffered as a result of U.S. immigration policies. Over the past 20 years, 7,000 deaths have been documented, and many human remains found in the desert remain unidentified. We walked to remember these known and unknown loved ones, carrying crosses marked with either their names or simply, “desconocido” (unknown), which we called out from our line of walkers to the collective response of:


The temperature hit over 110 degrees one day as our group walked near the border in Arizona. Sweat dripped down my face and back, and we were advised to walk on the white line on the road since the black asphalt was so hot. Even though we had plenty of water in support vans and at rest stops (in contrast with most migrants crossing the desert, who can’t carry very much), my water bottle was low and all I could think of while walking was our next stop for water. We rounded a curve in the road, and suddenly I saw a humanitarian aid truck carrying water that they regularly leave out in the desert, water that saves many migrants’ lives. I only had a brief taste of the heat and exhaustion migrants go through in their perilous journey north, but at that moment I started weeping when I saw the water truck there, offering our group water and encouraging us on our way. Water is life, especially in the desert.

Vandalized humanitarian aid supplies. Image from: http://www.thedisappearedreport.org

Though humanitarian aid groups set up similar water stations for migrants and leave jugs of water in the most life-threatening areas, the U.S. Border Patrol routinely interferes with these, calling it a policy of “Prevention through Deterrence.” No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos recently released a report detailing the U.S. Border Patrol’s interference of this kind of humanitarian aid. What most affected me when I read the report and watched the video evidence was seeing the Border Patrol slashing, dumping, and destroying precious gallons of life-giving water left for migrants. These tactics don’t deter migrants from crossing, they only increase the chances of death by dehydration in some of the most dangerous areas of the Sonoran desert. Heightened border security and increasingly few options due to the impacts of globalization have already pushed migrants to risk crossing even this inhospitable stretch of terrain. The report prompted me to write this prayer for migrants who have died in the desert, their families, and those currently attempting to cross in desperate conditions.  

A Prayer for Migrants

Desconocido (Unknown) – cross from the Migrant Trail. Photo credit: Saulo Padilla

Christ our Resurrection and Life,
We call to your presence
los desplazados, los desconocidos.
We call to your presence those lost in the desert,
those killed in the name of border security.
Rescue the perishing, strengthen the faltering,
and guide those finding their way tonight.

Desplazados: presente! Desconocidos: presente!
Ever present before you, you know each by name.

Madre de los desaparecidos, llena eres de gracia,
We pray for over 7,000 families, children, spouses
of those who disappeared while crossing.
Loved ones left with an open question, with a hole in their heart.
Comfort them in their grief and loss,
wrap them in your blue cloak of love.

Desaparecidos: presente! Desconocidos: presente!
Ever present before you, you know each by name.

Water of Life, very real hope for the thirsty,
save us from our delusion and delirium,
from lives walled off with lies about our neighbors.
Teach us your wily, watery ways:
though they cast you down and pour you out,
you sink down and rise up again.
Let us keep dropping water in dry places,
until justice flows down like a river,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.*

*Amos 5:24



No More Deaths Report, Part 2, “Interference with Humanitarian Aid: Death and Disappearance on the US-Mexico Border,” http://www.thedisappearedreport.org, January, 2018.

Rory Carroll, The Guardian, “US border patrol routinely sabotages water left for migrants, report says,” Online: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/17/us-border-patrol-sabotage-aid-migrants-mexico-arizona, January 17, 2018.

The Empire’s War on the Border Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e94K30251MI, February, 2016.

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