Hey everyone. Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. What with work and finishing to pack in Agua Prieta, our final retreat in Tucson, and a busy day traveling, I didn’t really find time to blog.
Luckily I’ve been home for a week or so, and have had the opportunity to catch up and rest some. Granted, I still have not unpacked everything and my room is a mess, but we all go at our own pace right?
While at home this week, I’ve had plenty of time to think. I’ve thought about a lot of things: how green it is in SC, how many trees we have, what restaurants I’ve missed (in Clemson and Agua Prieta), what to unpack/pack, and many other things. But what I’ve been thinking about most is words.
During this YAV year, especially on the US-Mexico border, words were important. Speaking both English and Spanish, it seemed like words were always on my mind (Is this the right translation? What exactly does that word mean? Did I just royally screw up and translate apples to bananas?). Needless to say, words were everywhere. And it was tough.
Don’t get me wrong, I like talking to people. However, sometimes it just seems a tad unnecessary or uncomfortable for me. Small talk just isn’t my thing. And huge conversations about feelings and needs and issues always made me (and still do to a degree) feel uncomfortable. It’s a struggle.
But this year, I’ve learned to appreciate words and even began to use them. I’ve found out how polarizing and hurtful words can be, and how they can also be used to heal the soul. I’ve seen how words can be used to express joy or weakness, pain or excitement, and how that expression is powerful.
A quote I hear a lot is “Preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words”. I really like this quote because that’s how I like to share the news of Christ. I like doing things, a physical act, to show that love. No words necessary. But this past year, I’ve learned that while we should preach the gospel with our actions, words play a pivotal part as well. Yes, action is fantastic, but you will have to rest at sometime. That is a perfect time for a story, a conversation, or a joke to get people interested or invested. And this shouldn’t just be about the Gospel. Words can be used to motivate others, to teach them, to help raise them up. Words can be empowering and create movements. Words can lead to actions and change. Words are used to give voice to the action, to raise awareness and to show others that they too have voices.
So let us work to use our words as well as our actions to help create change in this world.
It’s true. Kids normally say some pretty wild things. Sometimes it’s outlandish. Other times you as a family member wish that your child had learned a little earlier how to be quiet. And sometimes it’s so real and true that it blows you away. Most kids terrify me to some degree, so my interactions with them are limited. The two exceptions to that rule are my two little cousins, Lauren and Jacob. They’re essentially the most adorable and funniest kids ever (yeah I’m biased but whatever). And apparently super wise.
Earlier today my cousin Megan shared something on Facebook and tagged me in it. It was a piece of the schoolwork that Lauren, the oldest at 7, had written at school.
She may be seven years old, but she actually has a great grasp on things here on the U.S.-Mexico border. Yes I do live in Mexico and spend a lot of my time working in the U.S. But I am only one of thousands who does a similar thing every single day. I am also one of the privileged that are able to cross back and forth without any real hassle or questioning. But not everyone is as privileged as I am. Often times people are discriminated against based purely on their last name or their appearance.
It’s a shame and it breaks my heart, but it is true. I’ve seen it happen and heard stories of it happening to people I know. Lauren probably doesn’t know this, but there are hundreds of people who want to live in Mexico and work in the U.S.A. No, they do not want to live in here in the US. Their only wish is to be able to go work somewhere they will receive living wages that help them support their families that they love so dearly. And at the end of the day, these hard-working people want only to be able to return home to those families and communities that they love.
When you think about it, why would they want to live in a place like the US can often be? A place where people treat them negatively based on the color of their skin or their place of origin? A place where they do not always speak the language and even communicating at work can be a challenge? A place where the fun is incredibly different and the music is odd? A place whose leading candidate is raising an uproar against your countrymen and wants to build a giant wall between the two? I know that I wouldn’t want to live there. These are the feelings of people I have talked to during my time here. Building a wall won’t solve our problems. It won’t keep people out or keep them away. It will just cause more injury and death to people whose only hope is to provide of their family. My wonderful cousin at the age of 7 kind of understands that. She doesn’t want families separated any more than I do. I’m incredibly thankful for that and hope others can learn from her amazing example.
