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July 27, 2012 | Alexandra J. Miller
Introduction by LeDayne McLeese Polaski
The BPFNA’s First-Ever Immersion Experience for Seminarians
In January 2012, the BPFNA and Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) co-sponsored a traveling course titled Ministry on the Borderline. The class was focused on a nine-day immersion experience in Tijuana, Mexico, in which students observed, assessed and experienced some of the realities of an urban, multicultural setting located on the Mexican-US border.
Some of the issues highlighted were creating understanding across barriers of language, religious and cultural differences; deepening awareness of the many forces that drive people across the border (with or without legal papers); and appreciating the function of family/community and the dynamics of violence when those safety nets collapse.
Dr. Mayra Picos-Lee of the seminary served as the professor. BPFNA Program Coordinator LeDayne McLeese Polaski and BPFNA member Ray Schellinger also served as group leaders. Eight students from two seminaries participated. All judged the experience to be deeply worthwhile, and the BPFNA will continue to pursue offering January Term immersion experiences for seminarians annually.
The reflection below was written by Ali Mueller, a first-year student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas.
The ‘Least of These’
In one of his rare serious moments, Stephen Colbert, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees and Border Security, and International Law, suggests that undocumented workers are America’s “least of these” from Matthew 25.1
This includes those who try to cross the US border without documentation, those unfairly deported and those living in US cities without documentation. Before taking this class on immigration, I was uninformed and confused about these issues and what our role as Christ’s followers should be. After reading the assigned books and articles, I felt that I had a loose grasp of the various particulars and what a Christian response ought to be, regardless of political persuasions.
But I was not prepared for Victor’s story. Victor was one of our tour guides in Tijuana and had just recently been deported from California. He never even decided to be an undocumented immigrant. When he was a child, his parents made the decision to move to the States and brought their family with them.
Victor grew up in California, went through elementary, middle and high school, graduated and got a job working at a warehouse making US$11 an hour. He got married and had two children. His wife and children are US citizens. Now that he is deported, he is living in a country of which he has no memory, trying to support his family making US$6 a day. He informed us that he is trying to wait out the 10 years before he can apply for legal status within the States, and we did not have the heart to tell him that, even after he applies, the wait could be 10 to 20 more years.
And Victor is one of the lucky ones. Because of preferential systems and numerical quotas, there is literally no legal way of immigrating to the US for most people in Mexico, especially people who do not have family members here.
I was also not prepared for others I met in Tijuana. We met numerous people who had been deported for minor traffic violations; a woman whose son died, and children whose father died, trying to cross the border; and a priest who ministers to the recently deported, as well as to the US Border Patrol, one of the agencies that deports people.
We left water in the desert with Border Angels, a nonprofit agency that assists immigrants who risk their lives in crossing the desert near the border, so that hopefully there will be a few less deaths as people try to cross. Then we drove to a graveyard filled with 700 Jane and John Does who died in that desert.
Finally, I was not prepared to hear what people are prepared to endure in order to come to the US. Many people come into the country legally (with tourist, student or work visas) and just overstay their visa. But visas are not granted to all and are especially hard to obtain if one is poor. Therefore, people try to cross between official points of entry, and two people die every day doing this.
Two out of three of these people have no criminal records and 30 percent are women and children.2 In order to make it across, most people pay smugglers a hefty fee that causes them to go into debt. They risk death, abuse, being trafficked and being extorted for more money, once they get into the States.
If they are fortunate enough to get to the States, they will have to live with the fear of detection and deportation, as well as the reality that they cannot stand up for their rights as human beings, cannot go to the doctor if they are sick and cannot even call the police in emergency situations.
People have to be desperate to do this with those known risks. The people we talked with were mostly trying to get back to family or trying to get to the States to make money to feed, house and clothe their families, because they could not support them.
This trip has given me perspective and empathy. It has helped me to see how similar we all are. All of us would do anything to be with and take care of the ones we love.
Now that I am back home, I realize that this issue is very simple for me. In Matthew 25, one of the “least of these” was described as a stranger who was invited in. One of our responsibilities as Christians is hospitality to the sojourner and the foreigner, regardless of our political leanings.
Leaving water in the desert one afternoon of my life is something, but now I have to figure out what my cup of water will be here in my home town. How will I show hospitality and the love of Christ to those in my midst who live in this heart-breaking situation? How will my church care for families like Victor’s, who live in fear of or the reality of deportation and separation? What will I do to ensure that they are treated fairly and as fellow brothers and sisters? These are questions to which all of us must find answers.
—Ali Mueller is a full-time Master of Divinity student at Central Baptist Seminary in Shawnee, KS. Prior to seminary, she was a youth pastor for four years, working with junior high students at an Anglican church in Overland Park, KS.