Dear friends -
The Christmas season is a time when we celebrate and reflect on God’s greatest gift to us. I want to share with you several glimpses from a recent experience that sparked me to think about the gift of Jesus. What does his life represent for me and how do I explore the challenge of being Christian at Christmas?
At the end of October I had the opportunity to travel with eight other United Methodist young adults on a US/Mexico border education delegation with BorderLinks. I signed up for the trip to do some research for the Sierra Service Project Mexico program. As it always seems with these programs, I gained so much more.
The first night we traveled two hours southwest of the Tucson/Nogales border to the small town of Altar. Once a struggling cow town, Altar is now the destination for thousands of migrants from all over Mexico, Central America and beyond. Here, the travelers make contact with guides, “coyotes”, who make promises and charge large amounts of money to transport the migrants in packed vans to the border, then by foot once in the US.
Altar is also home to the Attention Center for Migrants and those in Need (CCAMYN), a Catholic organization that houses and feeds migrants. The volunteers give migrants - many of whom have been taken advantage of by coyotes – a safe place to stay and a warm meal. They also give advice about the dangers of the desert and advise migrants to watch out for each other. Many of their clients are also those who have just been deported and have no money.
During dinner at CCAMYN, we met a family with a two year old daughter who were on their way back from Florida, an eighteen year old boy attempting to cross the border on his own, two friends who were attempting to cross the border that night, and others. Many of the 25 or so guests had tried to cross the border multiple times. I felt blessed we could share a meal and conversation with these migrants. They could have a lot of reasons to be angry with us or not want to talk with us, but there was no animosity at all.
One volunteer at CCAMYN told us that the motivation behind keeping this shelter going was simple, but obvious to us as Christians. Matthew 25: 35 – 40: and Jesus said to them, “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…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
On multiple occasions during this two day trip we heard the same thing – “It is better to die in the struggle than die of hunger”. Die of hunger? I can’t imagine this dire struggle. To be in a position of choosing to let your family slowly die of starvation, or to make a dangerous trek on train cars, in tightly packed vans, past men with guns who absolutely hate you, through deserts filled with predators - both animal and human - in the hot sun or freezing cold to a place where you do not feel welcome, with your family far way. I can hardly call this a choice.
So what does this mean for me during this time when we celebrate the birth of the most generous man in our history? For me, it seems to always return to the drive and desire I have to live my life through love and simple acts of service toward my fellow brothers and sisters. During this Christmas season, we should all consider: how can we, as Christians, replace ignorance with education, replace fear with compassion, and break down walls and borders to truly love our neighbor?