“What do Borders mean to you?” was the question our Mission Co-Workers, Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado, asked us when we began our weeklong immersion journey to experience and learn about the US/Mexico Border Ministry, Frontera de Cristo. It’s a complex question that Brittany and I began to understand more clearly as we experienced God’s presence in both the suffering and joys we witnessed and the powerful stories we heard during our trip.
We poignantly witnessed this intersection of suffering and joy during our first full day on the border. It started with a difficult migrant simulation walk through the cactus and brush of the Sonoran desert, followed by a somber evening Healing our Borders Prayer Vigil at the Border Wall, which happened to coincide with the Mexican holiday celebration of Dia de Los Muertos, which is related to our celebration of All Saints Day.
This prayer vigil has taken place every Tuesday for over 20 years to remember those who died while crossing through the desert. We learned that during this time period that the remains of more than 3,900 migrants have been found in Southern Arizona and the prayer vigil commemorates the 351 who died in the local area of the Frontera de Cristo Ministry. In a recent Tucson newspaper article about the tragedy of these deaths, Mark Adams said “The realities of immigration and the way we’ve responded don’t facilitate understanding between nations. We’ve made a death sentence for some to go and do drywall or pick our fruit or work on our golf courses”. The article further explained Frontera de Cristo’s position to seek justice by “finding a way to end the human tragedy of so many dying in the desert” and advocating for “policy changes that allow for more legal immigration”.
The prayer vigil we experienced was an ecumenical gathering attended by Religious and Community Partners, Borderland residents, guests, and migrants. We were all given a flower and a white wooden cross to hold to commemorate each person who died. Each cross was inscribed with the name, dates of birth and of when the remains were found. Many of the crosses read only “Desconocido”, to represent those whose remains could not be identified. As the inscriptions on each cross were read aloud during the vigil, all those gathered cried out, “Presente” or Present in remembrance.
We then carried and lay each cross at the Border Wall, which was paradoxically rusted on hung with barbed wire on the US side, and painted with gorgeous murals on the Mexican side. Walking to the spot where the vigil ceremony took place, our mood was lifted as we watched 3 young migrant girls, whose faces were painted like skeletons for Dia de Los Muertos, holding hands, joyfully skipping and playing.
After the vigil, we concluded the evening by taking in some of the Dia de Los Muertos festivities on the historic Mainstreet of Douglas, AZ which included colorful streamers, people dressed in skeleton costumes, and ofrenda altars that are tributes of remembrance to deceased loved ones and are composed of photos of the dead, their favorite foods and beverages, candles and flowers.
The question of “What do borders mean to you?” is difficult to answer in our daily lives that are far from the US/Mexico border and filtered through the lens of polarized news coverage and social media where people often view borders as nothing more than a division or wall. The highs and lows we experienced amidst God’s presence during our first day and the remainder of the week on the border helped Brittany and me to arrive at a clearer understanding of borders and how Frontera de Cristo guided us through our experiences to sees them as “places for encounter, compassion and the sharing of culture” where we learn to “discern God’s will about how to advocate for and serve migrants and community members on both sides of the border”.
Brittany and I are excited about discerning how our partnership with Frontera de Cristo will develop and look forward to sharing more with you about the many aspects of Frontera de Cristo’s ministry and more stories from our trip this coming Sunday in Palmer Hall at 11:30 a.m. and to welcoming Mark and Miriam during their visit with us December 9-11.
-Written by Julie Smith, member of the Global & National Ministries Committee
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