Commentary: The Witness of Water
Last week, as closing arguments began in the latest trial of Dr. Scott Warren, the organization he volunteered with, No More Deaths, continued defiantly to do the work they felt called to: to end suffering and death in the Sonoran desert by setting out water and providing humanitarian aid, the very thing Dr. Warren was now facing 20 years in prison for.
The first time I heard about groups going into the desert to set water out was in 2000. I was fresh out of college, and it was one of the first encounters I remember where the acts of mercy and compassion, embodied as solidarity with the vulnerable and dangerous plight of people, testified loudly to me: this is the gospel!
Nineteen years later, the movement of people across borders globally continues, as it has since people began. This is nothing new and it won’t stop. However, militarization along the U.S.-Mexico border has increased. Nationalist and white supremacist policy has increased. Humanitarian aid, setting water out in the desert, has been criminalized. Nevertheless, the gospel still calls us to embody solidarity (Matthew 5:1-12), to act in faith, hope and love of creation and our fellow human siblings (Matthew 25:34-46), and to demonstrate true, living relationships.
The stakes have grown for me, not because of the increased risk of arrest, or possibility of being targeted by border patrol as some of my colleagues have been. The stakes have grown for me because I am in the process of getting free of the dehumanizing spiritualities of the world. I am living more fully into the truth that I am beloved by God, made in God’s beautiful and transforming image. My faith grows stronger rooting into the knowledge and the demonstration of mercy and compassion, and embodying solidarity with the most vulnerable—what I understand as the core of the gospel, which is about to be celebrated again around the world by all different traditions of Christianity in the proclamation of Advent and Christmas.
The United Church of Christ stands with immigrants and refugees, and I was honored to join a special water drop delegation facilitated by No More Deaths in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where the remains of many migrants have been found over the years. As we were driving back to the courthouse, we learned the jury had reached a verdict: not guilty on all charges. Whatever comes next in regards to policy, the construction of walls, or militarization of our lands, we will not stop the work of mercy and compassion, of restoring the truth of our living relationships with one another. It’s worth it because we belong to one another. It’s worth it even if we are imprisoned. It’s worth it—as Jesus demonstrated—even if the powers and principalities, the empires and the state, put us to death. Jesus will be born again, embodying the vulnerability of a baby in the arms of migrant woman.
Tracy Howe Wispelwey is Minister for Congregational & Community Engagement for the United Church of Christ.