A Week in the Life of a Young Adult Volunteer
I wrote most of this blog a few months ago, but never finished it until now. Here is a depiction of one of my many full, challenging, and joyful weeks during my YAV year.
Sunday, Oct. 26th, 2014
I start the day by visiting my coworker's Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church. Unsurprisingly an hour service turns into three hours of singing, laughing, praying, and eating. My coworker, Nancy, sings beautifully and also stars in a biblical skit about David. Apparently, Apostle David was blonde...
Next, I come home to discover that we have spontaneously decided to host a barbecue for 15 people so I start chopping and marinating. A beautiful mixture of coworkers, volunteers, and refugees show up with an array of foods and drinks. We sit outside and enjoy the balmy late-October weather Arizona has gifted us. The evening morphs into a time of sharing musical talents. Hanbyeol plays the flute and sings a high-pitched, airy Korean song. (Listen here.) Emily chimes in with a deep, soulful tune. Jean Marie, a Burundi refugee, sings "He Raised Me up." I sit back and marvel at the rich culture and talent that surround me.
Monday, Oct. 27th, 2014
After work, I go to my first Academia Liderazgo (Leadership Academy) meeting, the first of an eight-week course on community organizing and social justice issues. As I sit and eat my Domino's pizza I note what it feels like to be one of the two White people in the room. We go around the room to introduce ourselves, where we are from, and what organization we represent. The room is full of people involved in diverse political and social groups that serve the Latin American immigrant community in Tucson. We go through the syllabus, which includes topics such as systems of oppression, machismo, and Zapatismo. I am excited to be learning about these issues and am especially grateful to be learning side-by-side with Spanish-speaking individuals who have experienced the negative effects of immigration policy and have decided to get involved to educate and uplift their communities. I feel privileged to be in this space.
Tuesday, Oct. 28th, 2014
I get to work at 7:30 AM and jump in the van. We drive for an hour before arriving at Florence Detention Center. I check to make sure I am prepared: close-toed shoes, no revealing clothing, and an ID. I've been briefed on what to say and do, but I am still nervous.
As I wait for the guards to escort me into the visiting room, Norlan, a local day laborer, and activist, walks out of detention. Just by coincidence, I was there at the exact moment he was released. Finally outside the prison walls, he walks swiftly up to his beaming partner Marbel, gives her a hug and kisses his baby girl. I feel so happy to see him reunited with his family. I met Marbel and her baby, Genesis, on my first day of work at BorderLinks. They were the first family I had ever met that had experienced detention. I feel grateful that I have been able to witness this part of their story and congratulate them on Norlan's release.
Read my blog about meeting Marbel.
I walk into the detention visiting room and meet Estrella, a trans-gender person from Guatemala. We sit down, introduce ourselves, and exchange awkward smiles. First, we chat about Guatemala and then she tells me her story. She migrated north to escape cartel and anti-trans violence. Read my blog entry about Estrella. Although, she has experienced much trauma, she keeps a positive disposition. We laugh, draw pictures, and she even predicts my future through palm reading.
***Estrella was released from detention in December and is now fighting her asylum case from a safe place. I was thrilled to learn she'd been released!
Wednesday, Oct. 29th, 2014
After work, I walk home and cook dinner for my housemates. We have a community dinner once a week where we eat together and go over any house business.
Thursday, Oct. 30th, 2014
I have no recollection of Thursday. Ooops.
Friday, Oct. 31st, 2014
On Fridays, we have a Community Day. This means that instead of going to work, my roommates, my site coordinator Brandon, and I spend time together as a community. We do many things such as discuss books, worship, explore vocational discernment, go to events in Mexico and Cascabel, or go hiking.
On Halloween, we went on a beautiful hike through Pima Canyon. We crossed many streams and admired the cacti.
After Community Day, we went downtown to celebrate Halloween!
I am so excited for being part of a church that stands for justice in this world. I am so excited to be part of a church who refuses to stand back and let the world just “do its thing” while people are being hurt, emotionally and verbally harassed, murdered, raped, persecuted, put-down and humiliated.
