Greg Behrend, recent Seminary graduate, shares his team’s experiences on a border immersion program. Photos by Greg and Justin Rabbach.
Holy Week readings are a powerful tradition within the Moravian Church. They offer an opportunity to walk through scripture together at the end of our Lenten journey, following Christ from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. They remind us of the lessons Christ taught in the final days of his ministry.
This year, during Holy Week, a small group of Moravians found themselves in southern Arizona learning more about the realities of the USA-Mexico border. The trip, jointly initiated by the Board of World Mission and Moravian Theological Seminary, began on Palm Sunday and ended on Good Friday.
Our group met with individuals to study immigration policies, the impact they have and the stories of those affected. Those stories heard during the day, matched with the Holy Week readings at night, together led to a Holy Week journey of prayer and discernment that will not soon be forgotten.
Our team included members from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and North Carolina. We came together, as faithful followers of Christ, to learn more about the different ways in which we can be the hands and feet of Christ amidst the realities of immigration in the United States.
Part of our journey included actually walking in the Arizona desert where many immigrants have traveled over the years. We stood at the border in several locations and saw the variety of structures that mark where one land ends and another begins. We sat in a courtroom and watched the prosecution and sentencing of a number of immigrants who had been charged with criminal offenses for crossing the border without the proper documentation. We learned from leaders and community members living at the forefront of these issues about the social, economic and security issues driving immigration in the borderlands.
The question that I kept asking myself during our journey along the border was “where is God at work here?” There were many answers to this question; some were clear to see, others still remain clouded in my mind. As many people know, the issues surrounding immigration in the United States are very complex. As someone who wants to serve in some way it is difficult to decide where to begin, or who to reach out to first. As a Moravian, I feel like we always need to be working towards a solution that focuses on “we” rather than an “us and them.” Everyone involved with immigration policy—immigrants, activists, border patrol agents, people of the justice system, and everyday citizens of this country—all have the ability to work towards a better solution when it comes to how we approach immigration in the United States.
The largest takeaway from being on the ground, on the border, was that the solutions and viewpoints were not as black and white as the story we often see on television or online. We met activists who did not want an open, free flowing, border, but they also did not want there to be people dying of dehydration as they crossed through the desert. We met a sheriff of a border town who does not want drugs and guns to enter the U.S. across the border, but also recognized the amount of time, money and effort his officers spent enforcing some policies that have made things worse, not better for those who live along the border. We heard about immigrants who fled from violence in their home country, and others who crossed the border to try and reunite families.
The important thing for our group was to remind ourselves that we couldn’t fix everything in one day, even though that seemed to be our heart’s desire. Instead, we focused on small, tangible steps that could make a difference in the lives of individuals currently being impacted by our current immigration policies. One ministry we engaged in supplied essential provisions, such as food and water, for those migrating through the desert. The goal of this ministry is not to encourage individuals to migrate to the United States, but rather to provide sustenance of both body and spirit for those who have deemed it better to take the risk of immigrating, without proper documentation, into the United States. While many individuals (ourselves included) have joined in the efforts to provide water for people in the desert based on their perspective of how to serve people, there are many other individuals who take those supplies of water and dump out the contents so that the water is no longer available for consumption. Perhaps this is the epitome of the divide surrounding immigration in the United States. However, it is within these moments we must stretch our arms out towards one another rather than letting that divide further separate us, “for we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
The problem, our group came to understand, is whether these essential provisions are provided or destroyed, they are not going to change the issues that lie within the complexity of immigration to the United States. Nor is a concrete wall stretching nearly 2,000 miles long, or heightened border patrol along the border, going to solve the real issues that lead to thousands of people wanting to come to the United States for a variety of reasons like family dynamics, economic circumstances, violence in a current living situation, or more viable employment opportunities. It is because of this realization that members of our team are focused on caring for those who are currently being affected by immigration policies set forth by the United States and are continuing to find ways of how we as Moravians can work towards resolving the issues that are compelling individuals to migrate to the United States.
As our world continues to wrestle with issues of immigration, our group encourages Moravians everywhere to think a little deeper about how each of us can work together towards a better tomorrow. We also encourage individuals or groups to become further educated about the realities of the borderlands, and how we as a church might better serve the needs that are present there. The best way to do this is to go to the borderlands and see these realities firsthand. The Board of World Mission welcomes anyone interested in learning more about the issues of immigration or who want to journey to the borderlands to contact them at http://moravianmission.org/contact-us/
Gregory M. Behrend
My experience of our group trip to Tucson, Arizona has been both eye- and heart-opening. I have been working with many Hispanic immigrants in Winston-Salem for some years now, but, being able to walk their path along the border’s edge in the Arizona desert, I experienced a deeper level of what they go through to reach their “American Dream,” which has a different meaning for me now.
Most immigrants come to the U.S. for a better life either for themselves and/or their families, but hearing Hispanics’ stories on the limitations of returning to their countries has been a strong educational process.
Today, after having that experience, I would like to encourage my Christian family to be open and listen to immigrants’ stories; to be willing to present Christian love in the midst of fear that represents being in a new place/country; and to learn more about possible ways to help the immigrants in our own communities.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matt. 9:37) There is still much we can do as a church, as the body of Christ, to present faith that God is in the midst of trouble, hope that a better future is coming, and love to understand that we are all one in Christ.
Sitting next to a barbed wire fence in the Arizona desert, I had time to think, and lots of questions came to mind. I was surprised at how this could be the U.S./ Mexico border: a four foot barbed wire fence that looked more like a farm pasture in Wisconsin than something designating an international border. But, as we had walked up a creek bed to reach this point, I thought about how dangerous and trying the journey would be in order to cross here, dozens of miles from the nearest town. I was struck by a simple message written on the inside of a torn-open granola bar box. It was a message of thanks written by immigrants who came across food and water left in the desert by a volunteer group hoping to reduce the number of deaths by starvation and dehydration in the desert. Our group made this journey during Holy Week, each night returning to the readings for that day, reminding us time and again that Christ commands us to Love our Neighbor as ourselves.
There certainly were no easy answers to any questions we had about the reality at the border. Regardless of political position, I felt a strong conviction that above all, there was no need to have people suffer violence—and in some cases death—in the desert. As Christians, we remember the journey of God’s people in the desert. As Moravians, we celebrate the global impact that grew from a weary band of refugees—immigrants—welcomed onto the estate of a nobleman in Germany. My prayer is that these lessons can resonate with us, and compel us to action as a community of faith.
From the June/July 2017 Moravian Magazine