Solitude can be hard to find as a Young Adult Volunteer. I spend most of my time in community, whether it be my house community, work community, or church community. I have come to appreciate all of these communities, but from time to time, I do crave solitude. My craving was answered this past week in the form of a desert sojourn retreat. On Monday, my housemates and I travelled to the small community of Cascabel, Arizona. We camped together for a night, then each headed out to a solo camping site in the desert. There, I spent three days by myself. Well, myself and flies, roadrunners, birds, saguaros, and wildflowers.
I had been very excited for my time in the desert. It had been a busy month, and time by myself sounded like a great way to recharge my batteries. Part of me was also hoping that time to write and think would lend me powerful new insights about the world and myself. What I found on my first day was boredom and discomfort. I tried to write, but the words would not come. I tried to sit with my thoughts, but all I could think about were tasks I would have to complete the next week. And I was uncomfortable. The temperatures rose past the 90’s and the sun was beating down on my camp site. The inside of my tent felt like a sauna. So I moved from rock to rock, chasing the bit of shade provided by the small trees as the sun moved across the sky. As day one came to a close, I was not feeling any closer to myself or the world around me.
The second day not only brought cooler temperatures, but also a greater sense of internal peace. I found myself lost in the book I had brought, which had not happened in a while. (FYI, the book was Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. I highly recommend it!) I also found it easier to write and think. While my mind would still drift back to deadlines and commitments, I also thought a lot about myself, the nature around me, and how I was feeling. By the morning of the third day, I felt truly happy and peaceful. I remember waking up and making some coffee. As I drank my coffee, I watched the sun rise over the cliffs. The world felt simple in that moment. Just me, my coffee, and creation. It hadn’t felt that simple in a long time.
While I do cherish the moments of serenity I had during the retreat, being alone was a complicated experience. I had some moments of utter boredom and some moments of total peace. There were times when I was thinking about how dirty I was or how uncomfortable the rock I was sitting on felt. But then other times I would completely forget how I physically felt and focus completely on the world around me.
Now that I am back in Tucson, I am grateful for the time alone, not in spite of being bored and uncomfortable at times, but partially because of those feelings. Those are two sensations that can be hard to tap into living in a modern world of connivence and technology. But they are a part of the human experience. Ultimately, I didn’t have any new, grand insights or revelations from my time in the desert, and it wasn’t three days of total peace and bliss. But it was three days to simply exist and be the person called Tanner, with all the emotional highs and lows that being a person on this Earth entails.
When I first contemplated how I would format my blog post about the Border Delegation, I thought that I would title it, “Hurt and Hope,” and describe the ways in which I observed and experienced both throughout the week. I quickly realized, though, that sorting my experiences that way was too binary. Most of what I saw and learned encompassed hints of both hope and hurt. At church the Sunday after our Border Delegation concluded, Pastor Bart Smith spoke in his sermon about Emmanuel: God with us. He said that emmanuel is forever and ongoing. With it being the beginning of advent, he posed the question, “When is a good time for love to be born?” In my mind, I considered, “When is a good time to migrate?” Inspired by the sermon, I arrived at this title and framework: Emmanuel in the Borderlands.
Emmanuel at Café Justo
Café Justo (translated: fair or just coffee) is a coffee cooperative owned and operated by farmers in Chiapas, Mexico. The coffee is grown in Chiapas and roasted in Agua Prieta. It is sold in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and France, mostly at churches. During our time in Agua Prieta, we were given a tour of the roasting facility and learned about their operations from Café Justo employees, Daniel and Adrián. Café Justo began in 2002 with a microloan from Frontera de Cristo. Many farmers from Chiapas were migrating to Northern Mexico or to the United States because the price of coffee fell so dramatically in the 1990s that they could no longer support themselves or their families. Community and family unity suffered greatly. In response to the economic and social crisis, Café Justo was formed as a way to cut out the middle man in the coffee growing and selling process so that the farmers in Chiapas could receive a fair price for their beans. In addition to being paid a fair price for the fruit of their labor, farmers who are part of the cooperative receive benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans. Now, some of the original farmers are retiring, and their children are working as part of the co-op. The same families that would have been separated by migration as a result of environmental and economic factors out of their control, are now living and working intergenerationally and have the resources to invest in their community.
When is a good time to migrate?
Emmanuel in a Family’s Home
One evening during our time in DouglaPrieta, we were welcomed into the home of a young family: Flor, Miguel, and their daughter, Aleyda. We were a group of 13 people, but our hosts were very hospitable and generous. Flor prepared a lentil soup that we garnished with cilantro, onions, and lime. She served us pitchers full of agua fresca- piña, my favorite! Most of the time we were there, Aleyda, who is five, was in a side room watching cartoons and coloring with her dad. She wore shiny bows in her hair, and produced a shy smile when we asked her questions.