And as a wise old man once told us, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
Let’s not forget that. Thanks Lauren.
While you read, check out this great song by John Butler Trio.
According to Facebook and social media, National Sibling Day recently happened. It was sometime last week (you can tell how much attention I paid to it). I didn’t post anything (like many of my friends) describing how great and phenomenal my sister Lisbeth is, with lots of old pictures of sentimental things, A) because that’s not really my style and B) because my sister doesn’t need a Facebook post to let her know how I feel and how awesome/badass/slightly terrifying she is. She knows she’s a boss. Since moving to the border, I obviously haven’t gotten to see her as much as usual or as much as I like, but we still can talk and know what’s going on in each others’ lives, for which I’m thankful.
How I like people to think my sister and I interactFast forward a couple of days to our weekly prayer vigil. Like I’ve said, we gather weekly to remember those who have died trying to cross the desert into the US here in Cochise County. At the end we have a time of sharing over three crosses, praying for them and their families. This time there was a cross that struck me particularly hard.
Her name was Virginia Lizbeth Mejía Mejía.
Wow. It got me. Though Virginia spelled Lizbeth differently from my sister, it still was incredibly close to home. Virginia had been born a couple of years before my sister, and had sadly lost her life much earlier than was necessary. Seeing her name made me think again of how grateful I am to still have my sister, to still be able to have her presence in my life. I can call her with questions. I can text her, and get reminder texts from her about whose birthday it is and who recently got engaged or pregnant. I even get to visit her in a few weeks. I am incredibly lucky and happy to have her still in my life.
It also made me remember all of the people who no longer have that person they can reach out to. They have lost families members; brothers, sisters, moms, dads, cousins, the list goes on. This doesn’t just apply to migrants either. This is something that people every single day and everywhere the world over experience. I can only imagine what that must be like. It helped me realize that we are all somebody’s sibling. That jerk that cut you off in traffic. That annoying person who got the last slice of pizza. That ‘illegal alien’ that came to the US to support their family. Or comes here to be reunited with their sibling. Remember that regardless of how you feel towards someone, we are all a son or daughter, a brother or sister. We all have family that we love and wish to spend time with.
So try to treat that jerk who cut you off a little more kindly than yelling and giving them the bird. Try to be considerate to the person who got the last piece of pizza even though you wanted it. Try to show compassion to those who are risking their lives for a better life. And make sure you tell your people that you care about them.
Happy National Sibling Day Lisbeth. Sorry it’s late.
And no, y’all will never be as cool as us.
It always amazes me how the smallest interactions can often be the ones that teach us the most. These small things can almost smack you in the face with how real and unexpected they are. If you’re curious as to what privilege is, this is it.
About a month ago I was in our local grocery store buying some snacks before the bus came by (confession, I’m addicted to Mexican cookies). I went through the line like it was any other day that I needed my cookie fix. I went to the cashier and began speaking to her in Spanish, as is the norm here. Then, to my surprise, the cashier responded to me in perfect English. She asked me where I was from and why I was living here in Mexico. I explained a little bit about Frontera de Cristo and the work we do here on the border. After hearing about our work, she shared with me how she had been living in the US for the majority of her life. She shared how her family still lived there and how she had recently been repatriated to Agua Prieta and how much she missed them. Afterwards I shared a little bit about our Migrant Resource Center and told her that if she needed anything or was curious about something, we would be there to try and help.
Fast forward to today. I had seen our friendly cashier (I’m ashamed to admit I still don’t know her name) and few times and always shared some words with her. Today when I saw her, I asked her how she was doing. She shared how there were good days and bad days, and how she missed her family. She didn’t know if she was still unused to living in Mexico and life here, or if she just missed her family an incredible amount, or if it was a combination of both. She shared with me how it was tough for her because she couldn’t escape it. She is unable to leave and take a vacation and see them to rejuvenate. She told me “It’s different for you. You can just leave and say you’re gonna go for a month and then come back. You can do what you want.” And she’s right. Because of where I was born, because of my fancy passport, I can go home whenever I want and see my family. Hell, I can go across into Douglas to spend some time in Wal-mart if life here is getting to be overwhelming. It’s so easy for me. Because I’m lucky enough to have that privilege, I was conveniently born in the US.
