Posada Reflections

[Fighting a few rounds of a Christmas cold slowed me down in getting this post out–  but it also provided time for the Posada experience to deepen, to ripen further.  Refresh your memory with my previous post as I anticipated this meaningful day. ]

My Dec. 15th Posada experience in Tijuana cannot be captured in words, however descriptive or eloquent.  I hope that by sharing these images and thoughts you can get at least a small taste of the sights, sounds, feelings, stories, and questions I encountered.  Below is a mix of photos, some with captions, from the Global Immersion Project photographer (aka the good pics) and from my humble smart phone (um, you’ll know which ones!).

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The day began early, but I had already chosen to wear Mom’s earrings which I received last October when she died. Mom was always interested in other cultures, was the Chair of her church’s Missions Committee, and had herself traveled to Zimbabwe and India to visit missionaries and serve as a nurse. I wanted her with me.

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I was one of a 150 person group where we each carried a requested item across the border to donate to the refugees in the shelter we would be visiting.  It felt like a small thing in the face of such need, but along with the tent or sleeping bag we also brought faith that while the material item would help a few, our desire for relationship and understanding would impact many.

As we traveled to the migrant shelter, local Mexican leaders drew our attention to what we could see outside our windows:  poor neighborhoods, affluent homes, open lots with rows of tents for the overflow from the shelters. “Cardboard town” was heartbreaking: a wild mishmash of discarded wood, tarps, sheet metal, cardboard all cobbled together into desperate little hovels for those living in Tijuana on the edge of homelessness.  It stretched unbelievably for blocks. Yet our local guide Alejandra emphasized this message:

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In other words, relationship as equals, not the power differential of charity.

At the shelter we heard the stories of courageous people.  First, we heard the backstory of this particular place: it was in a small, humble church where the pastor felt convicted in 2016 during the last migrant caravan of Haitians to use their space to provide care and security to as many immigrants as possible.  Though they easily could have joined the voices of their neighbors who felt they had problems enough of their own, everyone in this congregation got behind this vision of compassion and solidarity. Extending the  walls of their sanctuary with canvas, they built a rustic kitchen and private areas for families to have a sense of home, even if temporary.  There was no prerequisite of having a shared faith; everyone was welcome.

This next pic shows our speakers.  From the upper left, going clockwise: the pastor and Paulina, another shelter director; Abdiel a political history professor and Alejandra the area Intervarsity director, (Paulina again), and two Haitian immigrants, one a pastor. Each of them gave us a unique view into the back story of the caravan phenomenon, whether in a history lesson or their personal experience or the legal dilemma refugees find themselves in. 

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No photo can capture the courage, the resilience, or the extreme situations the migrants find themselves in back in their home countries.  A Honduran woman and her daughter are not pictured here: as they told the story of the girl being abducted for three days in their town, we saw them re-live their trauma. Tears, shaking, frozen looks conveyed the terror that made them flee.5.png

We were served a delicious lunch of tamales, beans, and pasta made by the migrants themselves! It was humbling to receive from them when I so wanted to do something for them.  An unexpected bonus for me was to be one of a dozen people getting a refresher in nonviolent intervention during our lunch break.  We wanted to be prepared for anyone trying to disrupt the Posada or intimidate participants. Each of us wore a bright green stole to quickly identify each other if needed. Thankfully there were no hot spots on our side (later we learned there were anti-immigrant protestors on the US side).

Carrying the migrants’ stories with us, we went to the border wall at Las Playas on the Tijuana side of Friendship Park, for the Posada event itself.  The program was all in Spanish (which I couldn’t always follow!) but I got the gist of it. 8.png E.g., here the local Catholic Bishop is reminding the crowd that Tijuana is a city of migrants— welcoming travelers is its lifeblood.  He called the residents back to that task, reminding them that they are children of immigrants themselves. A sobering moment was hearing the names read aloud of those who have died trying to cross the border.
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Silence was provided to pray and reflect. 

 

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Here you can see through the southern border wall to those on the US side worshipping with us.

 

I found my eye being drawn to images of children, over and over.  These are four teens in our group, peering through the border wall.  How did this experience shape these young hearts? Did they hear God’s tender heart for the migrant children so far from home, teens like themselves?

 

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What would it be like for a kid to walk hundreds of miles with her mom, or brother, or cousins not knowing where you would sleep each night?  How does a child understand that he won’t see his home or neighbors again? 20181215_154224-1

 

 

 

Close to the beach where the border wall goes into the ocean, an artist had provided paints and brushes for kids and adults to refresh the metal stakes with new images of hope, redemption, and dreams.

I added my own icon of an ocean wave: although the metal wall extended into the water 100 yards, the waves didn’t care. They washed onto the shores of both countries under the same sun.

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There were a dozen silhouettes of children painted bright colors and affixed to the wall. I was drawn to this little girl pointing to… a new friend? hope? danger?

As somber as the beginning of the Posada event was, it culminated in celebration.  As the tradition underscores, Mary and Joseph do find shelter.  They are welcomed with food, friendship, and fiesta! A huge cake was served to the hundreds of us there and a 7-man Mariachi band played crazy good Mexican music.

Friendship Park at Las Playas is a surprisingly colorful festive area with a number of public art pieces like this one:

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…but the nameless family fleeing with their child brings stark reality to the beauty.

 

 

They remind me of another family that had to get up and leave in the middle of the night to avoid the child’s killer.
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From the border wall we went to another shelter for our evening meal and debrief.  A Haitian refugee-turned-resident in Tijuana who had opened a Creole restaurant served an amazing dinner of spicy chicken and plantains. Again we were stunned at the hospitality of immigrants.  Our conversation focused on our experiences of the day, our questions, and especially what we were hearing God invite. We were invited to lament together, to grieve the pain, losses, and victimization of vulnerable families. Information on tangible next steps was provided: how to contact our government policy makers, ways to volunteer, nonprofits to support the ongoing work.  This was not the first migrant caravan, nor would it be the last.  We will recreate the same border crisis if there is not systemic change to the root causes in Central America in which the US has played a part for decades, and continues to.

My own pondering persists. For now I do know that I want to be more involved at a person-to-person level in this complex layered quagmire we label “immigration issues.”  I want that for a slew of reasons, but during this season of welcoming the Christ Child and leaning into a new year, this is core:  Jesus is found among the poor. As I follow God step by stumbling step in this new border life of mine, there is a winsome draw to sacred intimacy in surprising, disarming places.  I long for God, and God longs for me, in ways we will not together find in the safe arena of power and privilege.  This beautiful song is my mental soundtrack these days:

What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Helpless and hungry, lowly afraid,
Wrapped in the chill of mid-winter
Comes now among us, born into poverty’s embrace,
New life for the world

Who is this who lives with the lowly,
Sharing their sorrows,
Knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world
In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

Who is the stranger, here in our midst,
Looking for shelter among us?
Who is this outcast? Who do we see amidst the poor,
The children of God?

Who is this who lives with the lowly,
Sharing their sorrows,
Knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world
In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come Peasant, King to own Him
The King of Kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Bring all the thirsty, all who seek peace;
Bring those with nothing to offer,
Strengthen the feeble, say to the frightened heart:
“Fear not, here is our God!”.

Who is this who lives with the lowly,
Sharing their sorrows,
Knowing their hunger?
This is Christ, revealed to the world
In the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.
a child of the poor.
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

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