Six PSMC members from the Fresno-Reedley, California area, plus one West Coast MCC worker, journeyed in early February to Douglas, Arizona to take part in a Border Learning Tour. The six PSMC participants were Bob Jost, Carolyn Hoover, Don Linscheid, Juan Montes, Larry Harder, and Steve Penner. Crystal Fernandez, West Coast MCC staff person for immigration concerns, was also part of our small delegation.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for helping to facilitate the Tour. MCC personnel put us in touch with friends of MCC, Jack and Linda Knox, who live in Douglas and provided leadership to our stay and graced us with generous hospitality.
Photo courtesy of Steve Penner Spending several days in the shadow of the wall dividing the United States from Mexico brought us into contact with a variety of issues that the line separating one nation from the next raises. We touched on the history of the two communities on both sides of the line, Douglas and Agua Prieta. We heard stories of how, in former days, children played on both sides of the border, the separation being almost seamless. We drew close to the misery that drug trafficking provokes along the border. We felt some of the sadness known by people who, for largely economic reasons, have gravitated from land they love to the border.
Our trip was largely experiential. We felt the cold chill of the desert. We walked the dusty desert littered with rocks, thorny bushes, and sandy dry beds where torrents of water occasionally run. We prayed beside the ominous wall. We visited humble homes and were inspired by cooperative efforts.
The Border Learning Tour served to humanize people on all sides of our national immigration debate. Getting a glimpse of the reasons why people might dare to cross the boundary line and venture into the Sonoran Desert causes one to think, “I’d likely do the same thing if I were in your shoes.” Conversations with three different Border Patrol Agents helped us to experience the sincerity of these agents, and appreciate the challenges of their role. In sum, we became more aware of the particular toll border dynamics place on fellow human beings who live on either side of the boundary line.
Our Tour helped us to reflect on the meaning of borders. We could stare at the ugly wall (which in the Douglas/Agua Prieta area cost $1.3 million to build each mile) and then challenge ourselves to think about the walls we build in other areas of our lives. We thought about walls in other parts of the world. At points we asked ourselves, if not this wall, then what would we advocate for? The free and uninhibited flow of people anywhere and everywhere across all lines between nations? In the case of our country and Mexico, perhaps some new and improved guest worker program with strong safe guards for vulnerable workers?
Our trip was not devoid of joy. We had rich times around tables, telling stories and learning about each other. We were reminded again of the deep joy that comes in living lives of Christ-like compassion, in service to others, in exercising the gift of hospitality.
Steve Penner is the senior pastor at First Mennonite Church in Reedley, Calif. Story orginally printed on February 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission from Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference e-Update