Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hope Lives at the Border

I experienced the Christian Church at its best on May 7, 2013. United Methodist Residential Bishops were privileged to join the Border Church for worship that concluded with the sacrament of Holy Communion at Friendship Park. (Friendship Park is part of the California State Park system that borders Mexico and San Diego.)  Bishops met in San Diego for their Learning Forum.

Before arriving at the western-most edge of the US border, with the Pacific Ocean as a scenic backdrop, we heard stories of heartbreak and hope.  Enrique Morones has dedicated his life to a ministry of mercy and justice. He shared the story of his "Border Angels" who are trying to bring an end to the tragic plight of thousands of Mexican immigrants who die trying to cross the border. His passion is the poor and vulnerable who desperately try to cross the deserts and mountains to unite with family members or seek a better life.

“The Border Angels are volunteers who leave water in the desert of the California borderlands in the summer and food and clothing in the mountains in winter," he said. The passion for saving lives is evident as Enrique Marones shared stories of the power of one person’s efforts, as well as the stories of death that continues unabated because of lack of humane immigration reform. One of the stories he shared with us as we viewed the brown wall and white steel fence separating San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, was the story of Marco Antonio Villaenor. Marco crossed the border with his father for the

#1 reason migrants crossing from Latin America have today:  economic opportunity.

Enrique told the story of how Marco, his father and eighty others ended in the hands of a smuggler who was to take them to Houston in the back of a truck. Marco became thirsty and asked his dad for some water, but his dad didn't answer. He asked the next man, and then the next man until he had asked 18 men around him. His father and the eighteen men did not answer, because they had already died. When the driver and the authorities finally opened the back of the truck near Victoria Texas, they discovered 80 people in the back of the truck. Nineteen, including the little boy Marco, were dead.

There is much talk in congress about secure borders. Now I understand better how walls and fences, combined with a broken immigration policy, drive people to desperate efforts through treacherous trails of hope. Our bus traveled to the busiest border crossing in the US in mid-afternoon. We were told that over 120,000 people cross daily. Coming from Mexico into San Diego may take workers and visitors as much as two to four hours waiting to cross. Extensive security checks for cars and individuals, intended to stop drugs and contraband and ensure legal crossing, is the daily reality in this part of the country. We stood on the long relatively new crosswalk bridge between Mexico and San Diego and viewed the busiest bus stop in San Diego. We were told that though Tijuana and San Diego are similar in size, the budget and economic strength of San Diego is ten times higher than Tijuana, Mexico, a city of similar size. Over two million people call this corner of the world home.

Our day concluded at EL Faro the Border Church in the shadow of the Tijuana lighthouse. El Faro is one of the most famous landmarks on the US-Mexican border. We gathered at a sacred space known to the people who gather there as Friendship Park.

The back of our worship bulletin noted, "Friends and families from Mexico and the United States have been meeting at this place for generations to visit "across the wire or through the fence."

United Methodist pastor, Rev. John Fanestil and Pastor Guillermo Navarrete of the
Methodist Church of Mexico greeted us and led us in worship with musical assistance from Jorge Lockwood of the General Board of Global Ministries. Some of the Bishops including Bishop Cynthia Harvey from Louisiana and Bishop Martin McLee from New York shared conversation and Christian Fellowship in Spanish and English. Our host Bishop Minerva Carcaño led a group of bishops and spouses on the Mexican side of the border as we gathered across the fence face-to-face for worship. Bishop Carcaño led communion liturgy in Spanish with help from superintendents and lay readers, while I joined Bishop Rosemarie Wenner in sharing communion liturgy in English. Rev. John Fanestil whose passion for justice is fueled by God’s grace and a love for the people led us in prayer and praise in both Spanish and English.

God’s grace and love is available to all. Romans, Chapter 8 came alive under the hot sun and refreshing ocean breeze. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of God. Walls and fences, status and documents cannot rule the day when divine dignity is bestowed by the one God who created us all.

If I live to be one hundred, I pray I will never forget this experience of meeting hope at the border. One of my colleague bishops said he now understood why he must make immigration reform a priority.  He was ready to sign on. The Council of Bishops will be on the right side of history if we remain vigilant in our support for humane immigration reform that reunites families, removes fear and harsh punishment, and provides a pathway to citizenship for those who are here. I live for the day when desperation does not drive people to risk death crossing deserts in the heat of the day or cold dark of the night.

We closed our worship service at Friendship Park reading a creed for immigrants. I was moved by the closing sentence:  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the eternal immigrant from

God’s kingdom among us, who speaks all languages, lives in all countries and reunites all races." I am encouraged by the witness for justice and commitment to radical hospitality by people called Methodist and United Methodist and so many others. May we be reminded of the power of one and the hope of millions.

Be Encouraged,

Bishop Julius C. Trimble


This article was written using excerpts from, "The Power of One, the story of the Border Angels," by Enrique Marones, San Diego State University Press and an excerpt from the “Creed for Immigrants,” by Jose Luis Casal, Presbyterian Church USA.

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