This Saturday I am joining 150 others on a 12+ hour experiential learning day in Tijuana among the migrant caravan. Our day has been designed to first simply be with the migrants themselves, to meet them in person rather than through news media sound bites and video clips. We will hear individual stories and share a meal with them. I expect to again discover that we have a lot in common: dreams, fears, concern for our families, and a longing for home. We will hear from the local Mexican church leaders who have been working around the clock to coordinate with government agencies and setting up more shelters for the thousands whom the current overflowing shelters can’t take in. These local boots-on-the-ground leaders will share their insiders view of what’s going on, particularly with their own politicians and the constantly shifting policy and relief effort landscape.
It is not lost on us that we are spending this day during the Christian holiday season of Advent which celebrates Jesus coming into the world. In this sacred story, his parents Joseph and Mary were travelling far from their home because of the Roman empire’s decree to take a census of all of their subjects. “Posada” is the Latino Christmas tradition of re-enacting their search for a safe place to stay, being turned away over and over but finally being allowed to rest in a barn overnight. In that lowest of places thought unfit for more honored guests, God was birthed into our world. Not long after, Joseph, Mary, and newborn Jesus had to escape at night from there to save their child’s life from slaughter. They were migrants turned refugees. On Saturday, there will be groups on the San Diego side and the Tijuana side of the border wall taking part in a coordinated Posada together.
It is not lost on me that I personally am in a long arc of transition and searching for my own home—a place of welcome and belonging where my clear sense of vocation and ministry vision can thrive. Like Mary, I am pregnant with that vision: heavy, excited, uncomfortable, full of faith and questions, impatient to get this thing out of me and into the world. I relate to her and to these travelers whom I will meet on Saturday.
“Messy Middle” is a phrase I have coined for the dynamic stance I am learning to take in topics and places of conflict. I am committed to be a peacemaker who works to understand both sides, to authentically connect with members from opposing views. Forging partnerships from former enmities is my goal. But it does not mean pacifying or agreeing with demands to smooth over conflict. For example, in this very complex arena of immigration and asylum policy, I am not a fan of brushing aside current US or Mexican law and allowing in anyone who wants entry to either country, no questions asked. Not at all. That could be dangerous or at the very least chaotic. But laws are meant to change with conditions and culture; laws need an overhaul when they can’t keep up or we’ve outgrown their usefulness or we realize a law violates human rights. That’s totally normal in so many parts of life, right? Rules and laws change. Parents reset bedtimes as kids get older; minimum wage laws get updated with inflation; speed limits increased as cars got faster. It seems our immigration system is overdue for an upgrade. But updating immigration law requires careful systemic thought; it should not happen overnight or in reaction to fear. How are we to respond during that long process?
Saturday will be a time of learning what solidarity means. Mexican faith leaders have repeatedly said they do not want charity, however well-intentioned. What the asylum-seekers most need from us is solidarity. How will we do that this Saturday and beyond? In its simplest form, solidarity means to see the migrants as fellow human beings, as equals. Treat them the way we each would want to be treated: deserving of respect and dignity, and having vital expertise about their situation (vs those of us outside of it making decisions without their input). When I give charity, it comes from a place of unequal power: I retain control as the one with resources to give what I decide to those without resources. There’s a sense of safe distance from the risks of personal relationship. Solidarity means to draw close, to see the other person as someone with resources too, even if they lack basic things like food and shelter. It means standing on a level plane of equal and shared power. Again, it doesn’t mean agreement on everything. As Arlie Hochschild said in a recent On Being podcast, “Caring is not the same as capitulating.” But it does mean striving to listen, learn, and understand.
How you can be part of what’s happening at the San Diego-Tijuana border:
- Pray! For compassion, patience, wisdom on all sides. For a longterm solution to this repeated pattern of families fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.
- Ignore the fear-mongering from politicians. They are playing us.
- Some ideas for sharing the migrants’ current experience: eat a simple meal of beans and rice, or don’t eat for a day; sleep outside on the ground with no tent; shower using only cold water.
- Get curious about the bigger picture, the longer storyline of why these caravans keep happening. This one is not the first, won’t be the last, and is no different from the ones that happened in 2016, 2014, and many previous. It has simply gotten more attention from the current US administration depicting them as a dire threat in need of military action. But frankly, there are a bunch of factors that have contributed to this pattern, including our own (US) involvement in Central American countries’ governments and trade. Here are some resources that shed light from bigger perspectives:
- Here is a thoughtful editorial from a Christian author about legal asylum seeking: https://townhall.com/columnists/matthewsoerens/2018/11/09/the-central-american-caravanners-should-have-a-right-to-plead-their-case-n2535657fbclid=IwAR1WiXWc0XsVEk4lyFkNhCXVM5r0cyLPnov6FTFwrjyPS1TrU9EITsdzXrw
- Donate to The Global Immersion Project’s Borderlands Fund, created specifically for this crisis. TGIP is an experienced nonprofit that I respect and am learning so much from.
Follow my experience as I share about the Posada and my next steps of involvement as I roll up my sleeves as a new peacemaker here. I will be posting on my website: www.ryahvida.com as well as Facebook and Instagram.
Thank you for your support in this next chapter of my deepening life and ministry here at the border!