For the most part, I would like to say that the Presbyterian Church (USA) kicks serious butt at social justice.
However, just as any organization or institution has its flaws, so does the PC(USA), my friends. We are not unlike any other denomination because we are human. We put bumper stickers on our car which read: Coexist….Yet we cannot even get along with our neighbor. Things slip through the cracks. Gossip ensues. Communication fails. We get more relaxed in our attitude towards helping others because the problem or issue is “not as pressing.” We forget to remember the good we once saw in one another. We invest our finances in the ineffective investments. We bully each other. We mistrust each other’s judgment. We stand up for the victim just to suppress his or her voice.
One thing I learned from YAV Orientation (or rather “Disorientation”) is that we often “love justice” more than we “do justice.”
I have been guilty of these above things and we, Church have been guilty of these things. As the church (Presbyterian) and Church (all Christians), we sometimes are the MOST guilty of it as we preach and aim to practice our righteous and wholesome Christian ways. We all have fallen victim to the “easy” option.
Who could blame us really? Justice is really challenging. Justice is raw. Justice is messy. Justice is often choosing the more vulnerable, honest, uncomfortable choice.
But at the end of the day, I would rather stay with the Presbyterian Church in our efforts than to step away from all the good we are trying to do. Obviously, I am biased towards the PC(USA) because I have grown up in this denomination, however, I am still eager and joyous to call this church my home. Just check out some of the justice being done here through this PC(USA) video about the U.S.-Mexico border.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.” -Micah 6:8
This past MLK Day, some of my housemates (fellow YAVs) and I as well as the Mennonite Volunteers headed out to Peak Picacho for a hike! We headed up this 3,384 foot -above sea level- peak in hopes of summiting and checking out some sweet views along the way. There are several service-oriented groups in Tucson: Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Food Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Methodist Global Mission Fellows, Mennonite Voluntary Service and of course, the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteers.
I really appreciate hanging out with our fellow volunteers because we all come together and discuss about our year or two years of: simple and low-income living, our placements within social justice-y contexts/organizations, biking all over Tucson, living in intentional Christian community, starting to explore the thrills and terrors of being young adults/becoming adults, etc. It makes me really encouraged to know that so many other Christian denominations and really amazing organizations are excited about sustainable service and young people involved in ministry and/or outreach. We are all equally confused and excited about our lives, we all daily stumble as we navigate our first – maybe second or third – job. The laughter on this hike refreshed my soul and my outlook on my year in Tucson, ready to start the new week.
I work at BorderLinks leading educational trips or delegations that introduce people to the border and immigration issues. Groups come from colleges, graduate schools, seminaries, and churches across the country. During a delegation, participants meet with different immigration stakeholders such as immigrant-led political organizing groups, border patrol, and pastors involved in the sanctuary movement. In addition, participants learn about topics like NAFTA, Popular Education, border history, and the prison system in interactive workshops led by BorderLinks staff. Delegations are an intense whirlwind of complex ideas, personal stories, and strong emotions. Days are often long, challenging, and eye-opening. Participants leave broken-hearted, inspired, and determined to change our broken immigration system.
I got back from winter vacation ready to lead my second delegation. I was excited, but nervous as it was the first delegation I would plan completely on my own. Reading my participants' applications, I felt uneasy. These students were very different from most people who I know and have grown up around. Most were from the midwest, studying criminal justice, and hoping to go into law enforcement. One of the male participants was planning on joining the Border Patrol after graduation. About half the group had never been outside of the country and most had not lived in multicultural settings. How would this group react to BorderLinks' liberal ideology? Would they feel comfortable in this immersive cultural environment?
After meeting the group at the airport, I breathed a sign of relief. They were great. When I asked them to help put luggage on the roof rack they immediately organized as a team, volunteering to help. Driving back to the office, several of the group members talked about football and hunting. I chuckled, thinking about how different this was from my San Francisco upbringing. When we got into the office, one of the men asked me if there was something to drink. I responded, "There's only milk in the fridge." His face lit up as he said, "I love milk. I'm from Wisconsin." I smiled and thought, this'll be fun.
