Much is given, and much will be required
At first when I heard one of the main focuses of my cross-cultural experience to Guatemala (with Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.) would be immigration, I have to admit, I was disappointed.
Living in my own bubble of routine in Lancaster County, Pa., I assumed that it was a problem that simply didn’t affect my loved ones or me. I felt like it was just another hot topic to debate and suck all the oxygen out of the room and was better off avoided. However, upon arrival in Mexico, I quickly learned how shallow and unloving my view had been. We visited border patrol offices, migrants, people who had been deported earlier the same day, lawyer offices, resource centers, detention centers, and read what felt like thousands of mission statements. Nearly all these visits were followed by uncomfortable questions, tears, and unanswered wonderings of “where is God?”
One particular evening we visited a migrant resource center on the Mexican side of the border. We ate dinner with the migrants and looking back our group was ill prepared to do so. I, along with many other students, came in with such selfish expectations and hopes of bettering my Spanish by talking to these migrants, listening to their stories, eating dinner, and having a good time. Eagerly we approached the men in small groups and conversations began. It didn’t take long for me to feel uncomfortable.
These men were clearly weary, discouraged and cautious about sharing their story with Americans. Some of the men couldn’t speak Spanish or English, others begged for money we weren’t permitted to give, and still others sat sullenly alone and disengaged. I felt myself becoming frustrated with our leader for bringing us here; it was killing my good mood. All of a sudden I felt ashamed and realized several things.
For one thing, I was only there to take. I wanted to take with me connections, stories of people, and pride that I could communicate with people in Spanish. I finished the second half of the evening with a more intentional purpose. To offer myself. I prayed that God would lead me to give humbly. Shortly after, a man in his 20s approached me and we began talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken in English. Soon the conversation shifted and he began telling his story. I offered an attentive ear as he shared about how when he was 6 his mother crossed the border illegally with him and his younger brother. Alejandro explained that they fled to Wisconsin and settled into a life there. He explained that he only knows enough Spanish to place an order at Taco Bell and that he has lived his entire life in the United States. Earlier that week he was driving home from work and was pulled over for having a taillight out. He was deported that same night and was unable to say goodbye to his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
With tears in his eyes he whispered that he only wanted his wife to know he was OK and trying to get back to her. He pointed out a few other men, and declared that he was going to cross the border with them tomorrow. When I asked him if he was afraid, he looked pained and responded that only a fool wouldn’t be terrified. He emphatically repeated that he was scared. He knew his risks. He knew that it was very likely that he could die in the desert, run out of water, be killed by a cartel, get caught by Border Patrol, or get lost. When I asked him if he was sure he wanted to this, he looked me in the eye and said “I have to get back to my family. Wouldn’t you? They are all I have.”
It made me uneasy to be able to travel back and forth between Arizona and Mexico with such fluidity and in half an hour compared to the days, weeks or months that so many other children of God spend in the desert attempting to cross. It is something hundreds die trying to do. The truth is, I have no idea why I was born in a country that so many thousands are dying trying to reach. I do not know why I have a job, a comfortable house, and a family living reasonably close together. I do not understand why I have the opportunities that so many will never have.
I am, however, certain that God has not given these material gifts and experiences to me rather than some of these hurting people in Mexico or Guatemala because of the depth of my faith, power of my prayers, or the connections I have. I can be confident that if I do take advantage of these opportunities and experiences before me, Jesus will not call me blessed. As Scott Dannemiller brilliantly points out in his article “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” Jesus will call me burdened. He will ask, “What will you do with it?” “Will you use it for yourself?” “Will you use it to help?” “Will you hold it close for comfort?” “Will you share it?” So many choices and so few easy answers.”
So my prayer today is twofold. First it is that I may extend my focus beyond myself and my own problems and see more of the world: its beauty and its pain. I also pray that I may understand my true blessing. It is not my house, my citizenship or even anything that I can call mine. My blessing is that I believe in a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I trust in a God who is active and longs to rescue his people. I serve a God who brings peace and justice to turmoil and fear. I know a God who comforts the heavyhearted and shares their load. I praise a God who loves his creation with a passionate strength. And I know a God who has blessed me with this some of this same power. Blessed all of us with it. And for this, may our response always be like Samuel. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Andrea King is a junior elementary education major at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. She shared this at her home congregation, Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church.
Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.