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.
Let us go across to the other side
In the Gospel of Mark there are a lot of times when Jesus and the disciples cross from Jewish land to Gentile land and vice versa. This gospel is read by the delegation groups in preparation for their trip to Agua Prieta/Douglas, and I too read and have been discussing with each group various verses from it.
It has had me thinking a lot about who is willing to cross and who is able to cross these borders. For example, there is a passage in which Jesus and the disciples cross into Gentile land. Jesus leaves the boat and begins healing gentiles, and in this passage, the longest in Mark, none of the disciples are mentioned at all. My boss pointed this out to me, and questioned if they stayed behind in the boat and let Jesus go to do his thing alone. Where they not willing to go across to the other side?
Though I have physically crossed the border, I question, in what ways have I stayed behind in the boat? Have I been fully present in the community of Agua Prieta? Am I fully present with each of the migrants?
And then there’s the HUGE question: who is able to cross?
All of the delegation groups will testify how surprisingly easy it is to cross into Mexico- no lines, no presentation of your papers. But with over a thousand migrants on the list to stay in CAME (the shelter for migrants), it is clear that the reality is not the same when crossing the opposite direction. Beneath blankets tied to the fence-style wall that borders the US, sleeping on mats laid on top of the concrete, are migrants that could testify how surprisingly (?) hard it is to cross into the United States.
My white skin and my “passport privilege” make this a reality I am blind to. And as I ride my bike past the 2 hour long line of cars waiting at the port of entry, I greet the migrants staying in la línea, I am able to “go across to the other side” with an ease they’ll never know.
There multiple realities here, regarding “the other side”, “el otro lado”.
I am really grateful to be here to take it all in. Both by sharing in the experience of living amongst a border, and by learning from those whose realities have to be different than mine due to which side we were born on.
I hope you all enjoy and learn something useful from this carefully crafted analysis of some of our shared values relating to my personal thoughts on the Border Immersion experience.
As a result of that week, I have been struggling with this idea of what is responsibility and what is my role in that? The word “responsibility” is built off the framework of the word response, or as an action verb, to respond. Now when you add the suffix -ibility (or ability) to the end the word literally translates to “the ability to respond or take action”. As I continue to perceive and bear witness to many events unfolding around me, I am left with one simple question. What is my personal and/or moral responsibility to respond and to what extent? Yet this opens even more avenues of exploration with even more questions to accompany it. This includes everything from the abstract and theoretical to the contextual and circumstantial. Then there is the question of where does my moral, ethical and personal values intersect in the face of all this???
In my struggles to try to perceive this issue from an open-minded angle I am again confronted with many contradictory facts and ideas that just seem to further compound the situation. I believe as part of our core being, we all struggle with this to some extent and fear where it may ultimately take us. This is often due to the answers lying outside our comfort zones in the realms of the unfamiliar. We are all, to some extent, quick to make assumptions on things at face value because it offers us an easy and simplified solution to difficult and often complex problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. In some cases, it can allow us to sort through large volumes of information so that we can get to the heart or core of the issue faster with less energy exerted in doing so. Unfortunately, this can also have far-reaching and often unintended consequences. In certain instances, we can quickly glance through information that may seem trivial to us in the moment but may contain important components that allow us to perceive and understand a problem in its entirety.
In some instances, we can neglect to take responsibility and instead scapegoat the problem somewhere else. By doing so we are not only removing ourselves from the equation, but we are also essentially saying that the solutions are beyond us in a way that completely negates our ability to do something about it. One way we let go of our responsibility (and our ability to act) is through letting go of it in a way that places it somewhere else. This can be done through the act of blame which is defined in the dictionary as assigning responsibility for a fault or wrong. The word blame has many origins but in the Latin sense it comes from a word known as “blastemare” which translates roughly to “to accuse or place responsibility upon”. Blame and its historical origins may also have connections to the origins of another word we know of today as “blasphemy”. I personally found this to be very intriguing because of how this understanding of the blame could affect our ability to have free will over a given situation? In many instances, are we voluntarily limiting ourselves and our own ability to act? And, more importantly, are we exercising this in situations where we need this the most?
