Living close to the U.S./Mexico border makes a person sensitive to the negative rhetoric that is heaved our direction on a daily basis. If we listened to even a quarter of it we might lock ourselves in the house and surround it with concertina razor wire. Thank goodness we have experience with exaggerated rhetoric and have come to know the real truth of the borderlands communities; that they are the safest in the United States with violent crime rates lower than the national average, and the actual immigration numbers are the lowest in nearly 50 years. Not exactly the profile of a porous, dangerous, out of control border.
The current hurls of fear that have been tossed at the Central American caravan are no exception. The administration would have us believe that the families fleeing their homes and making their way to the U.S. border with Mexico to ask for asylum are all criminals, gang members and freeloaders looking to game the system.
At the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ we have experienced the opposite. Three weeks ago we welcomed and presented to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol one of the first families from the caravan; Maria, a pregnant mother, and her two sons Javier and Miguel. What we have witnessed is a loving mother with two very normal, well behaved sons.
The ugly rhetoric has clouded the real reasons families are fleeing their home countries. Maria and her sons had no choice as they escaped Honduras in the cover of night. Terrorized and tortured by gangs, family members murdered before their eyes, pressure and demands that Javier, the oldest son, be handed over to the gangs as a quota payment. They chose life over certain death and prayed that people of faith and goodwill would not be afraid to help them along the way.
Fear of the other is a time worn tradition. Jesus looked it in the eye and didn’t flinch, as he said, “Fear Not,” and the walls of division came tumbling down between stranger, and those on the margins of society. A whole new way for a community to work and walk together came about. All these years later we are still learning that walk. It is not easy to have courage and fear not. To open our doors to the stranger and share our love. Maria and her sons are teaching us, one step at a time. The road is long and hard, but we are learning Jesus’ way and the blessings abound.
For the past 20 years the Rev. Randy Mayer and The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Ariz., have been active in the borderlands providing humanitarian aid and advocating for better solutions to our border and immigration crisis.