By Sandy Devoid
“Maria Martinez” I called out as I processed with others on Highway 80, busy with car and foot traffic, at the US Mexico border between Douglas, AZ and Aqua Prieta. I raise a white two foot cross high that had Ms Martinez’ name on it. Usually a willing participant, I was having trouble this time. I know a woman of the same name who crossed the border 15 years ago from Mexico into Arizona. This cross held high each Tuesday afternoon by participants in the Presbyterian Mission, Frontera de Cristo’s Vigil marked the passing of Maria’s life. Not the Maria Martinez I know. She is as safe as an undocumented mother can be in the United States. This Maria died in the desert on route to a new life in the United States. We were there to remember these people, these children of God who perished in our country in this dry, beautiful place. Each name was called out with dignity and respect. After calling out the names while we were lined up on the side of the road, we walked back to a grassy area next to a parking lot, joined hands and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy Kingdom come…..”
These three words are alive in the Borderlands. At every turn during my ten day BorderLinks immersion experience I saw and felt despair and frustration. Yet, there were plenty of Kingdom moments. Times when we saw glimpses of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
‘We don’t have them line up. We serve them. There is dignity in that.’ The missionary explained to us at the Comedor in Nogales, Mexico part of the Jesuit Kino Border initiative where folks are welcomed to rest and eat after they have been deported from the United States and dropped off at the border. Hope.
“We saw people walking through our community. People were walking, stopping at houses asking for water. These folks were leaving drastic conditions in Mexico, making a treacherous journey to be re-united with US citizen family members. What were we as the body of Christ supposed to do? We started putting out water.” – A long time Pastor explaining the late 1990’s in this Arizona border town, south of Tucson, after the passage of NAFTA.
I was left wondering how I would have responded if I was on staff at this church during this time.
I have felt a call to go to the Borderlands for several years to learn about our Border with Mexico and our immigration system. I knew from some limited involvement with immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American Countries, that our ‘system’ is complicated and broken. I went to grow in my understanding so that I could come back and help people of faith look at immigration and the border as children of God. What does scripture say? Why is our system unjust? Why do we, as Christians, tip toe around this injustice? Is it because someone says it is a ‘political’ issue?
My husband, Ben and I moved to Thomasville last year on the first of July. In our lovely neighborhood, the house next door has sat empty for over a year. There are very, very few jobs here in Thomasville. Just one week before I left, a family moved in. We went to greet them and found they are from Mexico. They live in Thomasville now because mom has a job in Concord and Dad has a job in Raleigh and houses in my town are quite affordable. We had a warm visit, due mostly to their ability to speak English. Yet, before I left, I heard grumblings from some neighbors. How can I be a light in my neighborhood?
The BorderLinks experience has equipped me well. I hope through my living and leading that I can be a bridge to help others grow in their understanding so that we might see our newer North Carolina neighbors as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Visits/Seminars/Q&A’s and other experiences from the 10 Day Delegation:
- History of the Border Seminar
- Desert Walk and visit with a leader of the Samaratians Organization which reaches out with water and other necessities to those struggling in the desert
- Presentation and tour by Border Patrol
- Observation of Operation Streamline
- Q&A with Public Defender of Operation Streamline
- Presentation by DACA student (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) who has worked successfully so that DACA students can attend the Community College in Tucson
- Q&A with Public Defender of Operation Streamline
- Presentation by Immigration Attorney
- Presentation by Corazon de Tucson: an organizing/educational community group that reaches out to help people better understand their rights. They also host events to foster community and develop leaders.
- Seminar with Pastor of Green Valley UCC Church as he shared his church experience of being faithful in the border (The church has a water outreach ministry, intensive Spanish classes, ESL, Bible Studies etc…)
- Prayer Service to remember those who have been killed by violence on the border and their families
- Prayer Vigil calling out names of those who have died in the desert
- The Environment and the Border by Sierra Club Staff
- Tour of Federal Detention facility in Florence, AZ
- Legal Immigration Simulation
- Talk with Pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church
- Worship at Southside Presbyterian Church: Active in the Sanctuary movement in the 1980’s, this church continues to call for justice and reach out to those on the margins through a job center, homeless ministry, advocacy and offering sanctuary to those finding themselves in jeopardy of deportation and separation from their family.
- Frontera de Cristo: a PCUSA mission that works on both sides of the border reaching out to migrants and empowering men and women in Mexico through job development.
- Cafe Justo: a cooperative in Mexico that helps coffee farmers. It’s fair trade and more.
- Migrant Resource Center in Aqua Prieta, Mexico: a collaborative that offers food, water and medical attention to migrants who are dropped off here.
Presentation by the Florence Project, a nonprofit legal service organization providing free legal services to men, women and children detained by ICE.
I am making myself available to lead programs for church folks. I can tailor a program to the needs of the church. I don’t pretend to have answers but thanks to my BorderLinks experience, I can share stories and information that can help us dispel common myths and approach the subject with an eye and ear for God’s justice. For starters, here’s a list.
Coffee on the Border….serving “Café Justo” some of the finest coffee around. This coffee is more than fait trade. We’ll look at Border history and the challenges many face who live south of the US Mexico Border and what churches are doing to help folks south of the border have productive lives.
Immigration, Borders and the Bible. Why do people migrate? Who can come to our country? What are the basics of our immigration system? Have you heard of the Morton Memo or Sanctuary? Does the Bible have any guidance for us? What does any of this have to do with us, here in North Carolina?
The environment at the border: physically, mentally and spiritually. What does it feel like at the border? What is the border doing to creation?
These workshops will feature scripture, stories, video clips, pictures, simulation games and plenty of discussion. We’ll do drugs (not literally) as drugs and violence are real in the Borderlands. If it can be arranged, we will skype with leaders in the field from BorderLinks.
I include a picture album which gives an overview of my BorderLinks experience. I was fortunate to be an addition to a class from Andover Newton Seminary in Boston. BorderLinks places a great value on reflection. It was an honor to reflect with these fine students. Many were from the United Church of Christ along with an American Baptist, and a Church of the Brethren seminary student.
I am also exploring leading a Five Day BorderLinks Delegation in 2016.
I sincerely thank the Justice and Reconciliation Committee for the generous support you gave me so that I could have this experience. I hope to put it to good use. Please let me know if I can do anything to further your mission.
Sandy Devoid is a layperson from Memorial UMC in Thomasville, where her husband Ben Devoid is the pastor. She has worked as a Christian educator and has a long-standing passion for ministry with immigrants. Her participation in BorderLinks was helped to be made possible by grants from the WNCC Leadership Development and Justice & Reconciliation Teams.