Flash blogs are short posts written to a shared prompt during community discussion time -- with a ten minute time limit. This practice helps us get used to blogging, stay in communication with our followers, and challenge ourselves to not overthink how we share with the world. See each YAV's response to this shared prompt below!
PROMPT: What is one thing that stuck with you from Agua Prieta yesterday? Feelings, Thoughts, Emotions…
On January 23rd, the TBYAVs went to Agua Prieta with the co-moderator of the PCUSA church and a couple of pastors from Tucson.
When we got to Douglass/Agua Prieta, we immediately went to the U.S. side of the border wall where we had a bible study and time for prayer. On the Mexico side of the border wall, there were friends gathered. With the border wall between us, we formed a circle with our neighbors. We read Ephesians 2:11-22 in Spanish, then in English, and were given the opportunity to share thoughts about what we had just read/heard. At the end of our time at the wall, we all held hands to pray together. This image stuck with me all day. The people at the ends of our semi-circles crouched down to hold hands through the wall. There were huge rolls of concertino wire above their heads. The bible verse we read says:
“For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Christ has broken down the wall. Christ has crossed the borders. How can I do the same? We are all united in God’s love and peace for all people. Yet we still uphold this border between our neighbors.
Yesterday was the fifth time went to Agua Prieta, Sonora. We have made it a routine to go once a month to attend an event or visit our roommate Hannah. It cracks me up that this has become so routine, yet, our trip is still met with the same initial shock and we all are left just as emotionally exhausted as we return. I am left with a feeling of confusion. What are all these trips suppose to mean? Are they meant to get easier? Are we supposed to interact more and build connections? ARE WE building connections? Are we LEARNING anything?
This last question has been sticking in my head a lot. This trip to AP was different from most others. Our travel was more than just us YAVS and it was more than us and Alison, we were accompanied this time by three guests, one of whom was the co-moderator of the presbyterian church- or for those that aren’t presbyterian and know what a co-moderator is, we lovingly referred to her as “The Pope of the Presbyterian Church” (apparently this title is not known to her). We were given one day to help show Cindy around AP and introduce her to Frontera de Cristo and the other community partners. So, we relieved the week we spent in AP last November. We went to a few of the mission partners, we heard from the Frontera board, from the Migrant resource center, and we went to CAME the shelter for asylum seekers. We started our day at 7:45 am and made it back to the house at 10:30 pm last night.
Around 2 pm Cindy had announced that with the time change, the jet lag, and the information overload, she was getting tired. At that moment it sunk- though we don’t fit it into a day, every day here is impactful. Every day, we are learning and growing and being shaped. It is a lot- and yesterday, I realized its okay to be exhausted. It is okay to need rest and to not constantly be absorbed by the important and impactful work that’s been happening. Though- this won’t change my feelings about work boundaries :).
Yesterday we traveled back to Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico for the day. We were traveling with one of the Co-Moderators of the General Assembly, so the point of this visit was for her to experience the borderlands. What is happening and how the Presbyterian Church is responding.
Because of the delegation that we did in November and other various experiences I have had while here, much of what we were talking about yesterday wasn’t new to me. At one point I was even questioning what I was getting out of this. “What is the point in me being here today?”
Our last stop of the day was at CAME, a shelter for migrants to stay in while they wait to make their assylum petition. I had been in this shelter before and heard about the good work taking place there, but yesterday, in a few moments of downtime, I was drawn to a mural painted on the wall that I hadn’t seen before.
The mural was of “La Bestia” a train that travels regularly from southern to northern Mexico. It is a common way for migrants to travel. The mural depicted migrants sitting atop the train and with them sat Jesus.
He wasn’t doing anything other than sitting and being present with the people on the train. Being present is part of what Jesus asks us to do and that is what is happening at CAME.
But what struck me more was how many different versions of the human experience there are. When I think of people catching a ride on the roof of a train, I think of the 1920s or earlier. That doesn’t feel like a 21st century thing to me.
The point of me being in Agua Prieta yesterday may not have been to be exposed to 100 new things and challenging ideas like it has been the last few times I have visited the city. But I can still learn and recognize that the people sitting in the tents along the border, the people doing puzzles and waiting for dinner at CAME, the people on La Bestia currently all have vastly different life experiences than I do in life.
The moments of looking at this mural brought me back to the reality that I am privileged to be born a white woman from in the United States. I carry that privileged with me everywhere I go. And I need to open my heart more to embrace everyone in all of their experiences.
As a Tucson Borderlands YAV, who resides in Tucson, about once a month we visit Agua Prieta. In Tucson we are still in the Borderlands, however every time we are able to go to Agua Prieta/Douglas a border town in Arizona, we are at the heart of the borderlands.
