When I was in middle school one of my best friends took me to Six Flags with his church. As soon as we arrived we immediately went to stand in line at the Titan rollercoaster. The Titan has this massive incline that feels like it takes five minutes to build up to a 255 foot drop. The force of the drop is so strong that if you don’t breathe you’ll pass out.
That’s how the first 36 hours of my Arizona-Mexico border seminar has felt like. Coming on the trip I was a bit apprehensive. I was on my ninth plane ride in the last three weeks and all of the build up from classmates was threatening to over-hype the experience. The five books I’d been sitting with for three weeks weighed on my soul. What was this trip going to be like?
The first thing we did was have dinner at our fellow classmates home. Her grandmother and mother made the most delicious and authentic Mexican food I’d ever had. Her entire family was so welcoming that there was a visceral juxtaposition of the radical hospitality that they were showing us with the militarized and psychological wounds America inflicts on our neighbors to the south. Did you know an estimated 1,000 immigrants die in the desert each year in Arizona? While less people are crossing the border, a higher percent are dying. There’s a constant fear of xenophobic violence and deportation hanging on millions in America, and here I am stuffing my face with heavenly guac.
Hospitality has been a constant theme these past 36 hours. The photo at the top of this post is a statue of the Reconciling Ministries Network cross outside of the UM church we are staying at, and this place truly practices Christian welcoming. Currently there are three families with almost a dozen children living in the basement of the church as they await their asylum trial. The church is hosting them because our nations detention facilities, private prisons, and military prisons cannot hold them (ignore that they are no place for a child–or really any child of God).
I’m not ready to reflect on what this church providing shelter means, it’s just too heavy. We spent all day talking about sanctuary and finding ourselves at the crossroads of compliance or resistance, empire or kingdom. But that’s for another post. Tomorrow we will be in Nogales, Mexico working and staying in a migrant shelter, and Saturday we will be hiking in the desert doing water drops. This is a practice where we leave ten one-gallon jugs of water at strategic points that could literally mean life or death. I’ll blog about that Saturday night I think.
But for now I want to leave you with some photos. We met with a woman today who helps weekly with these water drops, and she collects artifacts she finds in the desert and creates art to raise awareness of immigration in the desert.
For an entire year she recorded the dates that recovered human remains (RHR) are found. They’re called RHRs because within 21 days a human body is reduced to a few bones in the summer heat. In Arizona alone over 150 RHR were found last year. It’s estimated that 3-5x that many immigrants die in Arizona deserts alone.
One of the main topics I’ve been researching is immigrant spirituality. The first picture is a personal prayer diary and the second is a destroyed copy of the Bible.