There are thousands of people like my friendly cashier. People who are as unused to Mexico as I was when I first moved here, regardless of being born here. And all they want is to see their families and be with those they love. Remember that when you choose a candidate and hear their plan for immigration. Remember that when you see your family and are able to hug them. And remember that when you look down at your passport or birth certificate showing you as an American. Remember that regardless of where we are born or what language we speak, we all have families. And we want to be with them and see them. And be sure to pay attention to the little things. Because you never know when they might teach you a major life lesson.
Sorry I’ve been out of action for so long! For me, blogging can be very tough and exhausting at times. So after full days of work, I often find it hard to motivate myself to work and write more. We’ve been quite busy round here so I’ve been out of the blogosphere.
Last week, we Tucson/Douglas/Agua Prieta YAVs had our Lenten Sojourn Retreat. For this we went out to Cascabel, a beautiful area near Benson AZ. We were there to camp, enjoy each other’s company, and the wonderful nature out there.
For the first day and night at least.
For the next two nights and one day after that, we would be out on ‘solos’. This meant that each of us would be taken to individual sites away from each other to spend our time meditating, reflecting, getting away from the busyness of our lives, and hopefully hear a little bit of God’s whisperings to us. While I was stoked to go camping, I was a nervous to be alone for 36ish hours.
I would like to say that while I was out there I spent countless hours meditating and listening to God. That I prayed ceaselessly and saw visions of my future. But I didn’t. I got bored. I pace around. Yes I did pray at times. I read my Bible. But I also stared at the grass. I looked at this one saguaro cactus for way too long (it had like 12 arms which meant it was outrageously old, but other than that it wasn’t too fascinating). And I actually learned some things. I learned that being alone doesn’t bother me at all. However, having nothing to do kind of destroys my soul. I learned that man could in fact live on PB&J alone. I was reinforced in some of the callings I feel in life and got completely turned around in others. I also learned that God could speak to us in boredom and in prayer. Two things I learned really stuck out to me though.
One was about what our coordinator Alison wisely called ‘the Tyranny of the Should’. I don’t know about y’all, but I often find myself telling myself that I SHOULD do things. I should do this or that, or I should study more of this or read more of that. So many shoulds! It can be overwhelming. But then our friendly neighborhood pastor Bart flipped that on it’s head for me. We were sitting around after lunch, waiting to be taken to our sites. I was telling about something I felt like I SHOULD be doing better. And he very calmly said ‘Ya know, maybe you don’t. That might just not be how you operate.’ It was so simple yet struck me. I felt like I constantly made myself do things that I didn’t really want to do but felt like I should do. That simple sentence of Bart’s made me feel more secure in myself and helped me realize that should can be really destructive.
I also learned that things don’t always meet our expectations, and that’s totally okay. I went into this desert sojourn thinking my world would be rocked and I would learn so many things about my life. That God would tell me everything I needed to know and show me visions of my future. But I didn’t. Those things didn’t happen and it was okay. Oftentimes we put unreal expectations on things and are crushed when they don’t happy. At first, I was upset that it didn’t meet my expectations. However, once I thought about it, I realized that it was totally okay that it didn’t meet all my expectations. Things can still be beneficial and help us learn even when they aren’t what we expected. And I am very thankful for that.
I have been mulling over this blog for a long time now. I can’t even remember the last time I blogged to be honest. So forgive me if this one is a bit long and preachy (or radical).
The thoughts all began at a local coffee shop in Douglas, AZ. This place is great: delicious food, a really interesting owner, and a very solid artsy vibe going on the whole place. It’s really a unique business for Douglas. Around the coffee shop, they have different pieces of art from local artists. It was one of these pieces that really caught my eye. This painting had three people on it, all of who were darker skinned (possibly Middle Eastern). And with those people was the phrase “Pray for ISIS”. At first I was taken aback. What? Pray for ISIS? Those horrible people? Why would someone be praying for them?! However, as I began thinking about it, I realized that we SHOULD pray for ISIS. Not because we support them or believe in what they’re doing. Nor because we want them to instantly become Christians. We should pray for ISIS because that’s what God calls us to do. In Matthew 5, verses 44 and 45, it clearly says “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those for persecute you, so you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven”. Even horrible people we completely disagree with deserve our prayer.
