I have been a part of the Evangelical church my entire life but previously, the season of Advent has not really held much significance to me. In my adult life, I have understood Advent on a very shallow level – the world is a mess but we celebrate because hope is on the horizon. However, the more time I spend at our southern border, engaging the reality of Central American asylum seekers in Tijuana, the more the concept of Advent comes to life.
Hopeful expectation in the midst of trauma. Joy in the midst of chaos and sorrow.
On my last visit to Tijuana, I had the profound privilege to visit the main camp of migrants and join in on a community art project. It was Advent in art. Just about every person participating did some kind of art around where they have come from, the journey they have been on, and where they are hoping to go.
One young man, Manuel, gave me his painting, pictured above, and asked me to share it with the people I know so they would know he is a good person.
It says, “I miss you & love you mom & dad. But don’t worry about me. God loves you.”
It wrecked me. He was a living embodiment of Advent. He’s so present in the pain: the reality of being separated from his family, sleeping outside for months, and being so close to the goal, but yet still so far, and through it all, still holding tight to hope.
Hope is the most profound gift we are given as Christians. We know that no matter how terrible our circumstances are, there is always hope of healing in Christ. There is no promise of a life without suffering…in fact, suffering is the very thing that leads us to hope. There is no other explanation for Manuel’s hope than Jesus.
During the same visit, a friend asked me to deliver a duffle bag of supplies to the shelter. When I found the donation distribution center, I was surprised to see a few young women from the caravan helping to organize the donations. I gave them the bag and when one of the young women opened it, her face completely lit up. She was so excited because the donations were hygiene products for men. She said that they do not have enough items for men and this is something that they really needed.
This woman was rejoicing, despite her obvious pain, because of something received that she would not be able to benefit from in anyway. She rejoiced because someone else would experience a little bit of extra humanity that night. If that’s not a picture of pure selfless love, than I have no idea what is.
Joy is a tricky thing. Joy is not happiness. It’s not glee or ecstasy. It’s a deep rooted understanding of what’s to come. A deep rooted understanding of being in the center of God’s will. Doing what’s hard and beautiful and necessary and heartbreaking all at once. Joy has come over me in the weirdest times. It’s come over me when I’ve spent time with children in immigration detention. When our foster son left us to go back to his mom. When I was being arrested for praying in the halls of Congress. When I was doing art with a bunch of migrant kids who are literally in the middle of incredible trauma.
Joy and hope don’t make sense to the world and they aren’t found where you think they should be. I was reminded of that when I talked with Manuel and saw the face of the women sorting donations.
The world wants to see these migrants as a burden, dangerous, dirty, violent…but I see them as teachers. Teachers of selflessness. Teachers of steadfastness. Teachers of hope. Teachers of joy. Teachers of Advent.
I count it a true blessing to have been in the sacred space of a migrant caravan shelter and to have met people who pointed me towards a deeper relationship with Jesus.
This Christmas will be one where I do my best to engage fully the concept of Advent- where I hold the joy, the pain, the hope, the suffering all at once. And I do it all with a deep sense of gratitude.