As I am almost about to end as an intern with Frontera de Cristo, and become a 7th grade science teacher this has made me reflect on my life here in the communities of Douglas and Agua Prieta. The truth is that I could not come up with a more beautiful life than I have here in these communities. The opportunity of working and living in such a unique and beautiful bi-national community with such loving people is a blessing everyday in my life that makes me laugh, smile, love and feel the pain of this world. I remember when I first came to the Douglas and Agua Prieta on a border delegation it was both exciting and scary. I think for most people in the U.S. when they come to visit us at Frontera de Cristo these are common feelings. I have found that this feeling of fear that we have of the border and Mexico is misunderstanding that is reflected by what we here from the media, U.S. government and politicians. And while there are problems with insecurity and violence on the border, U.S., Mexico and the world that has created an immigration and refugee crisis in this would, our reaction to these problems should not be fear. I think that is why when groups and people come to visit us at FDC they have taken the most important step and that is not letting fear prevent them from building understanding about issues.
In general, I think most people are curious to understand, learn and love people who live and look different from us, but at the same time we are also afraid of people and places that are different from us. I had to make the conscious choice to come to live on the border and not let fear rule over me. But, instead pursue my curiosity to learn and better understand the issues, people and life on this border. However, it has been the curiosity of people and kids I work with in Agua Prieta and Douglas to learn what it means to love me that is making me stay. I think this is what makes working with the children at DouglaPrieta Trabaja (DPT) so special for me is their curiosity to love and learn from other people. I know many of my students were afraid of me as a white American, but their curiosity to love and learn about other people always seems to win out in them. Because of their curiosity to come to English classes and spend time with me they have deeply blessed and taught me a lot about their culture, difficulties and how to love people. And while I can say from my perspective and their perspective it has not always been easy doing English classes at DPT, their curiosity enabled us to have the opportunity to learn and understand each other better. And my students at DPT have taught me that when we let the curiosity to learn and understand more about people rule over fear this allows us to enter relationships that overtime break down the walls of racism, discrimination and stereotypes that we hide in our hearts.
Unfortunately, I think in the U.S. fear is ruling over the curiosity to learn and better understand people who are different from us. We are continually being bombarded by politicians, media and religious leaders with messages that portray poor people, black and Latino males in ghettos, Muslims and immigrants as people we should be afraid of. For example, when we saw the large number of kids and teenagers from Central America fleeing their countries to the U.S., many politicians, the media and religious leaders used the propaganda of fear to prevent us from better understanding and knowing these children who were fleeing from gang violence, gang killings and extreme poverty. I think this is why we encounter in the scriptures the message of fearing God, because if we don’t fear God we let fear that comes from people blind us from truly seeking God’s kingdom being manifested through people of different races, cultures, religions and nationalities coming together to fight injustices, racism and suffering in the world. So as I depart from the students I have worked with at DPT I will take away from them the practice of being curious enough to learn what it means to better understand and love people across our differences and similarities.
So I have some very exciting news… I will be staying permanently in the DouglaPrieta area because I just received a 7th grade science teaching job in Douglas! I am very excited that God has given me the opportunity to continue working towards positive changes in these border communities that I have grown to love. It has been amazing to see where following God’s will and my own interests has taken me because a year ago I knew nothing about Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora. I feel that I am starting to come to the end of the first chapter of my life on the border, which has been full of lots of challenges, love, community, spirituality and pain. I also feel like the blind man in Mark 8: 22-26 where Jesus spits on his eyes to give him sight and tells him not to go back into the village. Before I began serving as a YAV there were so many things in my own society and personal life that I did not see or chose to ignore, and now Jesus has spit on me through the suffering, pain, joy and love I have witnessed on the border and within the U.S. It has changed me in many ways and given me sight to injustices and my own privilege, and I know that I will never be able to go back to my old self again in the village.
When I refer to my old life self I am really talking about my old way of thinking and blindness to certain injustices and the poor. I was blind to the societal sins and my personal part in systems that deeply entrench racism, inequality, imperialism, injustice and above all cause human suffering in the U.S. and around the world. One of the many things God has spit on me to no longer be blind, is the realities and suffering of those labeled criminals and drug addicts that I had previously learned to fear, discriminate against and not feel compassion for them. Growing up with the privilege of being a white male in a middle-class family in the United States, I was mostly unaffected in the war against drugs and immigration. However, I now realize I was unconsciously affected by what I heard from my own culture, media and the government that criminalizes and demonizes undocumented immigrants and black and Latino males. As a result, I formed unconscious and racial biases against Latino and black males, and a colorblindness and lack of concern for how multiple systems like mass incarceration harm black and Latino minorities, especially in poor communities.