After enjoying la cena, Flor and Miguel spoke to us candidly about life on the border. Flor grew up in Agua Prieta; Miguel in Chiapas. Due to a lack of job opportunities over a decade ago, Miguel migrated to the U.S. He explained that during his time in the United States, he only left his home to go to work. He lived in constant fear of any interaction with law enforcement. One day, while on his way to work, the vehicle he was in was pulled over, I think for mechanical issues. Miguel was the only individual in the vehicle who did not have authorization to work, so he was taken to the immigrant detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Some of my colleagues at the Florence Project provide legal services to individuals detained there). Miguel described his six months imprisoned there as difficult and ugly. I could see in his facial expressions and hear in his words that he had many painful memories of Florence. After six months of trying to obtain a work permit, but with no avail, Miguel decided to sign an order of deportation and return to Mexico. He ended up in Agua Prieta and applied for a job at a maquiladora, or factory. Flor was a new hire at the same maquiladora at that time. Also limited by economic opportunity, many Agua Prieta folks work at factories run by multinational cooperations that are located near the border due to lax labor and tax laws. Although Miguel annoyed Flor at first because he asked many questions during work orientation, they eventually became friends and are now married with a child.
As a United Statesian, I often have had the perception that people in Mexico are miserable. Especially people who live near the border, I thought, must have terrible lives filled with violence and despair. That is the opposite of what I experienced in the home of Flor, Miguel, and Aleyda. They were hopeful. They were hospitable. They were healthy. They were happy. Miguel said, “We have problems, like all families do, but we are very content to live in this community.”
When is a good time to migrate?
When is a good time for a child to be born?
Emmanuel at Operation Streamline
The part of our week in which it was the most difficult to believe Emmanuel: God with us was when we observed Operation Streamline in Tucson. Operation Streamline is a two hour-long, mass federal prosecutorial hearing that occurs every afternoon. Each day 70 to 80 individuals are prosecuted for a misdemeanor or a felony, solely related to entering the country not at a port of entry. If an individual has only entered once, and has not been deported, they generally plead guilty to a misdemeanor and are then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where they will be detained for months before being deported or, if they are statistically lucky, released to live in the U.S. If an individual has a prior deportation on their record, they are prosecuted for a felony and a misdemeanor, but will usually plead guilty to the misdemeanor so the felony is dropped. They are sentenced to 30 to 180 days in federal prison, after which they will be turned over to ICE and spend several months in detention until being deported, or if EXTRA statistically lucky, released.
Our group of 13 and another group of folks on a church/border education trip entered a massive federal court room and were seated in the back. Many attorneys sat in the jury box. All of the usual court personnel was there: a judge, a secretary, an interpreter, and many federal marshals. When the judge was ready to begin, a group of seven people wearing street clothes, handcuffs, ankle shackles, and chains around their waists came out from a side door, had headphones were placed on their ears (they could not do it themselves because of the handcuffs), and stood in front of the judge. Seven of the attorneys stepped down from the jury box and stood behind each defendant. The judge went down the line of people asking them to verify their names, read them their rights, asked if they wanted to waive their right to a trial, read them their charges, and asked for their plea. She would usually read the full text (for an example, the rights) to the first or second person in line. She would say, “Do you understand your rights as I just explained?” By the third, fourth, fifth, person in the order, she would just say, “Same question.” It was apparent that efficiency, not comprehension or justice, was the name of the game. After each defendant pleaded guilty to their charges, whether they really understood them or not, the group of seven would be escorted out, and another group of seven would be escorted in. This process was repeated about ten times. It was uncomfortable, sad, and shameful to watch people being treated like this, especially in a U.S. court room. It was very difficult to feel the presence of God in that room.
Among the approximately 70 humans who we saw in chains standing in front of a judge who spoke to them in complex legal terminology in a foreign language, were a pregnant woman, indigenous language speakers whom the judge coerced into using the Spanish interpreter even if comprehension was limited, and boys who appeared and sounded to be 14 or 15 years old, but told the judge they were 18.
One defendant broke out of the mechanical saying “Sí” to all of the judge’s questions, and decided to speak up when given the opportunity. I have contemplated his story several times over the last few weeks. Jorge was one of the individuals who had a prior deportation on his record, so he was being charged with a felony and sentenced to time in a federal prison. When the judge asked, “Do any of the defendants want to say anything?” Jorge bravely said yes. He approached the microphone and asked the judge if his sentence could be reduced. He explained that he is a single father, and his United States citizen daughter is in Mexico. The longer his prison sentence, the longer he would be separated from his daughter. It seemed like what he wanted was to quickly be deported so that he could return to caring and providing for her. The judge said, “I’m sorry to hear that, but I have no control over sentencing. It’s between your attorney and the government.” Jorge was sentenced to 180 days, six months, in a U.S. federal prison.
When is a good time to migrate?
Emmanuel at the Port of Entry
During our time in Agua Prieta, we had the pleasure of sharing a meal with migrants who were temporarily living at a shelter on the Mexican side of the border. There was a variety of identities present at the shelter, called C.A.M.E. There were a couple of Honduran and Guatemalan families. There were three Mexican men who had spent the majority of their lives in the U.S. There was a group of Honduran transgender women. The C.A.M.E. volunteers and the migrants collaborated to prepare a delicious dinner, do dishes, and clean. We tried to wash our own dishes and sweep, but as their guests, they generously cleaned up after us. While we ate, we had the honor of hearing their stories, sharing in their pain, joking and laughing.
