Following the path that immigrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico might take to central California, a group of young adults and their leaders set off on a week-long pilgrimage on June 15. The starting point for the 28-member group was the border wall between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego.
The purpose was to help the group understand the migrant experience, said Dina González-Piña, who is executive director of West Coast Mennonite Committee and part of the trip’s leadership team.
Truth-telling about the histories of the people and land in our communities is necessary, she said. The young adults learn this as they “meet new people and hear each other’s stories and become friends and workers on the journey of justice together with Jesus as the foundation.”
Participants came with a variety of cultural and geographical backgrounds, including various regions of the U.S. and the countries of Colombia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Republic of Korea (South Korea). The group also represented a variety of denominations including U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB) and Mennonite Church USA.
Several members of the group who had Latinx heritage said they felt hopeful because people of other cultures wanted to learn and support their community.
On the fifth day of their pilgrimage, Alecia Espinosa, Karina Morales, Sarai Uriostegui and Betsy Olvera, participants in the Multicultural Peace Collaboration learning tour, sit at the fountain that is part of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Chavez was an advocate for migrant farmers’ rights. MCC photo/Jessica Chisolm
This trip was the second annual Multicultural Peace Collaboration (MPC), a joint effort of MCC U.S., West Coast MCC, and Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Anabaptist Studies. MPC engages young people through experiential learning in communities and unfamiliar spaces to grow their understanding of and commitment to Anabaptist peacebuilding.
Each day of the week began with a devotional framed around that day’s theme. Seven daily themes – borders and bridges, human dignity, creativity, hospitality, storytelling, justice and accountability, and transformation – were crafted to reflect the values Jesus portrayed during his life.
Leaders encouraged the group to consider both injustice and hope as they visited each place along the journey. Witnessing the U.S.-Mexico border wall stood out as a valuable experience to several participants.
“Being that close to something that is dividing us really touched my heart,” said college sophomore Alecia Espinosa.
Stops at Chicano Park, Homeboy Industries (HI) and the Cesar Chavez National Monument exposed young peacebuilders to stories of grief, reconciliation and community empowerment grounded in faith and biblical justice. Throughout the trip, participants were challenged to consider what Jesus might say and do in response to these circumstances.
Espinosa resonated with stories speakers shared with the group because she too has found a deepened relationship with Christ through her own “trials and tribulations.”
She also was impressed by reconciliation and finding faith, a theme among several of the locations the group visited, particularly at HI Los Angeles, a nonprofit gang rehabilitation center. The organization helps previously incarcerated people redirect their lives and become contributing members of their communities.
According to Espinosa, learning by living and working together like some people at HI do is one of the best ways to appreciate each other’s differences. Espinosa will take this idea back to her home church, Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, in Philadelphia.
Nineteen-year-old Sarai Uriostegui, who attends Pentecostal Church of God in Winton, California, was inspired by the work of Cesar E. Chavez throughout the trip. Chavez was a man of faith who organized local Californian communities to advocate for migrant farmers’ rights. He was integral in founding the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor union, which continues to advocate for farmworkers’ rights today.
“It deepened my faith seeing how all these figures relied so heavily on their own faith,” said Uriostegui. For her, one of the most valuable trip takeaways was that, “We are all God’s creations. No one is greater and no one is less … we should follow Jesus’ example … helping those in need. Not just standing on the sidelines.”
Though Uriostegui has always been involved in helping her church’s worship team, she now plans on bringing issues like immigration and faith-based justice into worship and in the other spaces she frequents.
The trip concluded at Fresno Pacific University, a Mennonite Brethren college in California, where participants could do more reflection on what they learned. Along the way, they were hosted by two USMB churches in Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California.
Leaders of this year’s group included González-Piña, Kidstown International Executive Director Saji Oomen, USMB District Minister Terry Hunt, and MCC U.S. Peace Education coordinator Jes Stoltzfus Buller.
They envision MPC becoming a movement for young peacebuilders to engage with each other and consider the kind of justice Jesus advocated for in the New Testament. The MPC experiences push participants to consider how our actions as Christians can reflect Jesus’ instructions to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:13).
To Hunt, loving your neighbor means acknowledging Black, Brown and Indigenous people in the Mennonite Brethren (MB) family whose history is “very painful.”
“They’ve experienced a lot of hurt, and it needs to be talked about as a part of our MB family. We have not been as inclusive in making sure that their stories are told,” he said.
As an ongoing experience, MPC is to have three different journeys, each with its own topic, on a 3-year cycle. Young peacebuilders will be able to join in any year and hopefully choose to continue through the following two years.
MPC 2021 highlighted the Black experience and the Civil Rights Movement in the South. The preliminary plan for next year’s pilgrimage is to explore the history of First Nations communities in Oklahoma. Organizers are committed to continuing the important work of facilitating environments of learning, truth-telling and reconciliation in the name of Christ.
Trip organizers hope these peace pilgrimages demonstrate that an important way to love is to first understand and walk alongside our neighbors in their struggles. As participants learn about and visit significant places in the U.S.’ past and present, they will ignite conversations on heavy topics in their own communities.
Top photo: Multicultural Peace Collaboration participants stand as close as is permitted at the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the start of their journey. They will follow the path that migrants are likely to take into central California. MCC photo/Jessica Chisolm
Jessica Chisolm is a summer intern for MCC’s National Peace & Justice Ministries. She also participated in the learning tour. She is a student at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.