However, I feel that God has spit on me to open my own eyes to the realities and suffering of those labeled criminals and drug addicts that I have been taught to fear and not feel compassion for them. As Agua Prieta has a large population of people with drug addictions and people who have been deported from the U.S. for criminal charges I have encountered many men with these labels. I specifically remember one man who had been deported and was trying to cross to be reunited with his family. When I first meet him at the Migrant Resource Center (MRC) I quickly labeled him as a criminal and a person who could possibly be dangerous. I normally feel compassion for migrants at the MRC who risk their lives for a better life or to be reunited with their loved ones. However, this man was from Texas and had certain tattoos I was familiar with in San Antonio that indicated he was probably involved with gang and drug activities. But, he was very talkative and distressed about being separated from his entire family, so I ended up talking with him and hearing a lot of his story. He ended up being a really nice guy, and I had a powerful conversation with him about racism against Latinos and immigrants in the U.S. and his efforts to be reunited with his family. Later, I reflected about how my initial judgement and lack of compassion for this really nice guy was contributing to the system of racism and mass incarceration that imprisons a large number of Latino and black men in the U.S. for drug charges, which allows them to be legally discriminated against in the U.S. or deported as felons.
This year on the border I have meet many men through the Migrant Resource Center, CREEDA (a drug rehabilitation center in Agua Prieta), church or at the barber shop who struggle as deported felons of the U.S. or with drug addictions. In fact I have been very surprised to discover how the negative effects (more likely I was just so blind before) of mass incarceration has impacted Agua Prieta. It even affects the work I do in education with kids as a few of the kids involved in my English classes moved from the United States because a parent was deported. Despite, the difficult circumstances that these men and fathers find themselves in Agua Prieta, they have all been extremely kind and humble men who are just trying to support themselves and their families.
I have realized that I need to make a conscious effort to make sure that I treat these men with human dignity and compassion because in Agua Prieta many of these men are trapped in mass incarceration and immigration systems where there is no legal means for them to be reunited with their children, moms, dads and extended family in the United States. However, I am really excited to have the opportunity next year to influence and help prevent teenagers from going to prison and using drugs in Douglas and to instead teach them about positive things like science, caring for your community and social justice that can be used to help people and society. I am also excited that Jesus is spitting on a lot people’s eyes in the church and that churches are becoming more aware of how our mass incarceration and immigration systems are destroying lives, families and minority communities in the U.S. And while there is a long way to go into breaking the chains of mass incarceration and the brokenness of our immigration system, I am excited about the impact that the God’s and Jesus’ church can have to seek more justice in these systems.
For more information about what PCUSA is doing about mass incarceration you can click on this link.
Hanbyeol and I spoke at our job's Annual Meeting last night. Below is a very serious speech that we wrote together reflecting on the past 5 months of working at CHRPA.
H: On Sept. 3, 2014, Allie and I started our CHRPA story. We will not tell about EVERY day and every job, but here are a few things we have learned so far:
A: There was our first CHRPA school where we learned how to solder copper and every CHRPA school after with Dan R and other CHRPA worker’s careful planning and creative teaching. We learned that plumbing is Hanbyeol’s passion and there’s nothing more fun than the Wirsbo expander tool.
H: We have learned that biking to work is the most fun in the afternoon, when we aren't 20 minutes late for work. True community is when Allie bikes so much faster than me, but I still like her at the end of the day.
A: Community is also when Hanbyeol wakes me up at 6 am every morning for work because I can’t do it on my own.
H: I taught a CHRPA school lesson on Wirsbo, SharkBite fittings, and Rayhow pex to a group of people who are all older than me, something that is not usual in Korean culture.
A: And there’s nothing more satisfying than completing a 2 week gas job with Josh and Dustin, and the all you can eat popcorn at Ferguson's that comes with it.
H: The smell of cats will never leave me and there’s nothing better than a client with puppies.
A: Hugh is a walking story book and figuring out a challenge on Thursday afternoons is so satisfying
H: and it’s a good day when you are completely covered in flash and seal.
A: I have learned that the most important thing about working with clients is just to listen
H: I have learned to not bow, like in South Korean Culture, to clients but how to shake hands instead And how to nod and smile in conversations I don’t understand. No hablo español.
A: We both have learned to count how many times Dan W. says “shoot” in one working day (record was 12).
H: We have learned that CHRPA girls are the strongest, talented, smartest, beautiful women in the world.
A: We’ve never eaten as much ice cream as we have in the past 5 months.
H: Drinking Water is really important and the ability to laugh at mistakes, like falling through a roof is necessary.
A: This job could be hard and stressful, but because of the staff and volunteers who have let us learn, laugh, and grow with them this year, working at CHRPA has been a wonderful experience for both of us and we are excited to see what the next 6 months have in store……
H: dios te bendiga
This is why I love my Presbyterian Church. Coming together and literally and figuratively embracing each other! (Not that we are perfect! We’ve still got a LOT to learn).