In the face of all these questions I seemingly have no choice but to look to other sources. Perhaps at stories of when and where others have been confronted with this same dilemma. What were the conclusions in these situations? What about biblical narratives of people who were confronted with similar dilemmas? Two stories immediately come to mind. The first, the story of Adam and Eve. This narrative seems to have philosophical undertones relating to the initial roles of responsibility and blame in the context of the formation of later humans’ value systems. Now we must consider that, to a certain extent, these were individuals within a complex system and power hierarchy that was not fully understandable to them. We must then realize that many of us are in similar situation today, but… that still does not relieve them or us of our shared responsibilities in these situations. In this story let’s look at what happens after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. God, almost immediately, shows up and asks them to explain what has happened and where they have gone. After a bit of confusion Adam not only admits but blames his wife Eve for making them eat the forbidden fruit. Then, the next direct action is that Eve does the exact same thing to the snake. Would things have turned out differently if they had merely taken responsibility for their own personal role in the events that had just transpired? Possibly, but unfortunately those events never unfolded, and we are only left to guess.
Maybe there is more to this story. First, some context clues. I believe that we can all come to an understandable conclusion that the God of the Bible is a God of order and not chaos. When God first comes to the garden who does he call first? God calls for the person in charge which was… Adam. This seems (from my perspective) like a logical and orderly way of getting to the heart of the situation (verse 9). Yet, Adam’s response was to cast blame on Eve, who then cast blame on the snake, but the snake said or did nothing in its defense. It is the very fact that the snake said nothing in response to these accusations that I found somewhat confusing. Maybe we can logically assume this is due to the snake having nothing to say or because there is an omitted piece of information that is understood. Maybe, but not likely. This information in question is that while Adam and Eve both cast responsibility of the situation onto the snake it did not return the favor or even attempt to defend itself. Perhaps, by placing blame onto the snake they unknowingly also cast away their responsibility as well. If this is true, then this also implies that the snake is the only entity going forwards (other than God of course) who has all the responsibility. God is a God of order, so I believe we can go forward logically if just like before; God will respond in a way that acknowledges that hierarchy. In the very next verse (verse 14) God responds to who first? God responds next by condemning the snake, then condemning the woman and reversing what she did by saying “Your desire will be your husband, and he will rule over you”, and finally by condemning Adam. Reversing the order of the previous interaction between them. Maybe I’m reading too much into nothing but if I haven’t this has far-reaching importance. This leaves me with one thought: “If there is truth to this, then did they unknowingly hand over control of the world to the serpent?”
Let’s not forget about another biblical narrative. What about Jesus, the person who came according to the Biblical narrative to set it all straight? Time and time again we see Jesus taking responsibility and welcoming all of God’s creations into community with him regardless of their social, material, geographic, or physical standing in life. Jesus had every right to condemn and cast blame upon the unjust systems that would inevitably lead to his untimely demise. While he challenged many of the corrupt systems in place at the time, he also had this to say: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy you. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James Ch. 4 v. 11 and 12). This sentiment is again echoed in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus bravely professes to those who will listen by asking them how they can judge the speck of dust in their brothers and sisters’ eyes when they have not even begun to remove the plank from their own? A very hard-hitting question to say the least. Yet, despite seeing firsthand the ways humankind had corrupted a once pure world; Jesus still went forward and died as a “blameless” sacrifice for all regardless of this obvious fact. The fact that we were unworthy from every angle yet despite all this Jesus made us worthy by paying the ultimate sacrifice. God not only loved us before we learned to love, but God loved us even when we hated God. Now that is powerful.