Every time I’ve gone to Agua Prieta I’ve felt really moved by the different bible studies we’ve attended. Yesterday we had a bible study at the wall with fellow hermanas y hermanos de Cristo. They sent us a picture from their side of the border. They had a beautiful mural on the wall, we sent a photo back that had an aggressive amount of barbed wire on it blocking our view of the community we were getting to have that time of reflection with. This Bible study was held in both languages, and was extremely powerful. Each Bible study I’ve attended held by Frontera de Cristo is the most I’ve felt the presence of Christ and community. Being able to turn to the Bible to a place of justice and liberation and at times a source of hope, has been powerful. In Agua Prieta I see people being able to find strength in the Bible that shows stories of people thousands of years ago fighting the same injustices.
Sunsets are stunning in Tucson. It’s a well known fact that I was hearing about long before I arrived here in August. But that doesn’t change how much I am continuously amazed by them.
I recently heard from a former YAV that during her last month of YAVing, she made it a goal to watch the sunset every night. As a fellow lover of sunsets, this stuck in my brain and I recalled it last week at the same time that I was thinking about the fact that I have one month left until I turn 25.
Turning 25 has put me into a small quarter life crisis. I realized mere minutes into this year how old I would be. It isn’t so much of me thinking I’ll be old and questioning what I am doing with my life. It’s a time to reflect on life and joke about my grey hairs.
These feelings and the idea of taking time to watch the sunset merged in my head and left me asking, “Can I see 25 more sunsets before I turn 25?”
It’s been a little over a week since first posing that question and I have taken time to notice 5 sunsets, but to really sit and watch 3 of them.
Tonight as I sat on the front porch and watched the light outside dim, I thought of a few things.
One was how it was nice to have a few minutes in the evening to sit, breathe, and enjoy nature. I have been thinking a lot about what spiritual practices I have or could have. One that was suggested to me was to take time to sit still and breathe. Is this moment of watching the sky change colors and reflecting on my day a spiritual practice? Maybe.
Another thought was of intentionality. That is a big part of the YAV experience. We are asked to embrace and intentional Christian community as a YAV group. And the practice of simple living involves making many intentional choices and having intentional conversations.
But sunsets are a different kind of intentional. For one, I cannot change when and how they happen. So if I want to watch it. I have to be ready and make that time. It is going to happen with or without me being present which is humbling. Additionally, I can choose to use that time to pause and think or I can use that time to notice the sky and keep moving. The choice to sit and notice has to be intentional. Not just with the sunset, but with all things happening around me.
Finally, I thought of change. It was amazing me that with every moment the sky looked different. I could look away for a just a moment, but when I looked back, there would be new colors.
This is comforting. It reminds me that in this broken world that we are all participating in, change is possible. It may not happen as quickly as the sunset colors change in the sky, but those quick, noticable changes only happen because the sun is moving slowly though the sky all day to get to that point.
The position of the sun is ever changing. So are we. Hopefully for the better.
I have 31 days until I turn 25. In that time, I will watch 22 more sunsets and be intentional about enjoying every one. And hopefully I can take time to reflect on what changes I wish to enact in my world in this coming phase of my life.
One of the biggest ways I have seen myself learning and growing here in Agua Prieta is through my faith and spirituality. As my spirituality changes and grows in little ways, I can feel my faith flourishing. I think I can attribute this to the simple fact that I have never felt God’s presence anywhere as strongly as I do around this border community. Everywhere I go, every person I meet, and in every experience they have shared with me, I have seen God’s work more clearly than ever before.
Changes in my spirituality have been gradual, but notable.
I pray with open hands.
“I used to think clenched fists would help me fight better, but now I know they make me weaker.” -Bob Goff, Love Does
I read the book Love Does by Bob Goff as I was discerning year of service options, and the chapter “Palms Up” struck me hard. It begins with this quote above, and the chapter talks about the calmness that keeping your palms facing up can bring. We do this a lot in yoga, too. When you relax muscles, you can relax your body, and hands are easy to clench when faced down. I’ve started to practice this when praying. Rather than keeping my hands intertwined, I’ve opened my palms outward, not only to relax myself, but also to invite the Holy Spirit in. In reality I started doing it to relax myself, but as I said the change in my spiritual practices has also brought about changes in faith. And now I feel that open palms and my “heart to heaven” (another yoga practice) has helped me to feel that not only is the Holy Spirit present with me, but invited inside.
I pray in conversation with God
People from TONS of different religious backgrounds have followed the call to come serve here at the US-Mexico border. I am Catholic, serving in a Presbyterian Ministry, living with a Mennonite, serving alongside a Unitarian Universalist, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan Friars, and so many more. When I sit down for dinner I am used to praying “bless us oh Lord for these Thy gifts…” Now when I am asked to pray, though nervously so, I thank God for each life at the table, for the hands that prepared the food, and for so much more. Both prayers have the same meaning, but one I could (and probably do) recite in my sleep, while the other calls me to think in that moment what I am most grateful for and how I want to thank God for it in this specific day. The more often I am asked to pray for meetings, for reflections, for meals… the more comfortable I have become with talking to God as a friend- something I have long envied in others’ faith and have been striving to practice myself. (And now I do this in spanish which adds even more learning to it… wow)
My understanding of the bible is becoming something entirely new
I have never spent much time with the Bible. Part of the job here is to attend a weekly devotional, in which we participate in a bible study. From this, and other biblical reflections that I participate in with visiting delegation groups I have come to know the bible as a story of immigration. From the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament, someone is in transit- migrating for one reason or another. I’ve also learned that stories from 2 thousand years ago aren’t all that different from what is happening today. Within the pages are a call to unify divided nations. And especially in this season of Christmas I have drawn comparisons between the woman who is 8 months pregnant, fearing that she will be sent to wait in Ciudad Juarez after presenting for asylum, and Mary migrating at 8-9 months pregnant, and being denied room at the inn. I am re-learning these stories in today’s context as I meet people who embody message.
