Love Knows No Borders: Reflections for Advent
1. This week I’ve been at the border. The border between two countries. The border between life and death. The borders as they tangle and weave through our lives and our hearts. Because our southern neighbors are also ourselves and our beloveds.
2. Advent. In many Christian faith communities we are in a moment in the church calendar where we tell a story of a holy family in a life-changing moment, searching for a place that will welcome them in, that will make room for them, that will provide a place where new life can burst forth with a fighting chance. The circumstances were complicated. They were messy. They were full of the entanglement of earthiness and the divine. And in this season, we recognize that sometimes life brings us to doors on which we have to knock. And we both grieve the need and celebrate the generosity of making room.
This week I was with sacred people at our southern border. People who, at the end (or beginning) of a long journey, are waiting: waiting to get a number, waiting for their turn for their number to be called, waiting for a fighting chance for a place to land and at life itself, waiting for a door to be opened, for someone to make room for them. And some, like Mother Mary, are nearing their time to give birth. One shelter alone told us that there are 47 pregnant women currently staying there. The circumstances are complicated. They are messy. They are full of the entanglement of earthiness and the divine.
This is our story. And over the next few days, I’m going to share some of the stories I heard this week from our southern neighbors.
There is a knock at our door. And I am thinking a lot this advent season about what it means to make room.
3. Linda (in Tijuana), a shelter manager full of weariness and ferocity, graciously sitting with us but with an unmasked wariness of what kind of "helpers" we might be shared a dagger: 'a little while ago when people were teargassing people from the caravan, rubber bullets came all the way to our doorstep. The children were terrified.'
Children are waiting for a home place.
4. We talked to a man whose name I don’t know one morning near the line by the red tent where people come every morning at 6:00am to see if their number will be called for an asylum interview. We saw him there every day. And he told us this particular morning, with fire and beseeching in his eyes, the story full of many painful details of following all of the processes lined out for him by US policies. He paid his fees. He followed the rules. And because of a mistake in communication and an oversight on a US official’s part, his hopes were cancelled. “I’ve lost my wife, my kids, my job, my life and I followed the rules. I followed the process and the process didn’t work. Tell me who is going to take responsibility for this, for their mistake?”
Waiting. A voice crying out from the wilderness.
5. In one of the shelters there was a Christmas tree, much like in many churches and businesses right now, both decorated for the holidays and with cards from the children living there with their wishes for Christmas carefully written on them. The idea behind trees like this one is that kind-hearted people will take a card and help to make that child’s wish come true. Today, 12/17, is the day the exchange is supposed to happen at this shelter. Today, as part of the kick off to Las Posadas, the celebration commemorating the journey that Mary and Joseph made to find room, a safe place, a refuge where Mary might give birth to new life. And the wishes on these children’s cards: “I want them to call my number” (to have the asylum interview), “I want to be with my brother and sister in the US.” Card after card, in essence: I want a safe place to find home with the people I love. Now.
Voices looking for room.
6. We met Carlos and Paulo outside of a large government run shelter where they were staying. Some of us had been at this shelter the previous day but on this particular morning, the authorities would not let us in, even those toting official IDs that they themselves had issued. Seeing that we had been turned away, Paulo and Carlos walked up to us saying, “this is our place. We can organize to get you in.”
We talked with these brave and bold teenagers with hard-earned wisdom beyond their years for the rest of the morning. They shared about the dynamics of connections among the caravan community, which they had been a part of since its beginning, now split up in dozens of different shelters around the city. They talked about the realities and challenges of communicating and organizing to meet the real needs. Paulo, toe to toe with us, expressed, “there are many women and children here without sponsors who need churches and people to give them a place to stay, food to eat. If we set a day for a meeting you could come and we can talk and you can tell us what you can actually do. Sometimes people come and make promises and...”
Waiting. Waiting for help to be real help. Planning. Organizing. More waiting.
7. Carlos (who we met yesterday with his friend Paulo), standing outside of the shelter where he was staying, his ID card around his neck indicating his name, birthdate, country of birth, and given ID number, looked over his shoulder at the shelter and then into our eyes and said, “it’s like we’re in prison. And this prison is like our prisons at home that we fled. And,” he paused briefly, “it’s probably like the prisons across the border.” We all took a quick, sharp, silent breath. Then, he continued, “I don’t know if I can live in a prison.” Carlos is 18 years old.
Waiting. And for what?