A yell rang out across the quiet of the desert.
The Águilas Del Desierto (Eagles of the Desert) volunteers had been out on a search mission for less than an hour, when a man appeared, slowly walking towards them. Not knowing who he was, they nervously watched him approach — until they realized he was a migrant on the verge of death.
The team immediately gave him water, and, his bare feet covered with blisters, he fell to the ground, hyperventilating, crying, and giving thanks to God.
If not for the Águilas team, this man likely would have died alone in the desert. “He would not have made it with the condition of his feet. He probably had another day or two of walking ahead before he would reach civilization. But he would have to have known which way to turn,” said Felician Sr. Maria Louise Edwards, vice president of Águilas del Desierto.
As Sr. Maria Louise prayed and comforted him, he reached for her crucifix and kissed it. Sister told him that she did not speak much Spanish, but he was not concerned about the language barrier; he kept talking to her and glorifying God for saving him.
He was a Honduran soldier, driven out of his home country by death threats from gangs who despise the police and military. Many migrants attempt to cross the desert to seek safety from death threats, extreme poverty, and corruption.
According to the Missing Migrants Project, nearly 3,000 people have died or been reported missing crossing the border since 2014, including 290 from January to June of this year. Many have been fed misinformation and are unequipped for the treacherous journey.
This man had walked through the desert for four days with no shoes, and very little water; he hadn’t eaten in three days.
The man agreed to receive medical care and to work with Border Patrol to plead his case for asylum. His phone had died days ago, and the team helped him call his family to let them know he was safe.
“I’ve never been there for a live rescue before, and to be honest, it was very emotional,” said Sr. Maria Louise. “At first, I was just responding to his reaction and the realization that he wasn’t going to die. It’s hard to put into words. At the time, I wasn’t thinking ‘we’ve just saved someone’s life.’”
Sr. Maria Louise spoke with anguish and anger as she described the lack of compassion for migrants she has heard and witnessed during her time with Águilas. Some have criticized this mission and blamed migrants for the “poor decisions” that led them to travel through excruciatingly dangerous conditions in the desert. For Sr. Maria Louise, a belief in the sacredness of human life extends to those traveling through perilous conditions across national borders.
Sr. Maria Louise understands that migrants have endured such extraordinarily difficult circumstances that they are willing to risk their lives by crossing the desert. The Águilas del Desierto campaigns in Mexico attempt to educate people about the dangers of trying to cross, but many still come.
The opportunity to help save lives and rectify a lack of compassion for migrants has been a source of blessing to Sr. Maria Louise: “I’m just so grateful to God that he lets me be a part of this ministry and do this as part of my religious vocation. It has helped me to understand what it means to be a sister. I never understood until I encountered Águilas that sisters are like first responders in a certain sense, because we look for the suffering and that’s where we go.”
Learn more about Águilas del Desierto, their work and how to support a search at AguilasDelDesierto.org.