As the week went on I got to know the participants better. Over meals, we cracked jokes and talked about our personal lives. Many of my participants work at least one job in addition to going to school full time. One of the women goes to school, works as a waitress, and works the night shift at a gas station (10 PM - 6 AM). She only sleeps a few hours from Sunday to Tuesday. I was amazed by my participants' work ethic and persistence. Many of them are first-generation college students, forging their own path.
About halfway through the week, the participants stayed with host families in Tucson. These families are made of immigrants who are active in their community. BorderLinks routinely organizes home stays so participants can meet people who are directly affected by immigration issues. As I dropped off the participants, I noticed several were anxious as they had never done a home stay and they did not speak much Spanish. I assured them that all our home stay families are friendly, welcoming, and have hosted many students before.
The next morning, I got up early to pick up students from home stay houses. While driving, I got call from the group leader notifying me of "a situation." The college president had found a student's Tweet (from Twitter) that said they had been "kicked out of their lodging, forced to live with illegals, and not allowed to call Homeland." My heart sank. Who wrote this? Did someone actually want to call Homeland Security on these immigrant families? Was someone going to call ICE?
Comments like this on social media can be vague, unintentional and extremely hurtful. To me, this Tweet was a threat. My jaw clenched as I thought about the families who had generously and bravely opened their houses to these students. Where they now in danger? Had I put these people in harm's way?
Hurt and panicked, I began to doubt the trust I had put in these students. After reconvening, I immediately sat the group down and explained the severity of inflammatory comments on social media. Also, I described what it would look like if someone called ICE on one of these families. Imagine flashing lights, crying children, not being able to contact your family for days, detention, an expensive bond, and a chance of being deported, separated from your home and family. Disappointed and perplexed, I looked out at the group for reactions. Most participants were shocked and apologetic as this Tweet did not reflect the majority's opinions or home stay experiences. In fact, the Tweet was not written by someone in the delegation, but by their friend who did not fully understand the context.
Although I still felt violated, I breathed deeply, knowing that the Tweet should not be taken seriously. Yet, I reflected on why this may have happened. Many of my participants grew up in environments that have a high respect for cops and believe you should do your best to enforce the law whenever possible. As many are going into policing, they maybe experienced an internal conflict or cognitive dissonance when living with a person had immigrated illegally. Using this logic helped me understand my participants' perspectives, but did not shift my opinion that this Tweet was a callous, disrespectful display of entitlement and power.
Although I dutifully follow most laws myself, I try to think critically about the law. I do not think that government-dictated rules necessarily have higher moral authority than personal or religious values. Even though laws are powerful, foundational structures that control our lives, they can be changed quickly with a politician's signature. In the last couple years, huge cultural concepts such as our legislative definition of marriage has changed. Laws are a flexible, impermanent cultural constructs.
Mike Wilson, a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe in Arizona, is known for his controversial work distributing drinking water for passing migrants on the Tohono O'odham nation. Although, this is against his tribe's laws, he continues to do it because he believes the God's law is greater than any man-made law. If we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would give them water. If we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would help them through deadly terrain. If we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would let them live in peace with their families.
Acts 5:29: "But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'"
Despite this negative moment during my delegation, the rest of the trip went well. The participants expressed a greater, more complex understanding of immigration policy, undocumented immigrants, and minority-police relations. One participant wrote, "The most impactful part for me was the home stay...being able to talk one-on-one with them really opened my eyes... This will inform my decisions in my career in law enforcement for my whole life."
I thank this delegation for opening my eyes. They taught me more about police work, the military, and what it is like to live in a different part of the United States. I think we both shocked, challenged, and comforted one another. Most of all, we reminded each other to meet people where they are in their life journey without making hurtful comments or assumptions.