Then, over the past two days, we have had discussions here in Douglas over the topic of being a Welcoming City. These talks involved the mayor of Douglas, Pastor Brad, a pastor from a presbytery in Arizona, and Pastor George, a Syrian pastor who lived in Syria then Lebanon before finally coming to the US as a refugee. The three of them discussed what it meant to be welcoming from their point of view, and how we as Christians and Americans could be more welcoming to our brothers and sisters from around the world. One thing that really stuck out for me came from Pastor Brad. He said, “Binary conversation cannot help us find a third way”. For those of you who don’t know, binary is a system representing numbers, letters, images, commands and sounds that uses ONLY 0 and 1. It is essentially a two-sided issue. Us vs. them, Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Christian vs. Muslim, white vs. people of color, Border Patrol vs. migrants, the haves vs. the have-nots. Having these constant two forces fighting each other will never allow us to come together to create a third way, a way to truly help our fellow brothers and sisters throughout the world. Only by doing something radical and different are we able to break the norm and create a new conversation.
I believe that is what Jesus has called us to do. He wants us to do something completely unheard of. He wishes us to reach out to those different from us, those across the political aisle, and those who are considered “lesser”. I believe that Jesus didn’t come necessarily to create a new religion, but to help us cross the gap and work with those different from us so that “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven”. Jesus calls us to do something different. So please, join me in doing something radical and different. Something possibly unheard of.
Pray for ISIS. Pray for Trump. Pray for our brothers and sisters who are discriminated and killed purely for their skin color. Pray for the police officers that discriminate and kill them. Pray for refugees around the world and for those who oppose or support them. Pray for Border Patrol and for the migrants who are crossing our borders without papers. And pray that we may learn, day by day, how to break out of this binary conversation and move into a third way. A way that lets’ us work together to bring God’s kingdom of justice and love here to Earth for everyone.
So! Everything is still going quite well here in Agua Prieta. However, I would like to share a couple of things that have happened and the insight they gave me into this crazy thing called a YAV year.
Earlier in the week, Chris and I were transporting some blankets across the border to distribute to various organizations in Agua Prieta. These blankets have been in the Frontera De Cristo garage for a while now, so we wanted to go ahead a cross them over to clear some space for organizing. Plus, with the cold nights of winter coming, there is a greater need to have them now. Our plan was to start off crossing enough blankets for CRREDA, the drug and alcohol addiction center in AP. Our first time crossing a batch over went perfectly; we loaded up the car and went right across, got the green light and were good to go! So, for the second run, we thought to ourselves “we can totally carry over more blankets!” since we’d also heard that crossing used blankets over was no biggie whatsoever! (Mexico apparently has super weird rules on what you can or cannot cross over-they’re random and super inconsistent).
However, on the second time crossing, Chris and I got a red light. Still no big deal right? A Customs agent had told us that crossing used blankets in fine and there’s no need to worry. Wrong. The man who checked out our vehicle asked us the standard questions-where are you from, what are you crossing over, where do you live, blah blah blah. When he noticed the blankets he began asking questions about them. We explained that they were used blankets that were donated to us so that we could give them to CRREDA. We explained who we were and what we do, and mentioned again how they were used and we paid nothing for them and we going to make ZERO PROFIT WHATSOEVER. Our kind agent friend promptly told us to park the car and go pay a tax on bringing in goods to Mexico. The fine isn’t the problem. The problem is that a government is punishing people who are trying to help their vulnerable citizens. Their citizens who receive zero government funding, and are forced to work random jobs in the community for money so they can buy food for their center. How is this just? How is it just that a government won’t allow the crossing of blankets, clothes, health kits and more to aid the least of us, the migrants and addicts of their own country. This encounter highlighted just how incredibly broken our systems of power are and how foolish those who lead us can be.
