Responding to an Exodus

November 8-10, 2019

About 150 people (including 6 representing our Foothills Presbytery) from across the U.S. joined in this event, “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire”, which was sponsored by the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO) and Frontera de Cristo, part of PBRO.

We spent three days in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico, staying just two blocks away from the port of entry to the U.S. Our time there was filled with workshops focusing on legal issues, border art, government responses, the Biblical story of Exodus, personal stories of asylum seekers, and how the faith community is meeting the needs of migrants and asylum seekers. We made a prayer walk along the colorfully painted Mexican side of the wall and planted a cross out in the desert to remember and honor a 31- year-old woman who had died trying to come into our country. There were also wonderful times of worship including Sunday morning communion on the Mexican side of the border wall. We were recipients of wonderful hospitality, both in terms of marvelous meals and assurances that our presence was a source of encouragement to them.

Part of this trip was about the bad news: the heartbreaking experience hearing about and seeing the plight of the migrants, most seeking to escape life-threatening and unbearable conditions in their country of origin. Such conditions include gangs, cartels, killings, kidnappings, rape, and extreme poverty. The migrants’ exodus journey from these conditions includes numerous perils along the way, from the harsh environment to those who would take advantage of them. If they survive the journey and arrive at the border they are confronted by physical and policy walls that stall their request for asylum because of having to wait weeks or even months at the border. A button we were given proclaims, “To migrate is not a crime,” and yet migrants are often treated as criminals by the system and governments involved. Even once allowed inside the United States to request asylum they face weeks, months and even years of a maze of steps before their request may be granted, which may not be.

But part of our trip was definitely also the good news: the joyous celebration of 35 years of work of the Frontera de Cristo ministry, headed by Mark Adams, from Clover, SC and his co-equal Mexican partner, Jocabed Gallegos. This trip also included celebrating 17 years of Café Justo (source of coffee now for many of our churches). We were encouraged by the daily efforts and challenges of so many people and organizations seeking to be God’s presence in the midst of this suffering. Ministries include shelter, safety, food, clothing, counseling, legal assistance, drug prevention and help, a woman’s co-op – and more. We were touched and impressed by the courage and commitment of these workers, who themselves face opposition from the Mexican government and national guard.

We have been and will continue to be deeply touched by this brief but significant experience, both the plight of migrants and the ministry provided by many at the Douglas/Agua Prieta border. We are confident the impact of this trip has not yet run its course in our lives. We thank the Committee on Shared Ministry for encouragement and support in our going and for the invaluable scholarship that made this trip possible for us.

-Richard & Susan Caldwell (Seneca)

Paintbrush on the border wall

Standing beneath the shadow of the (Fourth)border wall with a paintbrush in my hand, ready to help paint a new mural, I was struck by the immense impact of this solid, barbed wire-wrapped structure. Whether it be migrants camping under tarps, waiting for days to petition for asylum, border patrol agents completing their watch, or volunteers venturing into the harsh surrounding desert to leave life-saving water, so many people feel the weight of the separation on a daily basis. As I made contact with my paintbrush on the border wall for the first time, I felt the power of that simple action – a small act of resistance inspired by hope. We spent the next few hours transforming our piece of the wall from something that represents so much pain, division, and fear into something of beauty and hope, highlighting the beautiful differences of those who encounter the wall. This collective experience of creating a mural on the border wall is an experience I’ll never forget.

-Julie Woodson

There is a lot of great work being done already and so much more to be done... It’s an opportunity to help individuals grow, enterprises flourish and, most of all, communities become stronger.

God’s presence is palpable there, as well as the visible positive results when God’s children listen to Him. I have so much more to say about this experience that it’s hard to keep my heart still. Objectivity easily escapes me, and I know visceral reactions come fast to me. So much of this experience is spiritual, way beyond limitations of just one faith group.

I am planning on writing a descriptive account of how I saw things. Even suggest groups to take action and make people aware of the situation at the border.

-Christina Kraemer (Eastminister)

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