Migrants are at this shelter, usually, waiting to cross into the United States. There is a small port of entry between Agua Prieta and Douglas. If a migrant sets foot on U.S. soil and expresses a desire to apply for asylum to a government official, U.S. and international law dictates that the person has the right to stay in the United States (often in detention) while fighting for asylum in immigration court. Entering the U.S. at a port of entry is the best way to do this because it is safer than crossing the desert or the Río Grande. It also carries less potential legal backlash than does entering not at a port of entry (see Operation Streamline, above). However, the number of people who can approach a port of entry and request asylum is limited. And, the number has been decreasing in recent months. (I discussed this phenomena in my post about El Paso.) The Agua Prieta/Douglas port of entry is small, but it has the capacity to process eight asylum seekers per day. In recent weeks, it has been processing maybe one or two people per day. So, some of the folks we met at C.A.M.E. were waiting to go to the port of entry and request asylum, but they had been turned away day after day.
During our dinner at C.A.M.E., we met María. She wore her hair in a pony tail, and had a beautiful smile. María was traveling with her 13 year-old daughter, Julisa, who was wearing a blue shirt with white buttons when I met her. The morning following our shared dinner, María and Julisa were planning to go to the port of entry, bright and early, accompanied by C.A.M.E. volunteers. Before leaving that night, we wished them luck and safe travels. The next day we were busy with our scheduled programming. We spent most of the day in Agua Prieta, but around 4 pm, we were crossing the border to participate in a prayer vigil in Douglas. As we approached the port of entry, we saw María and Julisa. Sitting on the concrete. Waiting. They told us that they had been there since 7 a.m., but had not yet been allowed to set foot on U.S. soil to request asylum. We were in a hurry to get to the prayer vigil, so we did not talk for long. We pulled our U.S. passports out of our pockets and were in the U.S. within minutes. After the prayer vigil, some members of our group returned to the port of entry with food, coats, and sleeping bags for María and Julisa. Although they could have returned to C.A.M.E. for the night, they decided to sleep on the concrete in the cold because they didn’t want to “lose their place in line.”
María was eight months pregnant, with bronchitis.
When is a good time for a baby to be born?
When is a good time to migrate?
Where is Emmanuel?
As we are now in advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus, I am trying to identify Emmanuel in my life. I am trying to consider where God is with me. I experienced God in the faces and in the lives of Daniel, Adrián, Flor, Miguel, Aleyda, Jorge, María and Julisa. I experienced God in the many life-changing ministries of Frontera de Cristo. I experienced God in the DouglaPrieta community. I experienced God in the hope and in the hurt. As Pastor Bart said, Emmanuel is forever and ongoing.
When is a good time to migrate?
When is a good time for a baby to be born?
When is a good time for love to be born?
My year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, Arizona is officially underway. These past three weeks have been filled with a mix of joys, challenges, and everything in between. Yet one common thread that has defined my time here thus far is firsts. As a YAV in Tucson, I have experienced foreign and new situations on an almost daily basis. Below, I will reflect on some of my most significant firsts during my brief time here.
First Time in a Desert
During my first few days of exploring Tucson, a thought kept running through my head: “where is the green in this barren city?” Coming from a city of trees and manicured lawns, the site of dirt and gravel stretching in all directions was a stark change. Upon looking at a map of the city on my phone, I noticed several blue lines running through Tucson. Recalling the rivers and watering holes that dotted the Central Texas landscape, I was eager to see a splash of blue in the desert. However, every time I rode over one of those blue lines on my bike, I found that they were simply dry creek beds, and water only runs through them a few times a year. It was during these moments that I fully began to understand just how different of a place I had entered into. Three weeks in, and I still sometimes miss the site of grass or a flowing river, but I am no longer think of Tucson as “barren.” The city is abound with various types of wildlife, flora, and natural splendor. It is simply different than where I came from. Then, just today, I drove over a fully running river. It was full from a day of rain, and was strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged desert landscape. As my time here progresses, I hope to continue to find beauty in the desert.
First Time at CHRPA
For several weeks now, I have worked as a volunteer for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. This organization provides free emergency home repairs and handicap modifications to low-income and elderly residents of the Tucson area. As I have no previous handy-man or construction experience, everyday at CHRPA brings a new first. So far, I have had to learn how to fix a cooler, build a wheelchair ramp, replace a toilet, install a new sink faucet, and put in a door. Other new experiences this job has brought about include waking up before the sun rises, biking to work, and riding the bus. To say I am out of my element would be an understatement. It is hard work, and sometimes I feel like I get in the way more than I help when making a repair. I also find myself tired, sore, and most of all, hot. All this being said, I am amazed at the knowledge and passion of my coworkers and the lengths they go to in order to help the residents of Tucson. I have only begun to see the impact CHRPA has on people’s lives, and while it is difficult work that often leaves me frustrated, I feel proud to be part of this organization.
First Time at an Immigration Shelter
During our first week in the city, the Tucson YAV house volunteered with the Inn Project. The project is run through First United Methodist Church of Tucson, and provides a shelter for primarily Central American asylum seekers recently released from detention. Most refugees stay in the shelter before going on to their families in the United States who they will be staying with while their asylum application is processed.The shelter is set up in the church’s basement, and provides individuals with a place to sleep, three meals a day, and food and water for their upcoming journey. On the day we volunteered, 42 individuals were residing at the shelter. Immigration is an issue that I have learned about primarily through my wife, Dakota, who has worked extensively with immigrant communities through various non-profits. However, this was my first time being face to face with people who had just been released from immigration detention facilities. With my limited Spanish, I struggled to communicate effectively with those we were helping, but all expressed immense gratitude towards us for volunteering. Most were families, and all seemed tired yet excited to soon have the opportunity to see their family in the United States. As I was leaving, I had the feeling that if more people could spend a few hours with those most impacted by our immigration system, the debate surrounding immigration would be quite different.
