by Tracy Hughes
I just got back from spending the weekend at the No More Deaths desert camp. Wow, the desert is an endless expanse of beauty - mountains, rock formations, cactus, birds, animals, a lot of cows, dry river beds and washes and right now so many green trees and other vegetation. It is hard to see such beauty and know that there are people dying in the same moments you are taking in the beauty of God's creation. Like so many places in the world, such beauty is polluted by human violence and consequently human suffering.
My first morning out I went on a water drop to Josselina's Shrine and 5 miles farther into the desert from there. Josselina was a 14 year old girl whose body was found in February of last year by some No More Deaths (NMD) folks. It turns out she was from El Salvador and came with a group coming north. She got sick or injured and could not go any further. She sent her younger brother with the group with the idea that he could send someone back for help after he reached his destination. People from the area searched for her for two weeks. One day a group from NMD's took a short cut between two migrant trails and came upon her body. She was identified and her family from the USA and some from El Salvador came for her memorial service and to build the altar at the location that her body was found.
I heard of this story on a few different occasions. Last week, with a group of about 30 teens from Phoenix, we made prayer altars out of empty plastic water gallon jugs found in the desert along these trials. We wrote the names of some of the people who have died in the desert since October 2008. Included in the art word of my (and others) altar is a picture of Josselina. It was of her at church in El Salvador. While at her altar, taking a moment to remember her life and to pray, I felt close the 30 teens from Phoenix, so close to Josselina's age, and the altars we made together. I felt close to my nieces and nephews who are also teens and just a bit younger. Finally, I also felt some how connected to the 1,000's of people who are fleeing their homes and communities around the world - forced out by war, hunger, disease, and poverty. During the 5 mile hike through the mountainous desert I certainly felt closer to the folks migrating north. We were out in the desert only from 8am until 12 noon putting out water and hiking the migrant trails - yet - It was hot, scorching hot. It was an arduous up and down hike with little shade. I felt exhausted at times and even in pain because of the intense sun and heat and the workout my body was getting. Even with all of this, I know that I have only experienced a drop in the bucket of suffering that women, men and children go through who take on the migrant trails for days on end to get north. Only a drop in the bucket.
As I reflect on Josselina's shrine and how bad I felt on my short hike, I continue to pray for the children, women and men in the desert today and who will still be there tomorrow or who are down in Altar, Mexico getting ready to continue their journey to the USA. I pray for Julio's, a 15 year old boy from Guatemala whose body was found on July 19, family as they grieve their loss. I ask that each of you take a moment of silence to pray for the protection of these travelers in our desert south, and to pray they indeed have water and food and will find more along the trails to alleviate their suffering and possibly aid them in avoiding the harsh death that comes with dehydration and heat stroke in the scorching desert lands: For no one should die for the lack of a cup of water.