Exposure, they call it.
Photo c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
It seems like a diagnosis from a hundred years ago. A word on an autopsy from the ancient world, like tuberculosis or leprosy.
They take only what they can carry on their backs, the Mexican shelter workers tell us. A backpack with a sweater, some electrolyte drinks, water. Then, when the coyote tells them they’re close to the border, they drop it all and run. They don’t want to be weighed down.
Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing.
I have no words for a day like today, even words I’ve already written. So I offer you this: a pause. Quiet. A prayer.
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen. -Collect for Peace, The Book of Common Prayer
I’m in the midst of a seven-day series on encountering Jesus on the U.S.-Mexico border. But sometimes we just need to be quiet. I’ll be back tomorrow to continue.
The plaza in Altar seems like a scene from a film.
All photos c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation 2007
A beautiful Mexican church rises up beside a concrete plaza filled with migrants on the last step of their journey before they cross. The atmosphere seems to combine the edgy feeling of a border town with the excitement and commercialism of an amusement park.
Vendors sell tacos, backpacks, walking shoes, bandanas, hats, electrolyte drink. Long-distance buses from Chiapas and Oaxaca arrive on a side street, and their passengers, mostly men but with a surprising amount of women, unload their belongings and stand to stretch their legs after the nearly twenty-four hour bus trip.
Black crows fly through the air and land on the roof of the church, in startling contrast to the blue sky.
Outside Sasabe, Arizona
We read the Bible in the desert whenever we can.
One of the pastors in our group volunteers to lead the last meditation, which we time to line up with our visit to a Humane Borders water tank in the desert. She speaks about the Samaritan woman at the well and her conversation with Jesus.
We’ve crossed over the border again, back into the United States, and are in the region where migrants most frequently travel: the west desert around Tucson.
The water station is simple and unassuming. In other locations, these stations have been torn apart and vandalized by angry residents who resent the migrant traffic that comes through the area. But this one is intact: a simple tank with a spigot of clean water that people can fill their bottles with before traveling on.
“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” -Matthew 25:35
Photo c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation 2007
Benjamin Hill, Mexico
“I watched a man the other day at the feeding program,” said Father Quiniones as our group sits in a restaurant in Benjamin Hill, Sonora. “How many tortillas do you think he ate?”
We had only met Father Quiniones a few minutes before, but we could already tell that he was a storyteller. We had already learned from Rick, our leader, that Father Quiniones had two great passions apart from the church: loving the stranger and telling a good yarn. “This many,” he said. He held up one palm, then turned it over for each multiple of five. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty. And then an outstretched pointer finger: twenty-one.
“Twenty-one tortillas!” he said.
Photos c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
It’s about time.
After years, a comprehensive immigration reform bill is set to hit Congress, and it’s rumored that something may actually happen. People have been waiting a long time. For many of the attendees of today’s immigration reform rally in Washington and other rallies nationwide, it’s been too long. Too long.
I started thinking about immigration in 2007, when I actually met some immigrants.
With the support of my church, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group trying to “get in the way” of violence worldwide. We saw the border, and we also saw what was on the other side: decreased job opportunities, high prices for , and thousands of people trying to make ends meet, even if it means a 70-mile walk across the desert to El Norte.
This week, to kick off What I Saw Wednesday, I’ll be posting daily about what I saw on the border. I have no easy answers, not even any political solutions, just stories about Jesus the migrant.
God was there, I was there, and this is what happened. This is what I saw.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” we teach the children to pray.
We go through the prayer, line by line, sorting out words like hallowed and trespasses. And then we make it to the honorary verse of dinner tables everywhere.
“We’re asking for the things we need for today,” we tell the kids. I can see the kids’ thoughts behind their eyes: laptops, iPods, to do well on the test. My mind wanders, too, away from bread. Give us this day the money for the rent, the money for the student loans, the money for the car repairs.
The things we need for today, yes. But first of all, we are asking for food, for bread. We are asking for the things that will nourish us and keep our bodies strong.
This is the day that so many call “Low Sunday.” People are worn out after the extravaganza of Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
I get the feeling.
It’s still Easter, yes. But the alleluias are quieter, subtler. And that’s okay.
I had been there for eleven months.
Eleven months of walking along the train tracks, through the rice fields to school. Eating beef braised in chili oil, stir-fried spinach, dumplings with chives and pork, rice. Eleven months of drinking chrysanthemum tea and eating tangerines at a teahouse by the river, hearing people say foreigner whenever I walked past, linking arms with friends. It had been eleven months of teaching classes of sixty students, mouthing along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in another language, walking two blocks from an upscale shopping mall to a market selling live fish and chickens.
I could have talked about it for the rest of my life and still have more stories to tell.
“It is not enough to celebrate Easter and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ It is useless to proclaim this unless at the same time we can say that we have also risen, that we have received something from heaven. We must feel appalled when the tremendous events that took place, the death and resurrection of Jesus, are proclaimed again and again and yet actually nothing happens with us. It has no effect.” -Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, in Bread and Wine
The day after Easter, I am not sure what to do.
On Easter, I rise.
We go to church. We shout our alleluias, we sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Afterwards, we feast. I cook a turkey for Easter dinner, my first ever, won in a trivia contest. (Don’t ask.) Josh and I watch basketball with some friends, eat turkey and potatoes cooked in cream and carrot cake, drink good beer and good wine.
And we go to bed, and then it’s back to life the way it was, before the Lenten disciplines, before weird lifestyle changes or diets or food given up. Christ is risen, and things are back to normal.