Monday, November 30, 2009

Much to Learn

I recently participated in a delegation with MFSA. We traveled to
Nogales, Mexico, with a border immersion program called BorderLinks.
Glancing over the schedule, I noticed our first stop was a two-hour
visit with high school students in Nogales, Sonora (Mexico). This
brief visit seemed to pale in comparison to visiting a migrant
shelter, conversing with migrants at the shelter or seeing the wall
that divides Mexico and the U.S. I was skeptical about how valuable
it would be to spend two hours conversing with local high school
students. Reflecting on the trip, however, the time spent with the
high school students was the highlight of my experience.

Our delegation of nine split into eight groups with two or three
Mexican high school students in each group. The groups were given
some markers and a large sheet of paper. We were asked to sketch our
response to three questions: (1) what are the root causes of migration
(2) what are the effects of migration and (3) what can be done to
improve the current situation. I was shocked at how articulately the
students responded to the questions. As we began to discuss the
questions, I realized that I had so much to learn from the students.

The lives of these sixteen and seventeen year old students represent
the reality of a border town. They are witnesses to death as a result
of migration. They are witnesses of the wall. They are witnesses of
families divided by the border. They are witnesses of death as a
result of narcotrafficking. They are witnesses of border violence.
The lives of these sixteen and seventeen year old students represent
the reality of a border town—and we have much to learn about this

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas Letter from Mallory

The following was written by OnFire trip participant, Mallory Naake, to her home congregation for their December newsletter.

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?

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The brilliant color throughout the cultural center to celebrate El Día de los Muertos certainly clashed with my middle-class, white USAmerican understanding of death. My mother has taught me to think of funerals as a celebration of life, but the reality of drab, icy funeral homes did not reflect this idea of celebration. Skeletons dressed to the nines, colorful paper strung from the ceilings, altars lovingly decorated. But here, to encounter death with such vibrancy seems the only way to cope with living on the border. For so many people in Nogales, Sonore, Mexico and Arizona, USA, living on the border is a constant encounter with death.

We met with a group of high schoolers and introduced ourselves by going around in a circle saying our names and what the word border/frontera meant to us. As USAmericans, we spoke of separation, of walls, of discrimination. Certainly true, but also in our cases very abstract words. For the Mexican high school students--- fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year olds--- the word frontera means death. A few said that the border meant “my life” or “culture” but overwhelmingly, “death.” The border is a violence--- a physical, emotional, spiritual violence.

We journeyed to Altar, a town that for many is the beginning of the final leg of the journey to the USA, the place where guides are contacted and preparations are made to cross the desert. Here, we stayed at a migrant shelter. Before dinner, we shared songs to welcome tired souls as people came in. We met Pedro, a man in Altar looking for money to buy a prosthetic leg as his old prosthetic was splitting. He said he needed the leg so he could work harder. We met José, an eighteen year old, small, quiet, who sang softly along with us even when he didn't know the words. We met Juan, who came for dinner but did not stay the night as he was going to begin to cross the desert that night. He told us he had been deported fifteen times. What kind of desperation is it that someone who had been deported fifteen times would be getting ready to again cross the desert?

And then, of course, there is the wall, cutting through Nogales. Lupe Serrano, who had installed many pieces of art along the wall, told us that it was illegal to put art on the side of the wall facing the U.S.A. I was immediately struck by this having visited the remnants of the wall in Berlin last year. On the western side of the Berlin wall, graffiti calling for the destruction of the wall. On the east, nothing. The Soviet guards did not permit people to get that close to the eastern side of the wall alive for fear of escape. And the U.S.A. was so adamant about tearing down the wall; forgetfulness is a blessing for governments who are more concerned about profits than people.

And so we come to our part as characters in this story. Ours is a ministry of making present by naming. When confronted with the question “Now what?” our response is to make present by naming. Our response is to speak of the high school students, of migrants like José, Pedro, and Juan, of justice workers like Ceci and Susanna who led us on this trip. To speak of that pain of families ripped from their lands, of communities divided by the horror of a Wall. And to name ourselves and our governments as culprits. To say human beings deserve better than the choice to die in the struggle or to die of hunger. Deserve better than to leave their home to become expendable labor in a rich [white] society. We must educate ourselves. We must act to educate our communities, to reach out to immigrants outside of our communities, to demand change from our government. In the words of the women who volunteer at the migrant shelter in Altar, we must bring the gospel to life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tell Them (in response to the question, what do we say when we go back?)

Tell them:
what you are hearing

Tell them:
Migrants are not criminals
nor are they terrorists

Tell them:
They are people - struggling for a better life.

Tell them:
Their crime is trying to work.

Tell them:
You cannot quell this tide.

Tell them
the same thing that the migrants told us
at the other border
the Mexico-Guatemala border
before they grabbed hold of the train
when we told them that they would suffer and what could happen and the risks

They told us:

"Better to die in the struggle than die of hunger."

and we're back

From October 28-31, 10 OnFire young adults participated in a border justice immersion trip with BorderLinks. The entries that follow are our shared experiences, emotions, pictures and messages to the world. We invite you to enter into conversation with us through your comments and responses.

Peace for the journey,
the OnFire team