During my Young Adult Volunteer year of service, I also have seen the bridges being built, being mended, being crossed. I have also realized that there are bridges that are yet to be built, bridges that may remain broken. Yet there is a beauty in at least trying to build these bridges back. In the wake of is the tragic events of even just the past couple of weeks with Kayla Mueller’s death in Syria and Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and Deah Shaddy Barakat’s deaths in North Carolina, I have been alarmed by the ways in which we still desperately need to need to start building bridges. As challenging as this work may be at times, even just acknowledging that a lack of a bridge exists and start figuring how to start building bridges between cultures, ethnicities, religions, backgrounds, upbringings, socioeconomic statuses, etc. is a start!
We all have our biases but we also all have our brains to get beyond these biases.
As the quote on the Celestial Seasonings tea has taught me, “The river may be wide, but it can be crossed.” (Cote d’Ivoire). (By the way, I have this posted on my door to remind me of the times in which it’s easier just to assume and not step out and communicate).
#yavprogram #haveyouhuggedapresbyteriantoday? #loveyourneighbor #hugs #hugitout
P.S. Rick Ufford-Chase – aka: the dude to the left seen hugging above – was the leader of our 2014-2015 Young Adult Volunteer Orientation back in late August at Stony Point Conference & Retreat Center! Also, he used to live in the house that our current Tucson YAV site coordinator, Brandon lives.
Tonight, after I presented our monthly volunteer training entitled “Refugee 101”, the Executive Director, Barbara at Iskashitaa Refugee Network said to me that no matter of what type of volunteer commitment an individual decides to make with our organization, they can at least step away from this interactive training with more sensitivity towards the refugee and asylum seeking population not only in Tucson but also in the world. Often times, I get caught up in the every day details as a Volunteer Coordinator at Iskashitaa that I forget one of our main missions is to bring education and awareness and sensitivity and understanding about refugees and asylum seekers to the Tucson community. Who is a refugee? What is the difference between refugee and an asylum seeker? What is their journey like? What are the challenges they face? What are the skills and gifts they can bring to their new community?
Often feeling helpless that I cannot do more or that I am not efficient/quick enough to get volunteers connected to one another! Barbara reminded me, “If nothing, the people who have attended ‘Refugee 101’ have become more sensitive to a group of people that they would have mindlessly walked by in the grocery store before.”
At the end of the day, perhaps if we just asked each other -while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store what the Arabic, English, Spanish, Swahili or Kirundi word for tomato was – perhaps we’d gain a little more respect for one another and realize that as weird and foreign and different we all initially seem from one another…..we all have a word for tomato in our language. :)
Check out the “Hugs that Change the World” article in Presbyterian Today.
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.
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.
Part of my job at CHRPA is to contribute to the annual "CHRPA Tales" story book. Below is one of my submissions. I worked with a Jesuit volunteer, Abi, who is a dear friend and one of the few northerners I agree to get along with ;)
On a Thursday afternoon, Abi and I were sent to a house to put up shower walls around a new bathtub. It was my first time working with Abi, and neither one of us had built a shower surround before. But this year is all about firsts, right?
I had been to this superannuated house before, to do the initial assessment with Dustin (a CHRPA employee). I was excited to revisit Reyna and her two chipper little girls. The house was clean, but old, and decorated with a hodgepodge of things. Despite the physical state of the home, I remember the sweet family created a happy and welcoming atmosphere
When we knocked on the front door, the mom – short and round and kind – opened it. Reyna had been expecting us. I don’t speak any Spanish, and she speaks very little English, but she showed us she was excited we were there without saying a word. Reyna led us to the bathroom and Abi and I got to work. As Abi and I ran in and out of the house, measuring the walls and cutting new pebble board, a neighbor pulled up a lawn chair in his next-door yard. He settled in and watched the chaos unfold. The kids ran around the house, chattering to each other in Spanish; something they could finally do after a CHRPA crew came the day before to repair their floor. Reyna ventured into the bathroom and checked on us every once in a while, during the commercial breaks in her favorite TV show.
After the job, Abi and I tried to communicate to Reyna that we were going to have to come back to replace faucet handles another day. We mimed at each other for a few minutes; no success. After laughing together over our ridiculous hand motions, she sent one of her daughters racing next door to fetch a kid who spoke English.
I was worried that she wouldn't be pleased with the shower after Abi and I struggled with our first installation of pebble board – but Reyna was grinning, happy to see the job done. She even helped us load tools back on the truck. I felt good about the work CHRPA did as a whole, because I knew, even without being able to effectively communicate with the family, that they were thankful.