The past 3 weeks have been packed with exciting events and adventures!
I feel like I have truly learned something new every day while working at CHRPA. I have been outdoors and on roofs more than I ever imagined but I love working with my hands and being able to see the immediate result of our work.
This past week, I was able to see a job from start to finish which was gratifying. The project was for a veteran whose kitchen and hallway floors were in terrible shape and in no way safe to walk on. I went to inspect and assess the amount of work/supplies that would be needed for this job and discovered that the homeowner had been living without water in his home for 3 weeks. He was terrified to use running water because a water pipe was leaking right under the floor, making the floors weaker with every passing minute. A CHRPA team was sent to his home to start repairing the leaks and floor. Dustin (a fellow CHRPA worker) and I returned this past Monday and Tuesday to finish the work and lay down laminate flooring. Our very kind client donated tools, bought us lunch, and expressed his thanks many times over, to the point of tears. I am becoming so aware of how useful my hands are and the ways in which I can use them to help people feel safe in their own home.
One of the biggest learning experiences in my work so far has been going into people’s homes and seeing the conditions that people live in. I have lived such a comfortable life and it has been hard to not get emotional over seeing children’s bedroom walls on the verge of crumbling, or elderly people who are trapped in their home because they have no ramp. Each client I have met has a story that has deeply impacted me in some way.
To be honest, it has been hard to establish a routine - I find comfort in routine- in the past month but I know that this is part of transition. I love being able to talk to my family and friends from home, it means the world to me to still feel connected! I know I am right where I need to be because every morning I wake up excited for what the day holds. My housemates are so incredibly supportive and I could not survive this journey without them! Our spiritual and vocational director has encouraged us to journal and/or discuss each day which has become a huge help for processing.
During one of our house discussions, we watched a TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story) and discussed what it meant to accept people for more than how we stereotype them. I am learning that when I think of a person as a one thing and ONLY one thing, that is what they become. The people whose homes I work on are more than just “poor.” I am also more aware of how much I need to work on feeling feelings that are more complex than just pity. This short clip has made me seriously reconsider the way I think about others.
I am thankful for the challenges that day-to-day life here holds and for the grace of new beginnings...
Glory be to you, O God,
for the gift of life
unfolding through those who have gone before me.
Glory be to you, O God,
for your life planted within my soul
and in every soul coming into the world.
Glory be to you, O God,
for the grace of new beginnings
placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory
for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.
John Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction; Morning and Night Prayer, 61-65
While the cross is a very strong symbol for many Christians and other people including myself I usually have seen the cross mostly as a sign of hope that was used to defeat evil and sin in this world. However, since being orientated to the borderlands in both Tucson and then Douglas and Agua Prieta I have gained a new understanding of the cross. In most protestant Christian traditions you will see empty crosses. And from my understanding this represents that while Jesus was crucified for the sins of humanity, it is now empty because he died for our sins and then was raised from the dead, which gives hope and a new beginning of being free from our eternal bonds of sins. I believe all this to be true, but I also now see the crucifixion of Jesus in a new perspective from my short time already here. In most Catholic Churches and some Presbyterian Churches on the border the cross is not empty, but has Jesus being crucified on the cross. For many people this represents the daily crucifixion of poverty that campesinos (peasants) and the poor suffer. Therefore, the cross is not just a symbol of hope from the bondage of ours sins, but that Jesus continues to be crucified though the lives of the poor. Jesus reveals this to Christians in Matthew 25: 40 and it demonstrates why Jesus is still being crucified through the suffering of the poor.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
I think this realization for me on how the cross today offers hope, joy and peace, but also represents the continuing suffering of people whom God loves has helped me understand the border more in the contexts of my Christian faith and know that God is present in both the joy and suffering I see and feel on daily basis here. I feel that my work with Frontera de Cristo is seeking and being where God already is on border.
For me and anyone on the border both the joy and the pain are very visible here. For example, immigration is something that can provide someone with a better life or it can bring more suffering to a person. In Agua Prieta many people in my church community come from the southern state of Chiapas in Mexico. Chiapas according to Coneval (the social development branch of the Mexican government) in 2012 had the highest rate of poverty of any state of Mexico at 74.7%. While translating this week for Prescott College students on a border delegation I have found out that many of families in our church from Chiapas ate a diet only of beans. None of the families owned their own land so the children spent little time with their fathers often because the fathers had to work long hours for little wages in agriculture.
However, when the families migrated north to work in the maquiladores (factories) here in Agua Prieta, they were able to earn higher wages (these wages are still considerably lower than minimum wage in the U.S. and make it difficult to provide for a family) so they could buy meats, fruits and vegetables while working only 40 hours a week. Many of the families now also own homes thanks to joint private and government housing programs. Along with all my brothers and sisters at the Presbyterian Church El Lirio de Valles these families have made Agua Prieta an extremely warm, loving and supportive place for me to live. Their joy, humbleness and kindness for others seems to touch every group that does a border delegation with Frontera de Cristo. And their concern for their brother and sisters in Chiapas has resulted in the creation of the fair trade coffee company Cafe Justo, which provides higher wages for families who cultivate coffee. I think it would very hard for anyone to come to the border and meet these families, and not feel like there is hope for this world.
These families who have came to Agua Prieta to make it their home is just one example of the joy and hope I see everyday on the border. But I also see a lot of suffering of people on the border also, one example of this is also migration. The migrant resource center is a place for migrants and people who have been deported from the United States. As an intern with Frontera de Cristo one of my duties is to serve there for one day along with many other volunteers in the community. It is here where we help people who have had their dreams and hopes of a better life crushed, people who have been separated from their families by force, people have been kidnapped and tortured in the desert
and families come to look for their lost ones. In many ways it is a place of deep pain and suffering of people caused by humans themselves through poverty, violence and unjust laws. However, it is in the suffering that is felt by these migrants that God is also present. One lady who had been separated from her family in United States and felt that she had lost all hope after her deportation described the migrant resource center as a place that was like being in the arms of her mother again. So even in the amidst of this suffering and violations of human rights on the border God is at work, and at Frontera de Cristo I have the privilege of being a part of God’s work this year on the border in both the hope and the pain of the cross.