Every month – when my housemates and I divide up our chores – I tend to volunteer most often for compost. There is something extremely meditative, relaxing and relieving in turning a compost pile. I’d like to think that there is a spiritual practice found in the sifting and digging of dirt, moldy grapefruit, diluted coffee grounds, slimy bell peppers.
Honestly, I’m not going to pretend that there is anything fancy or elegant about this compost pile. Frankly, it’s dirt.
However, today as I assessed the rotten, moldy, gooey bag of bananas sitting on the counter, I began to see the compost in a whole new light: our spiritual process of healing and regenerating our identity in Christ.
We are only human after all! How could we not want to bury the icky, gross, unpleasant, moldy, stinky insecurities and imperfections that rot at the bottom of the produce bin and the back of our refrigerators? When we take the fermenting broccoli to the compost pile of our lives, the last thing that we want to do is expose it to the sun! Bury that sucker into the dirt! (and then forget about it! Don’t dig it up! Are you crazy?!)
Honestly, we have to be submerged to the dark places in our lives before we can resurface again, refreshed and healed. Just as we retreat to places of refuge, Christ retreated to the garden, Gethsemane when he was in his darkest hour: Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
Through the resurrection, Christ Himself was simultaneously one of the weakest, defeated, vulnerable, celebrated, exalted, strongest, invincible resilient and hard-core individuals to ever walk the face of the Earth. Essentially, he was the “Compost King”; he took the dirt and filth and grim of all the world and turned it into something new.
Compost = Our Healing Process: once the food is buried in the ground, it may resurface at times yet each time, it comes up a little smaller and a little more broken down. You are not going to see immediate results. The rind may sit in the dark, damp quarters of the garden for a few weeks, maybe months until it has had the time and space to create a refined byproduct. We continually are working on breaking down the negative things that undermine who we are created to be. The remaining mold and slime seems to vanish into the rich soil that will fortify the kale, okra, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots of our future.
However, the fact of the matter is: Not everyone has a compost pile. Heck, a lot of people have garbage. You know where garbage ends up? The land fill. A lot of people choose to throw their rotten leftovers away.
Garbage lets its product become its defeat. Compost cannot be defeated. Yes, compost will take more maintenance and care. However, garbage is the lazy yet less physically demanding alternative. However, at the end of the day, which one is sustainable? Which one creates results? Which one creates a future?
One of my favoriteTED Talks is by a man named Ron Finley who plants vegetables in “abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs,” in South Central Los Angeles. He claims that his community needs to find an “alternative to fast food” because “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys” (Finley).
In this talk, Finley passionately impressed upon his crowd, “You’d be surprised what the soil can do if you let it be your canvas.”
As I thought longer on this analogy of the resurrection through compost, I thought to the refugees that I work alongside at Iskashitaa Refugee Network. They are master gardeners. One of the refugees from Bhutan grows marigolds and takes care of his apartment complex’s garden with fervor, passion, attention, care and precision. One of our services through Iskashitaa is to use create compost out of any excess produce. Then, the compost goes to one of the refugees and their family in order to sustain their gardens. They let their soil and their gardens be their “canvas.”
It speaks very clearly to their arduous journey: They are renewing their lives through the therapeutic practice of gardening. Their canvas is clearing up and they are able to start anew. Even as many negative memories come into their minds, they are building a hopeful life among the ruins. They are resurrecting from the ashes of their past and allowing themselves to be transformed by their new culture, identity and perspective.
Just next to our compost pile are three bins filled with “finished” soil. (I’m not sure we’re ever quite “finished” soil ourselves….but I digress). In the first bin, I reached down and saw a bunch of green stems. I picked it up and found this radiant red onion right underneath the surface. Sometimes, even when we think as though there is no more hope for change, the red onion lies just beneath the surface.
