OLLP has this mission statement on their website:
"Our Lady of Las Palomas is a multi-faith multi-cultural community of contemplation, prayer and action committed to the life of simplicity, presence, and service in right relationship with God. We are a beyond borders interfaith community with people of the United States and Mexico participating in a cooperative community of justice and sustainability"
In fact, OLLP functions as a sort of umbrella organization which encompasses a number of ministries, mostly in Palomas, Mexico rather than in the village of Columbus. Palomas is directly across the border from Columbus, and there is a lot of traffic back and forth. I was discouraged from going across the border during my time there, and followed that advice, and so did not see the ministry there first hand. Palomas is not a safe place right now, for reasons which are obvious if you have been following the progress (or lack thereof) of the Mexican drug wars.
OLLP supports, through classes and donations, the work of The Border Cooperative/ La Cooperativa. The Cooperative works to train women, mostly in Palomas in skills like weaving and jewelry making so that they are able to start their own businesses and attain a degree of independence.
They also support the Hunger Project, a feeding ministry in Palomas.
OLLP itself was also founded to be an interfaith retreat center. I must confess I had some difficulty with this aspect of the ministry, but I am not going to go into it now.
At this point OLLP has relatively little outreach in Columbus itself, although there is sometimes a midweek service, when local Episcopal/Anglican clergy are available for it.
They are at a point of transition in their ministry, because the Rev. Deacon Kris Lethin and his wife, the Rev. Judith Lethin, the real visionaries behind the ministry, are not able to devote all their time to it right now, but divide the year between ministry here in New Mexico, and in their native Alaska.
I was asked to see what was needed in Columbus, to go around talking to people, to see what the needs are in Columbus, and come up with some ideas for how OLLP could accomplish this. I was also asked to consider whether it would be worth the time and resources to try planting
I was initially horrified by this task. First of all, I had only about four and a half days to do this, had little idea what to expect going in, and I am terrible at just starting up conversations with strangers.
What surprised me most about my time there was that I found that God really did send me the people I needed to talk to. I enjoyed the whole process of getting to know the town, and thinking of ways to build community. By the time I left I felt a real affection for the place, and wished I could spend more time there and actually put some of my ideas for building community into action. Columbus is the sort of town that is so small that everybody really does know everybody else, and you can sit at the patio of the one hotel in town and quickly get a good sense of the state of local politics.
Columbus does have spiritual needs, including getting some kind of clergy association established.
It will need to do a lot of healing, I imagine, given the recent arrest of so many officials. Among those arrested were the Chief of the now dissolved police force, and the mayor, so yes, times are tough in Columbus.
I wont go into detail just now about my thoughts on how OLLP should get involved in Columbus, because I have been asked to prepare a report for the Deanery and for the board of OLLP. I have not submitted that yet, and I don't think it would be appropriate to state all my thoughts publicly here, before sharing them with the kind people who sent me to Columbus in the first place.
What I will say is that God gave me a lot to think about in my time there. I found that I was really drawn to idea of ministering in a poor town like Columbus. In addition, I saw proof that if God puts me in a place to do ministry, he will also give me the means to accomplish that ministry. He will send me the people I need to talk to, and give me words to say. I knew this already, but it was deeply encouraging to see it in action. It was, as I said, a draining experience, because it was so new and different, but it was a real blessing to see God's faithfulness in action.
I will also add, that I think that the most effective thing that OLLP could do for Columbus is simply to be a presence there. I think that if OLLP was able to establish some sort of intentional, semi-monastic, community in Columbus, which would just be a model of prayerful, gospel centered community, it would do a great deal of good for the place. More active ministries would, of course, develop from this, but prayer and presence are the place to start.