I wrote the majority of this post just before Christmas, but have been thinking about posting it and what changes it might need. And then this morning, I saw a post on facebook from the Vatican, in which the Pope is sharing a prayer intention for January 2020. “We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.” This was his prayer for this month, and is exactly what I see happening here at the US-Mexico Border. An environment that has helped me so much to learn and grow in my faith and so many other ways. A world that I too am praying for alongside Pope Francis.
I have been thinking about writing a blog post on a movie for a while now- first, it was Frozen 2 (something about vocational discernment and entering the unknown), then Little Women (Jo’s line in the attic about women being more than a face/ romance), heck, I even debated CATS (a movie everyone hates because they either don’t understand or are thinking too hard). You see, I have been “escaping” or at least attempting to escape through t.v. However tonight, I watched the pre-release of Party of Five on Freeform and I found what I need to blog about.
During my first week here, I had my first interaction with Margo Cowan. I was going to her truck to get files for the office and I was on a time crunch- no time for small talk but Margo insisted anyways. I think she could tell I was stressed and overwhelmed at the responsibilities I had been given. She asked me how things were going and how I felt and with tears in my eyes, I told her it was hard, that this is gut-wrenching work and I am not sure I am cut out for it. I don’t like the feeling of responsibility (possibly why I have procrastinated “joining the ‘REAL’ workforce” and have done two volunteer years), of having people’s lives depend on my decisions. She looked at me and sighed, and said that it would not always be like this- the pain and discomfort. She said that eventually, I would become immune to it and slowly but surely build up a wall. I looked at her like she was insane and said: “no way, this is meant to hurt, it will always hurt”. That was 4 months ago- four short months ago. I should have listened and believed the woman that has been doing this work for over 50 years.
This past week, I have been struggling with work. I have been frustrated that we did not have many days off for the holidays and that with so many co-workers out of town, I have been embracing a lot of new responsibilities that I cannot run away from (despite the effort in trying). I was mad at the systems- for giving other lawyers the holiday week off and cramming so many hearings into our pro-bono schedule. We had seven hearings the day after Christmas, the number is averaged normally to two or three a day. We have also had a few ‘emergencies’ take place at the office that have made for long hours instead of half days. I have been exhausted this week and the free time I have had has been spent sleeping or, as previously stated, binging t .v. I did not get to go on all the hikes or bike rides like I had planned to while being home alone.
At the beginning of the year, my stance on the matter was easy- families should not be ripped apart and all the anger I had was placed at ICE agents and the Judges for making horrible decisions. I have been told numerous times this year that the verdict depends 82% on how the judge feels one day- however, I am no longer sure I believe it. I have a book on my nightstand right now, The Line Becomes A River, it is about a border patrol agent’s experience. I haven’t been able to pick it up and read it yet- probably for the same reason, many won’t watch Party of Five or listen to me with full concentration when I discuss work. It is easier to hate a system, a PERSON, when you choose the facts you know and do not get both sides of a story. It is easier to shield yourself with walls, and build emotional borders and just look at the facts but, the facts change. We are currently living in a broken system that has not been updated and people, families are suffering from the lack of repair and growth to that system.
I cried during “Party of Five”, I cried watching it harder than I have cried in a long time- because my wall was broken. I realized what an idiot I have been groaning about going to work when, as Margo recently said in a holiday email, “our brothers and sisters in detention are facing a much harder inconvenience”. The Acosta family (from Party of Five) may be fictional- but their story is not. It may seem like their story is dramatized for the big screen and you may doubt the events but I can assure you that if anything, their story has been simplified. Margo is like one of many pro bono lawyers that the family first turns to- we have close to 600 ACTIVE cases right now that need her constant attention- at 70+ years old. Watching this family get ripped apart and hearing Val, a seventh graders, testimony on why she needs her mom and dad in her life, I instantly remembered the countless intakes I read every morning that discuss mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins, nieces/ nephews, children, and friends begging to get support for their loved ones. This year, I am supposed to be embracing “vulnerability” but mine is a joke compared to what families have to go through and experience just to get help.
We can’t be mad at each other, we can’t be mad at the Judges, the border patrol agents, the prosecutors and ICE agents for doing their job. We can’t be mad and call each other names and bicker over who is right. We have to change the system, be mad at the system, that has not been improved for 40 years. We have to educate and sensitize ourselves to the truths. We are not just fighting the border walls of steel and concertina wire, we have to break down the walls we have mentally built up that have allowed this to be “okay”.