Feliz Año Nuevo y espero que les pasara bien de vacaciones. Me gustaría dar las gracias de nuevo a todos los que generosamente me han apoyado, el programa Tucson Borderlands YAV y Frontera de Cristo por encima de mi tiempo en la frontera. Una de las cosas que estoy muy agradecido es la comunidad bonitaque tengo en la frontera de Douglas y Agua Prieta. Ha sido una bendición de conocer a tanta gente genial que hacen Douglas y Agua Prieta como en casa para mí. Al igual que muchas personas que he venido desde muy lejos para estar en la frontera, pero muchas personas han abierto sus vidas a mí, me ha mostrado hospitalidad y me aceptó como de la familia.
El mes de diciembre ha sido uno de los meses más ocupados para mí, que fueron llenados con muchasposadas. Para aquellos que no están familiarizados con las posadas es una celebración en México para recordar el viaje de María y José, que se vieron obligados a abandonar su hogar y no podía encontrar un lugar de refugio o de refugio cuando llegaron a Belén. Es una tradición que la gente abrir su casa y mostrarhospitalidad a los demás tal y como María y José estaban en necesidad de hospitalidad durante el nacimiento de Jesús. Compartir este tiempo con la gente en la frontera fue una experiencia muy especial yuna gran celebración de la bendición de la comunidad que tengo en la frontera. Sin embargo, tambiénhubo un momento que realmente me ha permitido reflexionar sobre cómo yo muestro hospitalidad y aceptación a otros, especialmente extranjeros e inmigrantes como María y José.
La lucha de María y José con Jesús como inmigrantes realmente me ha impactado este año porque encuentro muchas similitudes con la crisis actual de la inmigración en la frontera hoy, sobre todo cuandoestoy mirando y orando por cruces de inmigrantes que murieron en el condado de Cochise y hay muchaspersonas con los nombres de María y José. Así, mientras que en esta temporada de Navidad fue un momento para celebrar todas las bendiciones que tengo, sino que también fue un tiempo para reflexionar sobre las tragedias de la inmigración en la frontera.
Hacer voluntario en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, junto con mi trabajo de enseñar clases de inglés este año, conoci a muchos inmigrantes y aprendí acerca de sus vidas y el dolor que han sufridocomo inmigrantes. Hay muchas formas en que se encuentran en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes,sino para toda la frontera México / Estados Unidos es una cruel realidad que separa familias. No creo queyo podría describir un inmigrante promedio en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes porque todos sonpersonas muy particulares con historias de vida especiales, pero he encontrado que muchos tienen una fuerza interior que les permite reír, sonreír y esperar a pesar de su dolor, separación de la familia y la incertidumbre en sus vidas. Muchas veces en el Centro de Recursos para Inmigrantes hay muchas limitaciones en lo que podemos ayudar a los inmigrantes que no sean de conectarlos con los recursos como la vivienda, la alimentación y la localización de los familiares. Pero, he encontrado el voluntariado en el Centro de Recursos para Inmigrantes me da la oportunidad de escuchar las historias y conocer la vida de los inmigrantes.
Una de las cosas más dolorosas que veo so n inmigrantes hablando de la forma en que se separan de sus hijos y familias. Conoci un joven de mi edad que andaba con un amiga de la infancia de su ciudad natal en el estado de Puebla. A medida que estos dos jóvenes eran de mi edad y le encantaba hablar y reír nos hicimos amigos rápidamente. Emigró de su ciudad natal en México a la ciudad de Nueva York cuando era un adolescente en busca de mejores oportunidades. Allí comenzó una nueva vida (probablemente se convirtió en el residente más simpático de Nueva York) y tuvo un hijo. Sin embargo, cuando se encontró en una situación muy difícil, ya que él había regresado a México por razones familiares, y ahora fueseparado de hijo de dos años de edad que vivía con su hermana. Como él era una persona de fe en Diostuvimos una conversación acerca de nuestra fe en Dios, que me mostró lo mucho que estábamos tan similares y tan diferentes. Como los adultos jóvenes que comparten una fe cristiana, hablamos de cómoDios nos da fuerza y esperanza en desafíos de la vida y nuestro deseo de seguir la voluntad de Dios en nuestras vidas. Sin embargo, las preguntas que me hago acerca de la voluntad de Dios en mi vida son tan diferentes de las preguntas que mi amigo estaba haciendo.