First Time Fixing a Flat Tire
Finally, I fixed my first ever flat tire on a bike during this past three weeks. In fact, I fixed my first nearly two weeks ago, and have since had to fix four more flats. With a plethora of thorny plants and frequent potholes, Tucson may well by the flat bike tire capital of the United States. These flat tires shattered my vision of what community by bike would be like. Before I started as a YAV, I had an hour round trip commute in my car, and I was eager to trade driving for the simplicity and free exercise that come with biking. It turns out, bikes are not the simplest of machines to maintain, and just like a car, regular maintenance is required. On one particularly hot day, I found myself changing a flat tire on the side of a busy street. At that moment, all I wanted was my car, which happens to be sitting with my parents a thousand miles away. The very next day however, I found myself biking to work with a repaired tire, a cool morning breeze in my face, and a view of the sun rising over the Tucson mountains. Often during these past three weeks, the experiences that have brought me the most frustration and the most joy have been one in the same.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Have a great weekend and stay cool.
A few weeks ago YAVs from Albuquerque and Austin came with us to the U.S/Mexico border on a delegation. The purpose of the delegation was for us to bear witness to the lived realities on the border and to find a faithful response as people of God. The week was transformative for me, while I am still processing all that I experienced I wanted to highlight an experience that stuck with me.
During our time in Mexico we were hosted by Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry of the Presbyterian church. On our first night we participated in a vigil for people who have died trying to cross the border. We lined the streets of Douglas holding crosses of peoples names who have died. After each name was read we responded with “Presente!”
As we were reading the names I thought about my countries policies, and how death on the border is systemic. On our delegation we learned that in order to have fewer people cross the border, the United States created barriers so that people had to cross through the most dangerous terrain. This policy did not deter people from crossing as the United States hoped; but it did increase the death rate along the border dramatically. With each name that is read I know that my country is directly responsible for their death.
At the end of the vigil our leader ends with “Jesucristo.” We respond “Presente.”
Jesus is present on the border. He is with those who are crossing. I am reminded of the verse Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”
As we put the crosses away and walk back to our car I thought about how I can be present in the border communities, and how I can respond faithfully.
At the end of the delegation a few of us participated in the School of the Americas watch. My fellow YAVs and I stood in front of Eloy detention center, one of the most deadly detention centers, and chanted no están solos (you are not alone). As we stood across the detention center and chanted I saw lights flicker and people move inside. I turned to my fellow YAV and asked “do you think they can hear us?” She responded “I hope so.” After a week of heart break, to bear witness and to chant in the streets, “No están solos” is to respond with the love of God.
Every person I encountered on the border whether ministry partners, someone getting ready to cross, or people getting sober from addiction I am reminded that Jesus calls us to encounter and to be present. To bear witness to the oppression on the border and the communities that are resisting is to see the face of God.
Well it has been a while since I’ve put anything on here…oops, sorry about that y’all! There’s been a lot that has happened recently and I wanted to share them with everyone who has waited eagerly for another post from yours truly.
So February was a crazy month. Who knew 28 days could be so crazy? The highlight was easily visiting home for the first time in six months. I never realized how much of a home body I’d been in my life to this point, but the first six months of this year were the longest I’d been away from home. Talk about an adjustment. I was so looking forward to going home that I let my focus on my experience in Tucson slip. I started dealing with a mental dissonance as I became increasingly dissatisfied with being stuck in Tucson when all I wanted to do was be home. My relationships in my community went downhill and people could tell something was wrong even though I closed myself off from their attempts to find out what was eating me. It’s not something I’m super proud of, but it’s something I’m working through. I had lost the reason why I wanted to be here and do this crazy year of service and the homesickness hit me hard. I don’t say that to excuse my attitude (and I do sincerely apologize to my housemates…truly I’m sorry) but I say it to attempt to explain why my mood went downhill and why I was so happy to go home.
My trip home aside, a second event was coming at the end of February that I was also looking forward to. The Tucson YAVs take a sojourn into the desert to kick off the season of Lent. It is our mid year retreat and it’s an experience in finding refuge in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where God shows up time and time again in Scripture. He is a guiding presence through the wildernesses present in the bible story and the wilderness serves as a place of exile, but also as a place of deliverance. We delved into these seemingly incompatible pictures of the wilderness prior to our sojourn and it was something that I wrestled with during my time in solitude in the desert. Did I not mention that? Yeah, this week was about being in nature and, for part of the week, being isolated and alone in the wilderness to find God. Think Naked and Afraid, but with slightly more clothes and more than a little bit more of a devotional attitude. This retreat was the one that I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint. I can’t say for sure that I found God out there in the desert, but I did confront some fairly deep issues in my personal walk all of which centered around forgiveness. I have a tattoo on my left wrist that reads “the water” in Greek. I got it to remind me of the waters of baptism and the awesome symbolism of the sacrament. We are washed clean of our sin as we are accepted into God’s family. My struggle is living into the fact that I am, that we are, forgiven. God’s grace covers us and always seeks to grow us, to lead us into the people we were created to be. I have a hard time recognizing that forgiveness in my life. I struggle with forgiving myself and God has forgiven me. I’m still exploring this, but it was a huge realization that came from my time in solitude. Also, if you ever have the chance to escape into the desert, I highly recommend it. You will grow in remarkable ways even from just a short time out there alone.
