(Joey Haynes is Chaplain and Director of the Davies Center for Faith and Outreach at Queens University of Charlotte and serves as Youth Coordinator for Park Road Baptist Church. He shared his reflections on his recent trip to participate in The Global Immersion Project’s Day of Cross Border Solidarity in Tijuana, Mexico.)
The question posed to our group that stuck with me is one which will be important to consistently revisit. During her remarks, Paulina Olvera, a young activist and community leader in Tijuana asked, “which walls within us or in our hearts perpetuate the physical walls being built in our communities?”
Joining my brothers and sisters in Tijuana through The Global Immersion Project’s Day of Cross Border Solidarity, I arrived south of the border a bit anxious.
As I typically do not support one-off experiences or feel good missions, I was not prepared for such an emotional experience in such a short amount of time. The time in Tijuana provided the platform for those who are on the ground doing the work to speak and for those of us from the United States to just sit, listen, and to learn.
Hearing the voice of a Mexican historian as he briefed us on the complicated and destructive foreign policy of the United States throughout Latin America; of a Latina theologian as she led us to reflect more deeply on the book of Obadiah through the lens of hospitality and the immigration crisis; and of the Honduran mother who fled for her life with her daughter from their country, I was reminded that my role, as a white, US passport holding Christian, is to not come in to these seemingly broken places to fix it or be the white savior. My place is one in which I come to listen, to learn, and then intentionally and more thoughtfully enter into relationships.
It is important for me to check my own ego at the door and be more intentional about how I can assist our brothers and sisters already doing the restorative work in these places. As well-intentioned people from the United States, we forget that there are incredible teachers, activists, faith leaders, community organizers, and non-profits engaged in their communities, actively pursuing the change, and developing the ideas which we think we are excitedly bringing with us.
With the recent news of Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death and coverage from the border on issues facing our migrant brothers and sisters, I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted.
However, as bleak as it may seem, with the recent Advent season, I can’t help but to reflect on this day of solidarity with hope, peace, joy, and love it mind. By showing up and being fully present to listen and to learn, I was quickly reminded that during these seasons of waiting and darkness, I can’t let myself remain in those pits of despair.
Even in the midst of pain and uncertainty on the border, I was fortunate to get a small glimpse of the light that is shining through the cracks of a broken jar. Through the people I met and the stories I heard, I left feeling more hopeful than when I first arrived.
I experienced hope at the Camino de la Salvación Church community. This uncontentious Baptist congregation that has decided to open their doors and expand their facilities to establish a permanent shelter for 120 migrants. Compared to some churches in the United States, Camino de la Salvación is a small and modest community with little resources. Yet it was a powerful moment to hear Pastor Jose Antonio speak about his convictions with humility and the necessity for helping those in need.
Two years ago, Tijuana experienced an influx of Haitian immigrants making their way to the United States but unfortunately Haitians were not able to apply for asylum as they were economic migrants and not fleeing persecution. Some had tried to cross and were deported so many were forced to stay in Tijuana. Pastor Jose Antonio and his congregation recognized the church facilities and rooms were being unused during the week, so they decided to host 31 Haitian migrants.
One of those migrants, Solomon, also shared his story with our group. He and several others walked for 3 months from Brazil to Tijuana but because he was not able to enter the United States, he obtained his documentation in Mexico and serves as a Pastor of a Haitian congregation. It is beautiful to see Kingdom work being done on earth!
I received a sense of peace in the early morning registration area as I took a moment to look around at the crowd of 150 people who heard the call, committed to the day of solidarity, and showed up to listen and to learn. As the activists, teachers, parents with children, clergy, non-profit workers, and just folks who are concerned gathered at the border from across the United States, I was reminded of the compassion that still exists.
As misinformation continues to spread through social media and the news, I am convinced more than ever that people are dedicated to know the truth so much so that they’ll travel across the country for a day to be a witness of an uncomfortable reality. I had the opportunity to hear several incredible stories from folks about why they chose to show up and what prompts them to stand in solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters. It is easy to become discouraged by the news. It is even easier to remain in our own comfortable realities.
But by standing together and recognizing the restorative work that so many folks are engaged in around our country and directly across the border, I believe that we can be a force of hope and change that this world so desperately needs.
I felt joy during our dinner. As we all gathered at the tables, it was announced that our food would be catered by one of the Haitian migrants who arrived in Tijuana 2 years ago. Since living in Mexico, he has started a food business.
As I went through the line, he was proudly serving his Haitian prepared chicken and sides. As the group thanked him at the end of dinner with an applause and cheers, I do not believe I’ve witnessed a smile as big as his!
In addition to sharing a wonderful meal prepared by our Haitian brother, we were hosted at Espacio Migrante’s new building which will become a community center and shelter. Paulina Olvera and other leaders in Tijuana welcomed us with open arms just as they are working to welcome migrants with love and compassion. This heart-tugging experience gave me the space to identify areas in my own life where I fall short in my own commitments to following Jesus.
I witnessed love at La Playa border wall during the 25th annual La Posada Sin Fronteras. One group of worshipers gathered on the southern side of the wall, another on the northern side of the wall. Separated by about 50 yards and a militarized border patrol unit, Christians worshiped together.
Every year, they come together to remember and reenact Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. This story is particularly powerful for our migrant brothers and sisters. As there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, there is frequently no room made for migrants. Songs were being bounced back and forth across the fence, stories were being shared, and prayers were in abundance, but one of the most powerful moments for me was happening subtly at the edge of the crowd.
There was a small group of people painting a large heart on the wall. They were wearing “Unified U.S. Deported Veterans” t-shirts. The realization that folks who have called the US their home for their entire lives, have fought in our wars, have families, to then were deported, is heartbreaking. Yet, for them to build community, courage, and strength to advocate for themselves and one another is inspirational.
I invite all of us to not only reflect more deeply on the hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives, but consider how we are reflecting each of these in our own lives. As our society struggles to offer compassion, how as Christians, are we welcoming the stranger just as the world welcomes Jesus into this world each Christmas day?