He sido bendecido por Dios con una gran familia, la infancia, muchas habilidades y talentos y una gran educación. La pregunta entonces para mí ha sido cómo puedo servir a Dios ya los demás y hacer cambios positivos en un mundo roto con mi regalo, la educación y las pasiones. Es una pregunta que creo que mucha gente se pregunta, sino una cuestión no todo el mundo tiene el privilegio de llevar a cabo. Siento que mi amigo también era muy inteligente y talentoso, pero su pregunta acerca de la voluntad de Dios ensu vida me hace darme cuenta de cómo este mundo y nuestras sociedades pueden ser tan diferentes y simplemente injusto. Como ya había intentado sin éxito dos veces para cruzar la frontera, que estaba empezando a cuestionar la voluntad de Dios en su vida. ¿Fue la voluntad de Dios para él para tratar decruzar el desierto para estar unidos con su hijo en la ciudad de Nueva York? ¿O se trataba de regresar a suciudad natal, pero a costa de estar lejos de su hijo sin saber cuando volverían a reunirse. Cualquiera de estas opciones no parece muy ideal para mí y vi la tristeza y el dolor en los ojos de mi amigo cuando hablaba de ser separado de su hijo. Pero, el miedo y la dificultad de cruzar la frontera de nuevo para elimprobable caso de que esta vez se podría cruzar con éxito para unirse con su hijo también se estaba convirtiendo en un sueño irreal. De cualquier manera no creo que un Dios que nos ama profundamente ypueblo unido como yo y mi amigo bajo la vida de Jesucristo tiene este imagen de la división, la muerte y la desigualdad para la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.
Sin embargo, después de vivir en esta frontera, en las comunidades de Douglas y Agua Prieta, creo que Dios me ha ensenado una pequeña muestra de la belleza y el amor que siente por esta frontera. Pensaba en esto cuando vi una de las más bellas puestas de sol en mi vida sobre las montañas al oeste de Agua Prieta. El desierto de Sonora es un gran ejemplo de la belleza y el carácter sagrado de la creación de Dios,pero la gente y los gobiernos de ambos lados de la frontera han convertido a esta hermosa creación en una pesadilla y el lugar de la muerte para tantos inmigrantes. También he visto la belleza de cuando las comunidades y las personas se juntan por las culturas y países diferentes, unidos por el amor de Dios, un borde y se preocupan por sus semejantes. Sin embargo, al igual que muchos lugares en este mundo este fin y la belleza pueden estar distorsionados por las drogas, la falta de oportunidades de empleo, la violencia y la pobreza en la frontera. La buena noticia es que Dios siempre ha estado presente aquí en esta frontera trabajando en las vidas de las personas rotas y defectuosas si son de México o Estados Unidos. Y él siempre estará presente en esta frontera y desierto trabajar con nosotros para crear y preservar la belleza y el amor que siente por esta frontera.
Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) and I hope all had a great Holiday season. I would like to again thank everyone who have generously supported me, the YAV Tucson Borderlands program and Frontera de Cristo over my time on the border. One of the things I am most grateful for in this year is the wonderful community I have on the Douglas and Agua Prieta border. It has been such a blessing to meet so many wonderful people who make Douglas and Agua Prieta feel like home for me. Like many people I have come from far away to be on the border, but so many people have opened their lives to me, shown me hospitality and accepted me like family.
The month of December has been one of the busiest months for me as they have been filled with many posadas. For those who are not familiar with posadas it is a celebration in Mexico to remember the journey of Mary and Joseph who were forced to leave their home and could not find a place of shelter or refuge when they arrived to Bethlehem. It is a tradition when people open up their house and show hospitality to others just as Mary and Joseph were in need of hospitality during the birth of Jesus. Sharing this time with people on the border has been a very special experience and a great celebration of the blessing of community that I have on the border. However, it has also been a time that has really allowed me to reflect about how I show hospitality and acceptance to others, especially strangers, foreigners and immigrants like Mary and Joseph.
