Reflections from the South Texas Borderland Tour

May 16, 2019 by

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Kathy Neufeld Dunn joined others from Western District Conference on a borderlands learning tour May 6-10 sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee Central States and supported by the WDC Immigration Task Force.

I left with a lot of black-and-white self-righteous anger and certainty. I return with “a heart strangely warmed,” as John Wesley once wrote, and a whole lot more room for gray in my own categories of who’s right and who’s wrong, of who’s kind and who’s cold-hearted, and of where Jesus might show up.

I left assuming that all white city, state and federal workers wanted all asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants gone, or at least out of their sight, so they wouldn’t have to deal with “those people.” Instead, I heard an immigration judge who was following the law, but also speaking as one human to another to undocumented immigrants who were caught crossing the border illegally. He said to one Central American mother who was trying to join her husband and children in the States, “You are in a very hard place. Of course a mother will try to join her children, yet you broke the law. I’m going to do something I very rarely do. I’m giving you only probation and time served.” It meant she wouldn’t be behind bars for her illegal action. It also meant she wouldn’t get to join the rest of her family. Yet, this judge showed human kindness in speaking with her.

We also listened to an inspiring narrative of a woman “just doing her job” as an emergency services manager for her city bus station in a border town in Texas. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents regularly hold asylum seekers in detention for 48-72 hours, then drop them off at either a non-profit organization like Catholic Charities where they can get a shower, a meal, a clean change of clothes and a bus ticket, but sometimes they just drop them off directly at the bus station by the hundreds without transportation plans. The emergency services manager went to her boss and said, “We have to do something for these people. They’re hungry. They don’t have clean diapers for their babies. They don’t have a way to even make a phone call, let alone have the money to buy a bus ticket.” So, she and her coworkers called everyone they knew who works with people in need and they put together a compassionate way to respond. Now asylum-seeking people who are on their way to be with family get snacks. Their babies get diapers. Their toddlers get coloring books and crayons. They also get to call family or friends to pay for their bus (or plane) tickets and to tell them their whereabouts. All because one woman said, “We have to do something!” Who’s paying for this? The city and those who donate to assist those who are passing through to safety.

I assumed that all Mexican and Central American migrants supported each other. I listened to an immigrant who’s lived in the States for quite a few years be incredibly angry that he had accidentally “aided and abetted” an undocumented migrant. “How could my [colleague] do that to me? Why did she ask me to give a job to a family member without papers? Why couldn’t that man just do things legally like I did? Yeah, it took a lot of years, but I did it legally!” This man is also a close friend and fellow church member of one of our MCC learning tour leaders.

Some media would have us believe that all Mexicans are drug runners who commit sexual assault. Instead, we heard the courageous story of two Mexican Mennonite pastors who have been standing up nonviolently and in the power of Christ to those who had become part of the drug cartels. There are many who are so afraid of those in the cartels that it’s become easy to coerce others to do as the cartel leaders want, whether through violence or “gifts.” Not these faithful pastors. The cartel leader came to the church and said they would be happy to offer “a gift of money to the church.” These pastors saw through them. “No, it would not be a gift. We do not want your money.” The man came back later, saying, “No one’s ever told me no. I want to know about Jesus.” So, the pastors invited him to be involved in the church. And he and his family did until it became unsafe for him to, then he fled. The pastors and their people continue to follow the way of Jesus, even in dangerous situations.

To sum up, I expected to see Jesus in the faces of young, scared asylum-seeking parents and very tired kids, and I did. I also saw Jesus in the faces and stories of compassionate civil servants, angry immigrant attorneys, judges who are humane and seemingly conflicted fellow immigrants. Wherever there is love, there Jesus puts in an appearance. Wherever love is, it’s not as black and white as I thought.

Kathy Neufeld Dunn is Western District Conference associate conference minister (Kansas-based). This reflection first appeared in Sprouts, WDC’s weekly email communication.


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