Yet, what about the people themselves who are affected today? Many of whom are fleeing failing states, extreme violence, inescapable poverty, and inner cities ruled by gangs. Those who hear of the American dream and hear the stories that America is a very charitable, wealthy country made up of a melting pot of immigrants from across the globe can’t help but want some of that for themselves. In their hour of darkness many of them cling to this as their only candle of hope to guide them through this void they are surrounded by. So, the question then becomes, “Why don’t they just immigrate here legally if things are so horrendous?” Well… many of them try… and fail. This is because our system of application and visa processing is prehistorically outdated and cannot handle the sheer volume of possible applicants for starters. To give you an idea the current process is so inefficient that it can take up to an estimated 30 YEARS to be accepted for even a legal residency position (otherwise known as a green card). All the while, waiting outside a port of entry having to fees associated with the review process during this ordeal without even a guarantee of acceptance. This is no opinion either; this is what is currently being expressed to us by many who work in this field including lawyers who work in the courts, advocacy groups, and those we spoke with in the border towns of Aqua Prieta and Douglas. And just when it couldn’t get any more complicated… we haven’t even discussed asylum seekers, or those who are fleeing extreme persecution in their home countries or are under the threat of death/torture if they ever return.
I just want to finish by saying how thankful I am for all of you who take the time to read these entries and stay updated about this journey. I look forward in the new year to continuing to inform you all with updates about my time here.
Until then, Happy New Year!
On Friday the 30th we concluded with our border delegation/immersion experience with the Austin and Albuquerque YAV houses. Throughout the week we participated in many activities along the U.S. Mexico border to immerse ourselves within a variety of different perspectives and cultures based around those whose lives are affected by this situation on a continual basis. We spent time in and around the Douglas/Aqua Prieta port of entry. As part of this immersion experience, we visited many different facets of life along border communities. We spoke with the mayor of Douglas about the unique relationships border communities have with each other. We explored topics such as economic policies, education, and community structure as well as looking into how these concepts put in practice transcend traditional barriers. On the Mexican side we visited and spoke with families who have attempted to obtain a temporary visa and the issues they faced. There were also many types of community wealth we took part in observing. One such group is known as “Cafe Justo” and they are a fair-trade coffee cooperative working to help foster wealth for those in more distressed parts on the country. Another unintended side effect of increased border security is the costs to the black-market drug industry. While higher quantities of drugs are being stopped at the border due to increased security this also means that many of these illicit substances intended for US customers are now getting trapped along the border in border communities instead. This has resulted in a new epidemic along the southern border with treatment facilities on the rise to help remediate this issue. One such facility, the CRREDA, takes part in helping the community with substance abuse. The facility functions under a family structure model that focuses on the 12 steps and the beatitudes as the foundation of healing. Those who enter usually spend a minimum of 90 days.
On the last stop of our journey that week we witnessed the legal proceeding (known as Operation Streamline) taking place in Tucson’s court systems. These proceedings are a drastic step forward in combating illegal immigration by pushing as many as 70-90 people a day through Tucson’s courts in an effort to quickly combat illegal immigration while also minimizing the time/costs related with detention. Throughout these proceedings many of the defendants spoke Spanish but a few spoke different dialects and their level of comprehension at times was questionable at best. Usually 10 to 12 people were brought into the courtroom at a time. Then they would go down a line with the defendants being asked to yes or no questions about the nature of their detention. There was a translator and many of the lawyers spoke Spanish but I still at times questioned the overall level of comprehension among them. The law and your individual rights can at times be a complex and confusing animal even to someone raised in this country…
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?
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.
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.
Before I came to the border I thought of the US/Mexico border as a dangerous place filled with violence, drugs, kidnappings and cartels. This makes a lot of sense because our media and politicians portray the U.S./Mexico border in this way. However, in my time being on the border I have found that our media and politicians are ignoring the most important things that are on the Arizona/Mexico border: strong sense of community, friendly people and a place of cultural and language exchange between two countries.