That now brings me to Lent. What a great season in the life of the church. But it’s one that I think is easy to overlook in our eagerness to get to Easter and the promise of the Resurrection. After the solitude and exploring some spiritual disciplines, I decided to immerse myself in the spirit of Lent and to adopt the practice of Fasting during this blessed time of preparation. My fasts fall on Fridays, technically from dinner on Thursday until dinner on Friday. In my (limited) study of the purpose behind this season, I’ve found that the practice of forgoing something (whatever that may be) is undertaken so that something else may be added. During my fasts, I plan on engaging scripture on a deeper level outside of my normal devotional time and also during those times when I am most tempted to eat (aka normal meal times). Fasting is hard and after this past week (my second fast of the Lenten season), I’m beginning to appreciate just how much I eat during the day and how easy it is to get caught up in food. I’m eagerly awaiting to see how God will move during the coming weeks and I pray fervently for his strength to assist me, especially when the temptation to eat becomes almost too strong to resist.
Things in Tucson are, on the whole, good. We survived February craziness, we are moving through March and looking forward (aka dreading) to the steadily climbing temperatures. It already feels like a Kentucky June and we’re not even halfway through March. Oh the joys of desert living! We also had a group fundraiser today that consisted of a competition between us YAVs and a handful of pastors from the Presbytery de Cristo, which supports our site. We did a Family Feud-style competition and got our butts handed to us by the pastors. As much as I loved watching Family Feud in college, I learned tonight that I am not cut out to compete in that particular game.
Thank you, Father God, for forgiveness, for grace, for time at home and time alone.
And so we go.
The title of this post is the opening line of one of my all-time favorite songs that we sang in chorus in high school. I forget the full title of the song, but we always just called it Majesty and it was a favorite of just about everyone I knew in chorus. The words of the song are derived from the words of Psalm 8, when David is proclaiming the glory of God.
Psalm 8: Lord, our Lord, How majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You have made them rulers over the works of your hands; you have put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim in the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Davis is astounded that God would have such regard for man that He would make “them [men] a little lower than the angels”. As I reflect on this, I am filled with the same astonishment as David. God, Creator of the Universe, designer of mountains, sculptor of the seas, all powerful and omnipotent God, regards us humans as only a little lower than the angels. It seems impossible to me sometimes because there are time when the vastness of creation seems to shrink me down in comparison and it becomes easy to forget that God knows me, that He resides in me, and that it’s possible for me to know Him too. He chooses this, and I must choose it too.
In the psalm, David also praises the works of God’s fingers. The actual created world: mountains, valleys, rivers, oceans, stars, planets, and all the rest of creation. And what a wondrous creation it is! Last weekend, we took a trip for our fall retreat. We went down to Cochise County and stayed at the Half Moon Ranch, nestled in the Dragoon Mountains near the Cochise Stronghold. Like so many times in this beautiful corner of the country, I was confronted by the beauty of creation.
Far from city centers, the stars popped out. And there were more than I ever could have thought possible. I also saw several shooting stars, a new(ish) experience for me. The vastness of the night sky and the seclusion of the ranch where we were also afforded me my first glimpse of the Milky Way. Needless to say I felt small and insignificant. But I marveled at God’s creative genius and I wondered how it could be that the God who created the vastness of space is mindful of me, an infinitely small being in the “grand scheme of things”…
The highlight of the fall retreat came on Saturday morning, our last full day in Cochise County. Mirra, Mary, Alison, and I left the ranch around 7:30 in the morning to hike, boulder, and climb our way to the Cochise Stronghold, where a tribe of Native Americans held out against a US Army force. What a climb. During the course of our 3.5 hour journey, we walked almost seven miles, climbed the equivalent of 113 floors, and burned almost 2,000 calories (statistics provided by fitbit). We confronted the challenges of the trail, climbed open rock faces and pushed through jelly legs and tired minds. The reward was one of those rare views of the world from on high. Houses were small, other mountains were at eye level, and we could see far into the distance. We witnessed some awesome rock formations. We witnessed the quiet of isolation. We appreciated the beauty of the desert and the mountainous terrain. Most of all, we reveled together in the counqering of a challenge and in the beauty that God is. He is there in the mountain, in the challenge, and in the overcoming. And, even in our smallness, He knows and loves us. It is an incredible, wonderful, overwhelming, amazing feeling. Last weekend was good for me to remember that feeling, to appreciate creation, and to reconnect with my housemates.
The night before the climb, before finding the Milky Way and playing some awesome games, we had an impromptu praise session. With only a ukulele and our voices, we praised God with songs familiar and unfamiliar. With one voice we praised our Creator. And that moment of communal singing rivaled the climb to the Stronghold as a high point for me.
