Last week, I made a quick trip to Arizona, and an even quicker trip down to the Mexico border. I was a keynote speaker for the Disciples of Christ Regional Assembly in Tucson, and some of the regional leaders planned a Friday morning drive down to Nogales where we would cross the border on foot, visit our partner church, pray and serve communion with those waiting to cross into the U.S., and then cross back over. Some of that worked out. Some of it didn’t. Here is a photo essay of our day.
Road trip! This is my friend Owen. I’ve known him since college. He is now the senior pastor at Saguaro Christian Church, Tucson. Don’t know how two Kentucky kids wound up being such Arizona people? It takes a lotta sunscreen. But here we are.
Crossing from Nogales, Ariz., into Nogales, Mexico, you walk through a turnstile. We were waved through—nobody looked at our passports and we didn’t have to send our bags through the security screening.
Homeland Security recruiting signs, on the U.S. side. But just barely.
After crossing the border on foot, we took cabs to visit our DOC brothers and sisters at Comunidad Familiar Cristiana Nogales. I was here 10 years ago when the building was only about half finished. The group I was with had gone down to visit and “help.” However, my contributions were limited. I was about three months pregnant—not showing yet, but when the church members there found out, one of the men came over and literally took the shovel from my hands (I was mixing concreted) and made me go sit down. For the rest of that trip, the church ladies were just feeding me constantly. It wasn’t the worst thing. In any case, it was cool to come back, a decade later, and see what a labor of love it has been to build this church and ministry.
The front looks like a church, but the laundry drying in the side yard makes it feel much more like a home. Which it is, to many people. (Left: the Rev. Richie Sanchez, Interim Regional Minister, CCDOC in Arizona).
This worship space was a dirt floor with the beginnings of walls—and no roof—last time I was here. Pastor Elias (right) tells us about their ministry. Much of their outreach involves offering food, water and shelter to those who are waiting to cross the border, or waiting for family members. He talked about the “break in the waves,” when they can’t help every person or every family in need, but they help those who come to their door, and then they help a few more. This church has a tremendous gift for hospitality, as I’ve experienced firsthand. Pastor Ailsa Gonzalez (FCC Tucson) translated.
This room was the worship space while the sanctuary was under construction. It now feels a lot like church camp. Traveling families often sleep here.
Our delegation with some community members, the pastor, and his wife.
The church has one heck of a view. This is taken from their back porch, looking out over the city of Nogales.
We prayed for the church’s leaders before heading back to the border.
We took the same cabs back to the border (the drivers had waited on us) and planned to have a brief communion service before crossing back over. However, the line was three hours long. It is always long in the morning, but usually thins out by afternoon. However, we hadn’t counted on the huge crowd for Dia de los Muertos. We did some quick math —a three-hour wait, a two-hour drive, the Regional Assembly starting at 6:00 … And we had, in our group: the keynote speaker (me); the Regional Minister; both pastors of the host congregation; and various members of the regional leadership team. Recognizing that many people wait for hours—even days—to cross this border, we struggled with how easily we were able to just change plans. The inherent privilege of being able to take a cab to the next town over and easily cross there was not lost on us. But in the interest of time, that’s what we opted to do.
We did have our communion service at the other port of entry, before we went back. Left to right: the Rev. David Hedgepath, Community Christian Church of Marana; the Rev. Owen Chandler and the Rev. Kelley Dick, Saguaro Christian Church; and the Rev. Ailsa Gonzales, First Christian, Tucson. We prayed for families crossing over, that they might find safety, comfort and the welcome of family. We prayed that we might learn to make bigger tables, and to welcome the refugee, the immigrant and the stranger when they come to our door.
It goes without saying, doesn’t it, that the white people in our group passed through with only a brief passport check. Those of Mexican origin were held up a bit longer. I believe this picture says it all: the “welcome” wrapped in barbed wire.
Once you cross over to the American side, everything starts to look less like a prison and more like a National Park. Less barbed wire, more nicely manicured desert landscaping …
An artistic tribute to the pilgrimage, on “our” side of the wall. It struck an ironic chord with me, much like the barbed wire welcome.
Poet Luis Alberto Urrea says that borders are “liminal spaces”: not barriers, but places of beginnings and infinite possibility. It was a gift to be in this thin space, however briefly, with those who hope to cross over … into something like new life. They invite us into their lives so much more easily than we allow them into ours. I pray this nation of immigrants and others might learn to extend the hospitality we are so graciously shown when we travel across borders. And that we can learn to see our physical boundaries as the holy places of possibility that they really are.