Two weeks ago I found myself on the US/ Mexico border. For a handful of days I met with ministries and nonprofits on both sides whose entire love and attention goes to families and individuals affected by the crude wall that separates these countries.
As I think back on those days, my mind and heart begin to swirl with all the information, stats, arguments and facts we researched and saw for ourselves. All this content followed us as we crossed back and forth over the border each day. It followed us as we met with border patrol agents to talk about what their job is like, as we shared a meal with families preparing to cross the border within the coming days, and while we listened to men and women share how they give their time and money to protect families that are threatened by the violence and economic deficiencies within Mexico.
Lets just say I took a whole lot of notes while I was there so that I didn’t forget all the information being tossed my way.
*A picture of actual hand prints and footprints of people who have already climbed the wall to cross over to the United States.
I felt like a sponge in the ocean.
And yet, there was one moment from my journey that stuck with me the most.
Just a thin moment.
Thin moments: “Where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin…where we can sense [God] more readily.”
On this day, we met with a group from a recovery center in Mexico where men and women can come to receive counseling and medical help for their addictions. It was a kind place, full of hope. After touring their facility, we jumped into our vehicles and rode off into the desert with water barrels ready to be distributed.
Every 10 days or so, this group drives around an hour out into the desert to fill water barrels in some of the most dangerous areas where migrants are known to be trekking through on their way to the border.
Side note, the US/ Mexico border is not a full wall that covers from Texas to California. The actual wall is built mostly where towns and main roads are. The Government’s hope is that the wall directs migrants away from cities and roads, into the desert where either they will die or give up. Not exactly humane.
In the back of a pickup truck, squeezed beside a water barrel, I rode with some of my housemates and Jose*, a man from the recovery center. During the hour-long ride we talked about why we were there and parts of our stories in Mixed Spanglish. And then Jose told us his:
Jose was born in Mexico, but no matter how hard he worked he couldn’t get enough money to pay his bills each month. Economic depression in Mexico and unfair business deals with the US make it nearly impossible to scrape by financially. He crossed the border and lived in Los Angeles for a large chunk of his life. He got married and had several kids. Suddenly, with no warning, he was deported back to Mexico. The country he barely remembered. He was separated from his ex-wife, children, and extended family abruptly, with no time to plan. “I think that is why I did those drugs,” Jose said. “I was lonely. I was very alone.” Months later, Jose is recovering well, using his extra time to see this all as a second chance and to love on others who are like him when he was a migrant.
It was the first time I had spent time listening to someone share their story of deportation. And it was heartbreaking. He was the most courageous, kind man, and I saw so much of my Dad in him.
After setting up the water barrels, we eventually made it to the wall. To get there we took a trail that is used by many migrants in that area to get to the wall undetected. Though, we were seen and were followed by a US Border Patrol helicopter for most of our half-hour hike–but that is another story.
*This is a view of the trail we took to get to the wall.
As we stood by the wall, listening to stories and being given more information, I witnessed the beautiful, thin moment. I had watched Jose for awhile after we got to the wall.
What would it be like to stand beside the barrier that tauntingly separates you from your entire family?
He shuffled back and forth for most of our time at the wall, not really listening to our conversation and not really getting too close to the wall. Suddenly he picked up a rock and stood about 20 feet from the wall.
He stared at it for awhile.
He lightly tossed the rock up and down a few times.
And then, with a good amount of force, he threw the rock straight at the wall.
There was a giggle and a flash of a smile from him. Then he walked away and never looked back at the wall the rest of the time we were there.
Such bitterness and playfulness mingled in that moment of him throwing the rock; I could feel the tension of it all. And it all became very real and deeply rooted into my heart. There were no “aha!” moments or solutions that came to me in that holy moment. But my heart was shaped and deeply transformed. I saw how my life and Jose’s were tied together in this lifetime, though our two worlds look very different. I saw bitterness, hope, anger, relief, and courage at the same instant. And it was beautiful.
What other way is there to experience Scripture and truth than in those moments and in God’s peoples’ lives?
I will probably never know how Jose’s story unfolds and ends, but I do know that a lot of his life has been unfair. And though it is hard for me to understand because of my privilege, my hope is that this thin moment has given me (and maybe others) a new lens to see through. That we can hear and learn from people different than us in a very real and deep ways.
“For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:14
*Name has been changed for safety and privacy purposes
Photo cred to Grace Dover and Tyler Schrock