The struggle of Mary and Joseph with Jesus as immigrants has really impacted me this year because I find many similarities to the current immigration crisis on the border today to, especially when I am looking at and praying for crosses of immigrants who died in Cochise County and there are many people with the names of Maria and Jose (Maria and Jose mean Mary and Joseph in English). So while this Christmas season was a time to celebrate all the blessings I have, it was also a time to reflect on the tragedies of immigration I have confronted on the border.
Volunteering at the Migrant Resource Center along with my job of teaching English classes this year, I have meet many immigrants and learned about their lives and the pain they have suffered as immigrants. There are many ways people find themselves at the Migrant Resource Center, but for all the U.S./Mexico border is a cruel reality that separates families and prevents people from finding a safe haven and better opportunities. I don’t think I could describe an average immigrant at the Migrant Resource Center because they are all very unique individuals with special life stories, but I have found that many have an inner strength that allows them to laugh, smile and hope despite their pain, separation from family and uncertainty in their lives. Many times at the Migrant Resource Center there are many limitations in how much we can help migrants other than connecting them with the resources like shelter, food and locating family members. But, I have found volunteering at the Migrant Resource Center gives me an opportunity to listen to the stories and know the lives of immigrants.
One of the most painful things to see is immigrants talking about how they are separated from their children and families. One of my favorite people I meet was a young man about my age who was with a childhood friend from his hometown in the state of Puebla. As these two young adults were my age and loved to talk and laugh we quickly became friends. He immigrated from his hometown in Mexico to New York City when he was a teenager to look for better opportunities. There he started a new life (probably became the friendliest New Yorker in the city) and had a son. However, when I meet my friend he found himself in a very difficult situation as he had returned to Mexico for family reasons and now was separated from his two-year old son who was living with his sister. As he was a person of strong faith in God we had a conversation about our faith in God that showed me how much we were so similar and yet so different. As both young adults who share a Christian faith we talked about how God gives us strength and hope in life challenges and our desire to follow God’s will in our lives. However, the questions I ask about God’s will in my life are so different than the questions my friend was asking.
I have been blessed by God with a great family, childhood, many skills and talents and a great education. The question then for me has been how can I serve God and others and make positive changes in a broken world with my gifts, education and passions. It is a question I think many people ask, but a question not everyone has the privilege of pursuing. I feel my friend was also very smart and gifted, but his question about God’s will in his life makes me realize how this world and our societies can be so different and just unfair. As he had already tried and failed twice to cross the border, he was beginning to question God’s will in his life. Was it God’s will for him to try and cross the desert to be united with his son in New York City? Or was it to return to his home town, but at the cost of being far from his son without knowing when they would be reunited. Either option does not seem very ideal to me as I could see the sadness and pain in my friend’s eyes when he talked about being separated from his son. But, the fear and difficulty of crossing the border again for the unlikely chance that this time he could successfully cross to be united with his son was also becoming an unrealistic dream. Either way I don’t think a God that loves us deeply and united people like myself and my friend under the life of Jesus Christ has this purpose of division, death and inequality in mind for the U.S and Mexico border.
However, after living on this border in the communities of Douglas and Agua Prieta I think God has shown me a small taste of the beauty and love he has for this border. I was thinking about this when I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life over the mountains just west of Agua Prieta. The Sonora desert is a great example of the beauty and sacredness of God’s creation, but people and governments on both sides of the border have turned this beautiful creation into a nightmare and place of death for so many immigrants. I have also seen the beauty of when communities and people meet across cultures and countries united by God’s love, a border and care for their fellow human beings. However, like many places in this world this purpose and beauty can be distorted by drugs, lack of job opportunities, violence and poverty on the border. The good news is that God has always been present here on this border working in the lives of broken and flawed people whether they are from Mexico or United States. And he will always be present on this border and desert working with us to create and preserve the beauty and love he has for this border.