Salmo 8: ¡Oh Jehová, Señor nuestro, cuán glorioso es tu nombre en toda la tierra! Has puesto tu gloria sobre los cielos; de la boca de los niños y de los que maman, fundaste la fortaleza, a causa de tus enemigos, para hacer callar al enemigo y al vengativo. Cuando veo tus cielos, obra de tus dedos, la luna y las estrellas que tú formaste, digo ¿qué es el hombre, para que tengas de él memoria, y el hijo del hombre, para que lo visites? Le has hecho poco menor que los ángeles, y lo coronaste de gloria y de honra. Le hiciste señorear sobre las obras de tus manos; todo lo pusiste debajo de sus pies: Ovejas y bueyes, todo ello, y asimismo las bestias del campo, las aves de los cielos y los peces del mar; todo cuanto pasa por los senderos del mar. ¡Oh Jehová, Señor nuestro, cuán grande es tu nombre en toda la tierra!
Thank you, Creator God, for your creation, for your knowledge of us, and for community.
And so we go.
We have now reached October and, as hard as it is to believe that, it’s also crazy that it hasn’t been longer. The “normalization” of this year is becoming more complete. I have a routine now; instead of trying to find that, my daily “quest”, if you will, is searching to tweak that routine to take the most advantage of YAV life in Tucson. A housemate of mine recently gave me a little note of affirmation (because we’re all fans of words of affirmation in Tucson house) and at the end she mentioned something about admiring the fact that I seek to be present here in Tucson even though my heart is somewhere else. In reflecting on that, I’m taken back to one of my first thoughts coming into this year. I’m living life in two separate places this year, and sometimes the desire to be back home is stronger than the desire to be here in Tucson. So much of orientation spoke of living life in tension between where we are and where we want to be, and I feel like I just add this into the mix of everything else that I’m am presented with in this crazy life. And some days, I miss the simple fact of being around familiar things. Even more than a month into this journey, I miss my dogs. I miss Mariah. I miss my family. I even miss Owensboro, something I never thought I would be caught saying. The struggle between the familiar and the new haunts me every day, and it is a struggle that I’m slowly, but surely, starting to embrace.
I’ve most noticed this “settling in” effect every time I look at my personal calendar. There are so many events that I’ve agreed to go to. And, regrettably, so many that I have forgotten about and been unable to take part in. Another side effect of settling in has been the continued comfort in biking. I always remember to pack a change of clothes if my biking clothes are not appropriate for my destination, I remember to factor in the increased time it takes to bike somewhere compared to driving, and then to factor in extra time to change clothes once I reach my destination. These calculations have slowly become second nature. Last week alone I biked almost 80 miles. That’s basically just to work and to swim, with the occasional extra group adventure thrown in for fun. One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the human body is how long it takes to adjust to a change in activity (i.e. biking), but how quickly it “forgets” the muscle built if the activity is not performed even for one day. For me, this adjustment to biking continues to occur, and will probably for the rest of the year.
The vistas in Arizona never cease to disappoint me. These sunsets only tell half the picture. I once heard a fellow volunteer from another program say the sunsets here were really disappointing. I don’t know which skies he is looking at, but these come on an almost daily basis. When it’s not the sunsets, it’s the mountains. I wish I had a good picture to show y’all the mountains that are everywhere around Tucson. The city is so flat that it’s hard to believe the mountains are as close as they are. God’s beauty is so evident here in the desert. I used to think of the desert as a place where not much happened. Things hid during the day (when it’s too hot to do anything) and became active at night. The desert, to me, was always a barren place. But there is creativity and diversity in the way the sun’s rays find the clouds every afternoon. There is majesty in the rugged edges of the mountains, clawing their way into the sky. There is life here. And there is abundant life. Part of my adventures of the past week was planting my first bed at Las Abuelitas with Destinee (the garden program is finally getting off the ground!!). In this one bed alone, we planted broccoli, cauliflower, onions, dill, arugula (which I didn’t even know was a thing), kale, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro…in the desert. Now we may find that this was too much for one bed. We may find that we should have transplanted most of these into the bed following their sprouting in another, more sheltered place (that is true, but we’re hopeful they’ll all still grow). But that’s what I love about gardening. It’s an experiment. It’s about taking chances, making mistakes, and finding out what works. It’s interacting with God’s creation to bring forth life from the soil. That sounds really familiar to me (if you’re interested see Genesis 2) and I enjoy being a partner in God’s creative story, even in the desert.
I’m glad it’s Friday. My weekend began yesterday at the conclusion of the after school program and I’m really going to miss these four day work weeks when I return to the “real world”. I’m also super excited because next week we don’t have the after school program at all. Our program schedule follows the Tucson United School District’s calendar, so when the kids don’t have school, we don’t have the program. I will miss seeing the kids every day, but after this week I’m glad we get a chance to breathe before moving through the rest of October. Cody and I have the chance to recharge and, in light of the past rough week, revamp some of the rules and consequences of our program.
As I mentioned, a couple times, this past week was crazy. The kids were, simply put, ready to misbehave at any and every opportunity they could. We could not get in front of the disciplining curve and as such spent a frustrating week leading from behind. Thursday was better and gave me hope that we do have this thing somewhat under control, even though I don’t feel prepared at all to work with children. I’m still feeling my way in that regard. I mentioned above that Destinee and I planted our first bed at Las Abuelitas. Things are smoothing themselves out. We are attempting to bring life out of the desert soil (albeit in a raised bed). We are attempting to direct the life and energies of the students that come into the after school program. We are attempting to join in and contribute to the diversity and beauty of God’s world. We are attempting to understand what it means to take these 20 kids in every day and be a positive influence in their lives while also seeking to understand their situations and “walk in their shoes” for the altogether too short time that we get to know them. We are finding our way, day by day.