The most surprising aspect of life on the border for me is that I have never seen two separate communities work together better than Douglas and Agua Prieta. I really value this because at my high school in Wenatchee, WA students would commonly fight other students from the rival high school in East Wenatchee. Unfortunately, these fights occurred because the students were simply from different schools. Many students saw other students from the other town not as people they could befriend, but as outsiders to their social structures and community. The only physical barrier that separates these towns is the beautiful Colombia River. In Agua Prieta and Douglas not only is there a large fence to separate these communities, but there are many people guarding that fence making sure that these communities are separate. But, despite those barriers the people of Agua Prieta and Douglas continue to work and get along better than most communities in the United States.
In the United States I feel we are divided by so many things like race, income, politics, culture and religion that are the result of many complex factors, histories and differences. However, with my work at Frontera de Cristo and living here on the border it seems that strong bridges are made between communities and organizations in two different countries that also have very complex histories and differences. In my time on the border and being an intern with Frontera de Cristo I have found two key components that allow bridges to be made across borders. The first one is a commitment build relationships and work together. Many people in Douglas and Agua Prieta including myself naturally feel a strong connection as I spend my time on both sides and have built relationships with good people and friends on both sides of the border. People also share the commonality in that both communities lack good job opportunities and many struggle to meet end meets. However, they see the border not as a place of danger and difference, but as an opportunity to work together to be a place of trade, exchange of culture and create solutions to the root causes of problems like drugs and poverty in a global economy.
Despite, the strong community on both sides of the border, I would not feel that bridges between the two communities would not be as strong without working for Frontera de Cristo and the faith community here on the border. I believe that I feel this way because people are not only building bridges made of friendship and economic ties, but of love. I think love is truly the most powerful thing we have to understand and care for our neighbors, and God’s love has the potential to bridge people and communities of great divide.
I first realized this power of God’s love only recently when I was listening to a talk from a pastor with the organization Evangelical Immigration Reform. The pastor speaking was holding an immigration meeting for people of faith and had invited church leaders, community activists and politicians in my own hometown of Wenatchee. The story was about a staff member of Dave Reichert who is a Republican that represents Washington’s 8th congressional district and the regional leader of United Farm Workers in Central Washington. I knew the speaker was going to tell a story about spiritual reconciliation, but I first doubted this thinking in my own head, “how can a community that is divided over such little things become a place of love and unity between two groups that are very different in their ideologies”. The preacher told that after a prayer and bible devotion the leader from United Farm Workers addressed the staff member of Dave Reichert and in tears said, “Today I realized that you are my brother in Jesus Christ, brother will you listen to me.” And the staff member said “Yes, sister I’m listening”. What resulted from this love between a brother and sister of Jesus Christ is that the staff member of Dave Reichert was very moved by what his sister had to say, and said he would do whatever he could to help his sister. And now Dave Reichert is one of the biggest Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
I wanted to tell that story because I think it is a great example of how God’s love can bring people from different backgrounds, cultures and ideals to work for a more just and loving world. I think it also exemplifies the work of Frontera de Cristo here on the border because people come together from two different countries, cultures, languages and value systems to work towards reducing poverty, violence, drug use and preventing deaths on the border. This collaboration also creates and strengthens relationships between people and churches in the U.S. and Mexico, which helps people including myself and churches learn how to be more like Jesus Christ.
I feel so thankful to play a small role in the work of Frontera de Cristo and its partners while being in the presence of so many amazing people. My biggest role has been in education where I have been teaching English as a second language to both kids and teenagers in two partner organizations of Frontera de Cristo. Most are my classes are at DouglaPrieta Works which works in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Agua Prieta through education, community gardens and permaculture. I also teach English at New Hope Community Center, which is an neighborhood recognized by the United Nations for having a very high percentages of alcoholism. Kids and teens in both neighborhoods face intense pressures like drugs, poverty and gangs, but like everywhere I have been on the border you find so many loving and kind people. What I like most about my work is helping both DouglaPrieta and the New Hope Community Center be a place of community and education where kids, teens and adults can have a place to meet and learn new skills. At the same time I have enjoyed utilizing my passions for education, cultivating relationships and community and living out God’s love in my life for me and others.
