Agua Prieta, Mexico
He had taken the train.
Photos c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
His name has faded in my memory. I remember his name as Jesus, like so many of the others. But maybe it wasn’t.
He had taken the train. Like many of the others that people call “Mexican,” he was from Guatemala. Like the others, he had grown corn, until the bottom of the market fell out, until it cost more to grow than he could make selling.
Like the others, he needed money to live. Money to send home.
Like the others, he couldn’t afford the bus ticket north. So he took the train.
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.
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.
I am not the only one who is healing, the only one who is being healed.
I’ve written about depression and anxiety in this little series. Learning to get over my crippling perfectionism, let myself be loved, give myself permission to fail, and breathe deep. We read to know that we are not alone, somebody smart said once.
My father fell the same day the towers did.
They were strong. They were not supposed to fall. Hundred-story buildings in the heart of New York do not go down in flames. Forty-five-year-old fathers do not lose their balance and spend God knows how long lying on the bathroom floor.
They were not supposed to fall, but they did.
I was eighteen.
I had just graduated from high school with dreams of being a writer. I had always loved words, ever since reading A Little House in the Big Woods and the Narnia books. My best friends early in life had been Laura and Mary Ingalls, the March girls and the Pevensie kids, some babysitters named Kristy and Claudia and Stacey and a Receiver named Jonas. I loved good stories, stories that often seemed to be more true than the reality around me.
I loved story, but it was hard for me to think that it was a “good use of my time.” A good use of my “potential.” I had certain ideas of what a “Christian writer” was supposed to be. The books that I picked up at the Bible bookstore sometimes seemed more concerned with making sure ends were tied up, characters “converted.” They prided themselves on being “clean”–no swearing, no sex. They were beginning to seem farther and farther away from the world I lived in. And I wondered if that was what I wanted to write.
I was beginning to doubt that life was like these tidy, clean stories.
Recently, I went through training to become a hospice volunteer. Eventually, when all of my forms/vaccinations/interviews/references are cleared, I’ll be assigned a patient and will be visiting once a week to provide a respite for caregivers so that they can have a break for a few hours and to give some companionship for the patients, whether it’s holding a hand, playing a bit of piano, reading to them, or just sitting quietly.
I expected the volunteer process to be a little less arduous than it was (eighteen hours of training over the course of three days, a flurry of forms, vaccinations), but I’m glad it was so thorough. It was very helpful, especially as my field ed church has lots of older people, including countless shut-ins that can’t make it to Sunday worship.
The most helpful elements of the training for me were the session on the stages of dying/dying process, led by a hospice nurse, and the session on grief and bereavement, led by one of the hospice chaplains. One of the most important tasks for the dying, according to the training, is telling the stories that matter to them. Asking for and giving forgiveness. Expressing love to family and friends.
Our packet included a quote from the novelist Isak Dinesen that I’ve thought about several times in the past few weeks. “All sorrows can be borne,” Dinesen writes, “if you put them into story.”