And so we go.
Thank you, Loving God, for challenging weeks, restful weekends, and reminders of your beauty in unexpected places.
Sorry I’ve been out of action for so long! For me, blogging can be very tough and exhausting at times. So after full days of work, I often find it hard to motivate myself to work and write more. We’ve been quite busy round here so I’ve been out of the blogosphere.
Last week, we Tucson/Douglas/Agua Prieta YAVs had our Lenten Sojourn Retreat. For this we went out to Cascabel, a beautiful area near Benson AZ. We were there to camp, enjoy each other’s company, and the wonderful nature out there.
For the first day and night at least.
For the next two nights and one day after that, we would be out on ‘solos’. This meant that each of us would be taken to individual sites away from each other to spend our time meditating, reflecting, getting away from the busyness of our lives, and hopefully hear a little bit of God’s whisperings to us. While I was stoked to go camping, I was a nervous to be alone for 36ish hours.
I would like to say that while I was out there I spent countless hours meditating and listening to God. That I prayed ceaselessly and saw visions of my future. But I didn’t. I got bored. I pace around. Yes I did pray at times. I read my Bible. But I also stared at the grass. I looked at this one saguaro cactus for way too long (it had like 12 arms which meant it was outrageously old, but other than that it wasn’t too fascinating). And I actually learned some things. I learned that being alone doesn’t bother me at all. However, having nothing to do kind of destroys my soul. I learned that man could in fact live on PB&J alone. I was reinforced in some of the callings I feel in life and got completely turned around in others. I also learned that God could speak to us in boredom and in prayer. Two things I learned really stuck out to me though.
One was about what our coordinator Alison wisely called ‘the Tyranny of the Should’. I don’t know about y’all, but I often find myself telling myself that I SHOULD do things. I should do this or that, or I should study more of this or read more of that. So many shoulds! It can be overwhelming. But then our friendly neighborhood pastor Bart flipped that on it’s head for me. We were sitting around after lunch, waiting to be taken to our sites. I was telling about something I felt like I SHOULD be doing better. And he very calmly said ‘Ya know, maybe you don’t. That might just not be how you operate.’ It was so simple yet struck me. I felt like I constantly made myself do things that I didn’t really want to do but felt like I should do. That simple sentence of Bart’s made me feel more secure in myself and helped me realize that should can be really destructive.
I also learned that things don’t always meet our expectations, and that’s totally okay. I went into this desert sojourn thinking my world would be rocked and I would learn so many things about my life. That God would tell me everything I needed to know and show me visions of my future. But I didn’t. Those things didn’t happen and it was okay. Oftentimes we put unreal expectations on things and are crushed when they don’t happy. At first, I was upset that it didn’t meet my expectations. However, once I thought about it, I realized that it was totally okay that it didn’t meet all my expectations. Things can still be beneficial and help us learn even when they aren’t what we expected. And I am very thankful for that.
Yesterday, I participated in a Father's Day march for family unity at Southside Presbyterian Church to demand an end to the separation of migrant families due to detention, deportation, and death in the desert. Before I came to Tucson, I did not understand the complex web of immigration policies that tear families apart. After living here for a year, I have heard countless testimonies of people who have been disconnected from their spouses, parents, and children. Many undocumented parents go to work every morning with the fear they may not return in the evening to see their children.
Due to laws like S.B. 1070, police are allowed ask the immigration status of anyone they pull over, arrest, or suspect to be here without papers. If someone cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally, the police call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol to process the individual and take them to detention, prison for migrants. In detention, migrants are often abused as they wait behind bars for months, hoping for a court date or bond hearing. If they are lucky and get a bond, they must raise thousands of dollars, which most working class migrants, do not have. For more information, please read this Center for Immigrations Studies report on detention centers.
Most detained migrants do not get access to a lawyer, do not receive a bond, and are deported back to their home countries. There, they must decide whether to create a new life in a country that may be unfamiliar, dangerous, or without jobs, or to take the perilous journey across the desert to reunite with their family in the United States. Many parents hike through the Sonoran desert, risking their lives to be with their children again. In the last 15 years, at least 2,000 migrants have died attempting to crossing the Arizona border alone. For more information on migrants deaths in the desert visit Colibri.
Why do we separate families?
Every person who has died crossing the desert was someone's child.
Every person who has been racially profiled is someone's friend.
Every person who has been sent to detention is someone's mom, dad or supporter.
Every person who has been deported is someone's partner, lover, daddy, papi, mama, mommy, tio, tia, cousin, or sibling.
During the march, we gathered at a shrine for migrants who have passed away in the desert and read this beautiful prayer:
Father's Day Prayer
God our creator, daily we call upon you and remember you as our father who art in heaven. You have known the joy of watching your child grow, of witnessing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus develop as a family or prophets who endured and challenged the oppression of their government. You Father, journeyed with them through the darkness and the light, and in the darkest of moments when your own Son was apprehended, detained, and eventually murdered, you were there in the mercy and compassion of those who worked and continue to work tirelessly to keep alive his memory and message.
