by Christina Foor
One beautiful piece of the Gospel is how God weaves together stories of people from all different backgrounds. In a small migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico, people from several divergent worlds gathered together – Cuban asylum seekers, college students from both sides of the border, several ministers from El Paso and Juarez-and worshipped God in one voice without walls and borders.
In that moment, now sealed in our hearts, we recognized the shared humanity and love for God we all had. We were just one piece of this bigger story God was inviting us into.
In July, our InterVarsity San Antonio Urban Program team went down to El Paso for a border immersion experience through Abara, an initiative of our CCDA partner Ciudad Nueva. Throughout the experience, we asked students (11 Asian American InterVarsity students from colleges around Texas) to capture their raw emotions and thoughts as they engaged with the migrant crisis from multiple perspectives.
They were challenged intellectually and spiritually through learning about the basics of immigration issues, law, and the push factors affecting communities and countries in Central America. Experientially, they visited migrant shelters on each side of the border, partnered with Preemptive Love to make backpacks filled with provisions for asylum seekers awaiting their court dates, and visited the border wall multiple times–interacting with both border patrol and families on the other side of the fence.
In just one week of being proximate to the crisis, the sensationalized news and fear rhetoric we’ve all become accustomed to slowly withered away as we examined the walls we put up in our own hearts, the borders we artificially create between us and the “other”, and how these concepts manifest themselves viscerally at a literal border wall fence in El Paso.
As we encountered injustice, Jesus tore down the walls in our hearts:
Samuel Ma, student at University of Texas in Austin
“The bad that I saw took place within my own heart yesterday. Growing up privileged and far from the border, immigration was the least of my concerns. As we approached the border wall, I didn’t know what to expect out of it, and my heart posture approached it with an almost romanticized view, that it’s gonna be so cool to be at the border. I quickly realized how wrong I was to approach it in this way, as the border wall was a symbol of the divisiveness and pain that’s in our world.”
The implications of the Gospel were enlarged and the borders we artificially create between us and the “other” were challenged:
Boyun Sul, student at University of Texas-Dallas
“It wasn’t until I was looking at this huge, disturbing metal wall that my heart began to break. This verse from Ephesians 2:14 was echoing in my head, “For he himself is our peace, who made us both on and has broken down in His flesh, the dividing wall of hostility”… Human beings, who are so scared and self-centered to the point where they would rather put up walls than welcome the foreigner. I wondered if we were really trying to help people “out” or if we were just trapping ourselves in our toxic and selfish ways of thinking.
Didn’t Jesus die so that we no longer had to build these walls? Why did we continue to raise up barriers when reconciliation was given to us through Jesus’ death?…I’ve seen that despite the circumstances, God’s hope never fades. Staff at Ciudad Nueva told us that the immigrants had some of the most admirable and strongest faiths they had ever seen. This gave me tremendous hope – God is with the foreigner, even if our nation isn’t.”
Perhaps one of the greatest privileges we had was seeing a Mark 8 Bible study come to life – seeing people “lose their lives to save it” – as we witnessed believers powerfully following Jesus into places of division, death and persecution to experience life.
Taylor Kirby, director of SAUP
“Today, we toured one of the shelters run by Annunciation House. Inside an old warehouse, they have made a hospitable place for migrants and asylum seekers with walls decorated by local artisans and smiling faces of volunteers walking alongside new arrivals. It was beautiful to see people embody the church as they welcomed immigrants, many who were their brothers and sisters in Christ. As Chris, on staff there, told us the history of Annunciation House, a wave of emotion overcame me. Annunciation House has aided hundreds of thousands over the years and is one of the most established shelters here…and it came from a Bible study. A group of people studied God’s word and they wanted to live out the Kingdom of God.”
In addition to the incredible ways these ministers of the Gospel showed God’s love, witnessing the resilient, open, and hospitable love of the migrants we visited was so humbling to experience:
Caitlin Lee, student at Texas A&M University
“God showed me what it looks like to serve selflessly through the hospitality and kindness of the migrants. It made me realize that serving others can be done anywhere, anytime, always. I need to stop making excuses for myself to not serve others and give up my comfort zone.”
With the stories, relationships and names of asylum seekers on our hearts, we returned to San Antonio, TX determined to engage. Our experience knocked down the walls of privilege, fear, misunderstanding, and stereotypes. It left us with motivation to influence our networks in an effort to change their narratives and practically respond. In addition to continued learning, we:
- called our representatives,
- wrote letters to the editor of our local newspapers, and
- attended a prayer vigil in San Antonio for asylum seekers.
No longer were we alone in advocacy; instead our relationships with the migrants we had met resided in our hearts and fueled us to engage politically and in our communities.
Our time in El Paso reminds us that ultimately our security is in the Lord, that He provides when we feel like our resources are overstretched, and that in taking care of others, He takes care of us. Jesus chose a posture of welcome on the cross – at the greatest risk, which was His life: He welcomed us into His family when we essentially could not “cross His borders”–excluded from the presence of God without the proper atonement for our unholiness.
One week of intentionally examining walls and borders in our hearts, communities, and nation was risky, hard, and often uncertain…but our eyes were finally opened to a shared humanity and the beautiful weaving of otherwise divergent stories by God. He was inviting us into his story of welcome. He has always been welcoming the foreigner and is compelling us to do the same.