Luckily, my second learning experience required no payment and no uncomfortable interaction with government officials. In fact, I volunteered for it! I went out with some of the men from CRREDA to do some work in the community. Our job was to clean up the trash from the recent Dia de los Muertes celebration. This is a day where people remember and celebrate their loved ones by decorating their gravesites with flowers, gifts, and favorite foods. Basically we had a looooot of trash to pick up. And we had to fight against a lot of wind. It was very frustrating. Each time we would scrape up some trash or attempt to throw it in the dumpster, the wind would pick some up and carry it right back out. No matter how hard we tried, we could not move all of the trash. There were forces out of our control at work. This taught me a lot about our work here at the border, and also the work of God’s kingdom here on Earth. While there are things we cannot control, such as wind, governments, broken systems, and broken hearts, we cannot stop working and doing our best. While we may not have been able to get all of the trash, little by little we are able to make a difference. We must work to slowly but surely change our piece of this Earth that God has given us. While we cannot control everything, we can still do our best, knowing that God is stronger than any other outside force.
Who know picking up trash could be so enlightening?
Hey everybody! Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last update/blog. A lot has been going on, and I’m also bad at sitting and blogging about what’s been going on. Luckily though, I’ve got a couple of blogs coming up, so hopefully that makes up for the past months.
About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Tijuana as a chaperone for a week-long mission trip. We were invited by our friend Nathan to go with the youth of his church in Sahuarita AZ. We were going to Tijuana to stay at a shelter for women and their children who had experienced domestic violence. While there we would do some light construction work, spending time with the kids and their mothers, playing games and doing different activities with them. I could probably write multiple pages describing all that we did and the whirlwind of emotions that I experienced during that week. But I’m just going to focus on our last day (because let’s be real, who wants to hear about my emotions?).
On the last day, we went to see the wall between the US and Mexico that is goes into the Pacific Ocean. Being along the wall is always a conflicting time for me. It causes many different emotions (fear, anger, sadness) and causes a lot of thinking to go on in my head. This time at the wall was no different.
Every time I go to the beach, it makes me incredibly happy. The sound of the ocean always relaxes me. Being out in the sun makes me feel content. And seeing the vastness that is the ocean always blows my mind. It reminds me of all of the fun times I have had with my family and friends at the beach. I can’t think of one unhappy time I’ve had at any beach, for which I am incredibly thankful. This time was weird though, seeing the wall running right through the beach and out into the ocean. I thought back to all of the trips I had taken to the beach, all of the laughter and fun I had there, and the great memories it had given me. However, being there at the wall, I thought about what it would have been like to have a giant sign of division and fear there in all of my memories. How different would my memories be if this wall had been there at my beaches? If during my vacations, there was always a wall there in the background, unmoving. I’m sure we all have those places that are special for us, those places where we have only good memories, where we experienced joy and happiness. Whether they are the beach, or in the woods, a certain town or home, we have special places. Now imagine having something there that separated you from those memories. Or turned them into something fearful. All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I walked along the beach.
Then, as we walked down the beach, we ran into the families that we had been spending the past week with. They had the opportunity to leave the shelter and go to the beach for a bit of fun. It was amazing to see them laughing and playing in the ocean, screaming and enjoying the freedom of being outside. They were so happy and truly loving life, even in the shadow of this border wall. It nearly brought me to tears of joy to see these kids and their mothers having fun, laughing and spending time together. Yet it also broke my heart that people in communities all along the border have grown accustomed to the view of this wall. They live their lives in the shadow of this wall and do yet their best to live as they can. We as human beings can learn a lot from these wonderful people. We live in a world that has a lot of sadness. There is fear, hatred, loneliness, discrimination, and challenges going on everyday. The news if filled with unhappy things that do their best to scare us and bring us down. My hope is that we can be more like these families I got to spend a week with. That we may be able to find the joy and laughter during times of sadness, and learn to love even in times of hatred and fear. Though there is a lot of wrong is this world, I hope we can try to recognize and share the joy that is there also, and learn to step out of the shadows of our dividing walls and embrace all that our world has to offer with hope.