Antes de llegar a la frontera, pensé en la frontera de Estados Unidos / México como un lugar peligroso lleno de violencia, las drogas, los secuestros y los cárteles. Esto hace mucho sentidoporque nuestros medios de comunicación y los políticos retratan la frontera México / Estados Unidos de esta manera. Sin embargo, en mi tiempo de estar en la frontera he encontrado quenuestros medios de comunicación y los políticos están ignorando las cosas más importantes que están en la frontera de Arizona / México: fuerte sentido de comunidad, la gente amable y un lugarde intercambio cultural y de lenguaje entre dos países.
El aspecto más sorprendente de la vida en la frontera para mí es que yo nunca he visto a doscomunidades separadas trabajan juntos mejor que Douglas y Agua Prieta. Realmente valoro esto porque en mi escuela secundaria en Wenatchee, WA estudiantes serían comúnmente luchar contra otros estudiantes de la escuela secundaria rival en East Wenatchee. Por desgracia, estas luchas ocurrieron porque los estudiantes eran simplemente de diferentes escuelas. Muchosestudiantes vieron a otros estudiantes de la otra ciudad, no como personas que podían hacerse amigo, pero como extranjeros a sus estructuras sociales y la comunidad. La única barrera físicaque separa a estos pueblos es el hermoso río de Colombia. En Agua Prieta y Douglas no sólo hay una gran moro para separar estas comunidades, pero hay muchas personas que vigilan el moro de asegurarse de que estas comunidades están separados. Pero, a pesar de las barreras a la gente de Agua Prieta y Douglas continúan trabajando y se llevan mejor que la mayoría de las comunidades en los Estados Unidos.
En los Estados Unidos siento que estamos divididos por tantas cosas como la raza, el ingreso, la política, la cultura y la religión que es el resultado de muchos factores complejos, historias ydiferencias. Sin embargo, con mi trabajo en Frontera de Cristo y vivir aquí en la frontera parece que los puentes se hacen fuertes entre las comunidades y las organizaciones de dos países diferentes que también tienen historias muy complejas y diferencias. En mi tiempo en la frontera y ser un interno con Frontera de Cristo he encontrado dos cosas que permiten a los puentes que se hagan a través de fronteras. El primero de ellos es un compromiso a construir relaciones y trabajar juntos. Muchas personas de Douglas y Agua Prieta incluido yo mismo naturalmentesienten una relacion fuerte como yo gasto mi tiempo en ambos lados y conozco buena gente y amigos de ambos lados de la frontera. Las personas también comparten el carácter común en que ambas comunidades faltan buenas oportunidades de trabajo y muchos luchan para proveer sus familias. Sin embargo, ellos ven la frontera no como un lugar de peligro y la diferencia, sino como una oportunidad para trabajar juntos para ser un lugar de comercio, el intercambio de la cultura y crear soluciones a las causas fundamentales de los problemas como las drogas y la pobreza en una economía global.
A pesar de la fuerte comunidad en ambos lados de la frontera, no me siento que los puentes entre las dos comunidades no serían tan fuertes sin tener que trabajar para Frontera de Cristo y de la comunidad de fe aquí en la frontera. Creo que siento de esta manera porque la gente no sóloestán construyendo puentes de amistad y los lazos económicos, sino de amor. Creo que el amor es realmente la cosa más poderosa que tenemos para entender y cuidar a nuestros vecinos, y el amor de Dios tiene el potencial de salvar las personas y comunidades de gran división.