As we remember fathers and all those who have embodied such responsibility, we particularly pray for migrant fathers who journeyed thousands of miles with the dream of providing for their children, but who never reached their dream. Many of them remain in our deserts simply as bones clamoring to you and us all for justice. We remember these deceased migrants fathers, we pray for the livelihood of their children and family, and we ask that you continue to make of us instruments of life and not death.
We especially pray for all those crossing the desert as we speak, those dying of thirst, those who have lost their way in the wilderness, those who are enduring brutalities, those who are locked up and treated as though they were not human. We pray for these your people, your holy ones whom you continue to send and whom we continue to reject at the border. Bless them with perseverance, light their path, direct their way, shelter them from the burning heat, and comfort them in their despair. On this father's day, may we remember that we are all brothers and sisters to each other, that I am in fact my brother and my sister's keeper, that you are Father to us all, and that ultimately, we are all migrant families journeying home. May the courage of migrant fathers be also our courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Amen.
Alison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Church, ended the march with a great rallying cry to help us recommit ourselves to welcoming our neighbors and fighting with our migrant brothers and sisters for justice. I am thankful for the active community members of Tucson who come together, time and time again, to advocate for the just treatment of God's people.
Recently, I was at a Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Mexico sharing a meal with a migrant family. I was there as a part of an intense study of border issues and ministries on the Douglas, Arizona/ Agua Prieta, Sonora area. Although, I had spent the whole week with a large group of Young Adult Volunteers from the Tucson and Denver, this moment was all about the family sitting across from me.
As we ate our pasta and sipped our sugar-infused juice, we began to talk about where we came from and why we were here in the dusty border town of Agua Prieta. The father of the family, Ronald*, was charismatic and friendly. His big green eyes glittered as he excitedly told me that he and his family of four were going to cross the border in the upcoming week. His glee was uncontainable. Ronald and his wife, Maria*, animatedly walked me through the details of their itinerary.
When their coyote (human smuggler or guide depending on your perspective) contacted them, they would drive out into the desert where they would climb over the border wall using a ladder. Then, they would walk through the harsh terrain, in the dark to the closest American town, Bisbee. When they assured me it was only a ten-hour hike, I began to get uncomfortable. This would be a fast-paced hike. Ronald described how they would have to follow the exact footsteps of their guide to avoid alerting Border Patrol motion detectors or heat sensors. After arriving in Bisbee, they planned on taking a van to Phoenix, then Las Vegas, and finally Indianapolis to meet his sister. I wondered how they would do this, as there are Border Patrol checkpoints on the only road out of Bisbee where the guards check for identification. Maybe they’ll take a dirt road. Maybe they’ll hide in the trunk or under the floorboards of the car as some migrants do…
By now my heart was racing. I was worried for their safety and worried that their coyote had mislead them so I asked, “Is it worth it for you to endure this dangerous trip?” Ronald replied with an absolute, “Yes.” Even though he is leaving a good job as a nuclear electrician and his eldest son is leaving college, he believes he can have a better life in the United States. This family lived in Veracruz, one of the most violent states in Mexico. Ronald and Maria said they live in constant fear of the cartels. Ronald confidently said, “I would rather be captured by Border Patrol than the cartels any day.” Having a good job in Veracruz actually makes him a liability, as the cartels are most likely to extort money from him. It is a paradoxical situation with little hope of changing any time soon.
After we finished dinner, I thanked Ronald and his family for their honest conversation and wished them the best on their journey. But saying, “Safe travels” did not suffice. I kept thinking about them, worrying about them, and praying for them.
Please let Ronald, Maria, and their two sons find a peaceful, dignified life. Please help them find their way through the desert. May they be protected from abuse from their guide or Border Patrol. God, everyone deserves a dignified life and an opportunity to raise their family without fearing for their lives. Please protect this family and help them safely reach their destination.”
And what happens if they make it to their final destination? If they find jobs they will forever work in the shadow class, afraid of deportation. Will the son who was in University in Mexico, be able to get an American education or will he be resigned to minimum wage labor for the rest of his life?
Even if this family fears deportation and works hard for low wages, this is probably better than living under the reign of a violent cartel. Due to my privileged and limited perspective, I did not realize that what may seem horrible to me may be a relief to another person who has suffered far greater challenges than I have.
This is blind privilege is one of the many reasons why we do not know how to “secure” our border. In the 90s, Operation Gatekeeper and other similar policies were enacted to reduce illegal immigration. The Border Patrol focused its resources on securing metropolitan areas, while leaving the unpopulated desert areas less patrolled. The official plan was “attrition through deterrence” as Homeland Security thought that the desert would be a natural and obvious boundary for migrants. This thought process makes sense when coming from a privileged American who is unaware of the conditions of poverty and violence in parts of Mexico. Yes, desperate hardworking people who cannot find jobs or fear their lives will cross, even if it means risking their lives. In fact, many people like Ronald see the cacti-laden desert to be a small challenge compared to their daily lives back home.
We will not be able to create just, holistic immigration reform until American politicians are aware of the root causes of immigration to the US, the current socio-political climate in Mexico and Central America, and what people are willing to give up. Ronald sacrificed his job, home, and son’s college education to climb a wall, walk in the dark, and work minimum wage jobs in hopes of a safer, more dignified future.
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
“Therefore, remember that formerly you are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God live by his Spirit.
*For the privacy of these individuals, I have changed their names.