Some people spend Valentine's Day kissing their boyfriends. Some spend the day bingeing on chocolates with their gal pals. I spent the day speaking about migrant justice at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona. This church graciously invited the Tucson YAVs to be their weekend guests during Mission Month. We led a workshop on Solidarity, Charity and Advocacy, preached, spoke during Adult Education and went on a short hike with the youth group. I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my reflections on my year service.
The four Tucson YAVs, Allie, Emily, Hanbyeol, and I preached a sermon together. First, we read a poem called Passover Remember, which we first heard during YAV Orientation in August. Then, we used different verses to individually reflect on the our experiences during the first half of our YAV year.
Below is my part of the sermon. Click here to hear a recording of our sermon.
Do not hesitate to leave
Your old ways behind –
Fear, silence, submission
… Then begin quickly,
before you have time to sink back
into the old slavery
Why do we feel the need to create borders? How do we build equal and respectful relationships with people who are unlike us? How can I work as an ally with those who are oppressed? What does modern day slavery look like? These are some of the questions I’ve grappled with during my year of service with Young Adult Volunteers.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve at BorderLinks, where I organize and lead educational trips about the border. During the last six months, I have spent time with a wide variety of people who have taught me more than I could have imagined.
While observing the 25-foot border wall that separates Mexico and the United States, I have prayed with seminarians, reflected with teenagers, and taken pictures with retirees. I have led workshops for squirmy middle schoolers where we explore what the words “immigrant,” “border”, or “family” mean to them. Brave migrants have told me their harrowing testimonies at shelters in border towns like Nogales and Agua Prieta, Sonora. I’ve wept as a woman recounted her experience of crossing the desert, getting detained by Border Patrol, and separated from her husband. I have visited migrants at Florence Detention Center who migrated north to escape cartel violence in Honduras and Guatemala. I have felt the panic that constricts your chest when you learn that your friend’s undocumented husband was just detained. In the last few months, the border has come a part of me. It is present in my thoughts, my tears, my worries, and my prayers.
In addition to learning about the challenges on the border, I had the chance to meet people who are bringing human dignity back to this region. Raul, one of my friends and coworkers, spent last Christmas in a cold detention center, visiting detainees who have no one else to support them. My friend, Josue, grew up undocumented, and is now organizing with other young migrants to get more access to higher education. My local Presbyterian church, Southside, has opened its door to provide sanctuary to an undocumented mother so she can stay with her two boys and husband.
Amidst the darkness, I have also witnessed a powerful display of God’s love in the borderlands. We are lucky to be part of a community of students, pastors, church members, atheists, migrants, and allies who have bonded together to turn barriers into bridges and make our earth look more like God’s kingdom. As the Bible says in Ephesians 2: 13-15, “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.”
During the last six months, my eyes have opened, my heart has ached, and my resolve has been strengthened. With the support of my fellow volunteers and coworkers, I have begun to acknowledge my privilege, my citizenship and the effects of my country’s policies.
My work here has encouraged me not to “sink back into the old slavery” of injustice, prejudice, and ignorance. I truly believe that the most radical act of love is to introduce people to each other. If be build relationships, we realize we are linked. Their struggle is our struggle. Our society’s borders affect us all by perpetuating division, fear, and even hatred. If we leave behind our fear, silence and submission we can reach a state of collective liberation where we are all free.