Me di cuenta de este poder del amor de Dios sólo recientemente, cuando estaba escuchandouna platica de un pastor con la organización Reforma Evangélica de Inmigración. El pastor tuvouna reunión de inmigración para gente de fe y había invitado a líderes de la iglesia, activistas comunitarios y políticos en mi propia ciudad natal de Wenatchee. La historia era sobre un miembro del personal de a Dave Reichert, que es un republicano que representa octavo distrito del Congreso de Washington y el líder regional de la Unión de Campesinos en el centro deWashington. Yo sabía que iba a contar una historia sobre la reconciliación espiritual, pero yoprimero dudé este pensamiento en mi cabeza, "¿cómo puede una comunidad que está dividida sobre este tipo de cosas poco convertido en un lugar de amor y unidad entre dos grupos que son muy diferentes en sus ideologías ". La pastora dijo que después de una oración y devoción bibliael líder de Union de Campesinos dirigida al miembro del personal de a Dave Reichert y llorandodijo: "Hoy me di cuenta que eres mi hermano en Jesucristo, hermano me escucharas?" Yel politico dijo: "Sí, hermana estoy escuchando". Lo que resultó de este amor entre un hermano y una hermana de Jesucristo es que el politico de a Dave Reichert estaba muy conmovido por lo que su hermana tenía que decir, y dijo que iba a hacer todo lo que pudo para ayudar a su hermana. Y ahora, Dave Reichert es uno de los politicos republicanos que apoya una reforma migratoria el mas.
Quería contar esta historia porque creo que es un gran ejemplo de cómo el amor de Dios puedellevar a la gente de diferentes orígenes, culturas e ideales para trabajar por un mundo más justo y amoroso. Creo que también es un ejemplo del trabajo de Frontera de Cristo aquí en la fronteraporque la gente se reúne de dos diferentes países, culturas, lenguas y sistemas de valores para trabajar hacia la reducción de la pobreza, la violencia, el consumo de drogas y la prevención delas muertes en la frontera. Esta colaboración también crea y fortalece las relaciones entre las personas y las iglesias en los EE.UU. y México, lo cual ayuda a las personas incluyéndome a mí mismo y las iglesias aprender a ser más como Jesucristo.
Me siento muy agradecido de estar en un pequeño papel en el trabajo de Frontera de Cristo y sus socios y en la presencia de tantas personas increíbles. Mi mayor papel en la educación ha sidodonde he estado enseñando Inglés como segunda lengua para los ninos y los adolescentes endos organizaciones asociadas de Frontera de Cristo. La mayoría de mis clases estan en DouglaPrieta Trabaja que trabaja en uno de los barrios más pobres de Agua Prieta a través de la educación, jardines comunitarios y permacultura. También enseño Inglés en New Hope Community Center, que es un barrio reconocido por las Naciones Unidas para tener un muy alto porcentaje de alcoholismo. Los niños y adolescentes de ambos barrios se enfrentan a presionesintensas como las drogas, la pobreza y las pandillas, pero como en todas partes que he estado en la frontera que se encuentran tantas personas cariñosas y amables. Lo que más me gusta demi trabajo es ayudar DouglaPrieta Trabaja y el Centro Comunitario Nueva Esperanza ser un lugar de la comunidad y la educación, donde los niños, los adolescentes y los adultos pueden tener unlugar para aprender nuevas habilidades. Al mismo tiempo, he disfrutado de la utilización de mispasiones para la educación, el cultivo de las relaciones y la comunidad y manifestar el amor de Dios en mi vida.
Students and ladies of DouglaPrieta Works. Working with the ladies of DouglaPrieta Works to have English classes for the kids in their local neighborhood has been one of the highlights of my time on the border. They have shown me how one can positively impact a community in a sustainable way through community building, education and agriculture. Los estudiantes ymujeres de DouglaPrieta Trabaja. Trabajar con las mujeres de DouglaPrieta Trabaja para tenerclases de inglés para los niños en su vecindario ha sido uno de los mejores momentos de mitiempo en la frontera. Me han demostrado cómo se puede tener un impacto positivo en una manera sostenible a través de formar comunidad, educación y agricultura.