On October 20th, 2019, Coracle sent a team of 12 people on a 10-day pilgrimage, to “take a journey with God, to meet God, together.” We traveled south to Guatemala for several days, then north via Mexico to the border cities of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The purpose behind our journey was to discover why thousands of brothers and sisters every year make this same journey, albeit under very different conditions.
Even to say others are making a journey is an understatement. In truth, they are fleeing their homes as a last resort, leaving behind their families, their cultures and their people to seek refuge and justice because they have exhausted all other options. From some, we heard stories of economic poverty, trying to support their family on the equivalent of $10 a week. Mother and father decide together that the only way to support their children is for one to leave, perhaps taking an older child along, promising to be back as soon as possible with enough money to provide for their most basic needs. For others, it’s a story of corruption and injustice, standing up for the defenseless to do what is right. Sadly, their brave efforts are not welcome, and bounties are put out for their heads. When they seek justice from their judicial systems, no help is given to them because corrupt judges won’t hear their cases fairly. So they flee to save their lives and the lives of their families, hoping someone will take up their cause. Years pass by, and each story that we hear reveals another person longing to be reunited with their home again.
We wondered what causes the poverty, corruption, and injustice we witnessed. And we learned. A thirst for power, greed, and pride; hard hearts that are not inclined to see all people for who they are: brothers and sisters created in the image of God. We saw these sins permeating not only Guatemala’s history, but also our own. In 1954, a US-backed military coup unseated the democratically elected president of Guatemala, leading to a 36-year civil war, funded in part by the US government. It is estimated that 200,000 were killed during the internal armed conflict and an additional 40,000 people “disappeared.” To this day the families of “los desaparecidos” still don’t know what happened to them. The violent and destabilizing effects of the civil war, and the poverty-generating effects of economic exploitation remain ever-present, and so families are fleeing.
From Guatemala, we traveled through Mexico to America’s southern border, ending up in El Paso, TX, the same place as many of those who flee. Here we walked along the border, prayed along the border, partook in the Eucharist along the border. We heard first-hand what those days were like when hundreds of asylum seekers were being dumped on the streets of El Paso by ICE because they had nowhere else to go with them and how the churches rallied with food and shelter and aid to get them to friends and family in the States. We met with Customs and Border Patrol officers to learn about their brave service and to hear how this story has unfolded from their perspective. We tried our best to learn about our outdated immigration policy, backlogged with paperwork, where children are all-too-often being asked to defend themselves in court with no representation. We were challenged by theologians to view the stories we grew up listening to in Sunday School from the perspective of the marginalized instead of the powerful and to see God’s kingdom with fresh eyes.
The story doesn’t stop there. Yes, Christ suffered, yes, Christ died, but yes, too, Christ lives again. And so there is pain but ultimately there is beauty and hope. There are people taking up the cause of the poor, the widow and the orphan.
We met saints who have lived their lives surrendered to God in order to bring redemption to their people. Fito and Nanci, who returned to the largest garbage dump in Central America to live amongst their people and be God’s love to them. Chouna, whose husband was “disappeared,” forcing her to raise her children alone, but who nevertheless set her “mind with God” and saved probably hundreds of lives during the armed conflict, at great personal risk of her own death. Father Stanley Rother, who literally spilled his blood for his sheep; now that very same blood still travels the towns and villages along Lake Atitilan to bring healing and hope. Gustavo, who grew up in El Paso/Cd Juarez, and who has been opening his arms and his heart to the refugees flooding his home, hearing their stories and sharing in their pain, offering them food and shelter.
And now as we have returned to our homes, we wonder how we can be part of this story of hope as well. The borderlands are not only in El Paso, they are here, in Northern VA/DC, in our own backyards. The refugees fleeing Guatemala, passing through El Paso/Cd Juarez are ending up here in our communities. Will the church stand with them when it seems that everyone else is abandoning them? Will we take up the cause of the oppressed? Will we allow God’s love to absorb this pain and evil through our lives and use it for good instead? Will we lament with our brothers and sisters in their heartbreak and vow to stand with them? Will we receive the gospel from them, acknowledging that we have much to learn from the depth and vibrancy of their faith? Will we let God transform our eyes to see the face of Jesus on every face we encounter, knowing each is precious in his sight? If God loves all the little children of the world, then we must too, and we will.
If you are interested in learning more about the Coracle team’s experience in Guatemala and at the US-Mexico border and what you could do to support the most vulnerable among our migrant neighbors, please join us on Nov. 6th from 7-9pm at Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, VA for a Soundings Seminar devoted to“Central America and the Border: A Christian Response“.