February 25, 2015 – El Paso, TX – From February 8-15 a delegation of 15 attended the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz Friendship Tour in El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Called Justicia en la Frontera/Justice at the Border, the experience educated participants about the injustices occurring at the U.S./Mexico border and equipped them to assist others in strengthening their responses to border-related issues including economic and immigration policy, humanitarian aid, labor organizing, and border militarization. The group was hosted by Annunciation House in El Paso and stayed at Casa Vidas, one of the two migrant shelters owned and operated by Annunciation House.
Throughout the trip, participants experienced all sides of the issues through various interactions. These included:
- Meetings with those who are active in the struggle for social justice: Christina in Juárez who runs a community library that provides tutoring and a scholarship fund for children unable to afford school fees; Carlos, the director of the Farm Labor Union (Centro de los Trabajadores Fronterizos) in El Paso; Rubin (a co-founder and the current director of Annunciation House) and several Annunciation House volunteers; and Lorena, the coordinator for Centro Mayapan (an organization that focuses on creating leadership roles and economic development opportunities for women).
- Visits with Betty and Peter, two Catholic missionaries living in Juárez who see first hand how U.S. policies affect their community and with Kristen at the Federal Court House in El Paso to witness immigration sentencing cases.
- Presentations from Luis who works with unaccompanied minors; from Omar and Amanda, Presbyterian missionaries doing sustainable work in communities along the border; as well as two Border Patrol agents at the Border Patrol Museum.
“The trip was a wonderful opportunity to experience border realities firsthand and to meet with those on both sides of the wall whose lives are intimately and often irrevocably effected by our broken immigration system,” said trip Co-Leader and BPFNA Board Member Nathan Watts. “The week in El Paso and Juárez, although not without its difficult moments, left the group feeling energized and motivated to mobilize around these issues and share what we’ve learned and experienced with those in our communities.”
The Friendship Tour is part one of a two-part experience. The second part will take place at the BPFNA’s annual Summer Conference in July when the Friendship Tour participants will share their experiences and lead other conference attendees in planning projects that will engage communities of faith in responding to these issues. Potential topics to be presented include:
- "Violencia del migrante y las fronteras" - A workshop analyzing the levels of violence associated with the process of migration at both Mexico’s northern and southern borders.
- "Globalization, immigration policy and values" - An analysis of NAFTA and other free trade agreements that have effected international migration patterns.
- "Quien es el criminal?" - A workshop focusing on border militarization, immigrant detention, criminalization of people of color and the prison industrial complex as a whole.
- "Experiential education workshop" - A popular education-based interactive workshop encompassing the aspects of the migrant experience – attempting crossing, Border Patrol apprehension, sentencing, detention, deportation.
- Plus a two-part afternoon plenary session, with the first part as testimony from participants and the second part as a Q&A session with a focus on local integration of information and advocacy.
Funding for this project was made available through a $15,000 Palmer Grant (through the American Baptist Foundation) that covers 10 of the 15 participants’ costs for both parts of the experience.
“We are so thankful to the Palmer Trust for this grant,” said BPFNA Executive Director LeDayne McLeese Polaski. “We know many of our churches and individual members are interested in these issues, and we’ll be able to reach and equip more people to act with this two part project. Friendship Tour participants have had the opportunity to listen to different perspectives and to grapple with theological and social implications of these encounters. At Summer Conference, the learnings of the Friendship Tour will then filter further into the BPFNA network of churches and individuals who will then be better equipped to act.”
The BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz Summer Conference will be from July 6-11, 2015 in Harrisonburg, VA on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. For more information, please visit http://www.bpfna.org/gather/summer-conference.
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The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) gathers, equips and mobilizes Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice. We celebrate and support the peacemaking work done by Baptist churches in Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico by raising the visibility of these efforts through our publications and website; by bringing peacemakers together in regional and international gatherings; and by providing resources - including printed and audio-visual resources, speakers and trainings. The BPFNA also actively connects with peacemakers from other traditions, faith-based and secular, to build alliances and work together toward our common goal of a more just and peaceful world.
The mission of Annunciation House states In a Gospel spirit of service and solidarity, we accompany the migrant, homeless, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education. We place ourselves among these poor so as to live our faith and transform our understanding of what constitutes more just relationships between peoples, countries, and economies. Since the early 1990s, Annunciation House has been hosting border awareness delegations to facilitate face-to-face meetings and encounters between participants and people and groups on both sides of the border. These encounters raise consciousness in the First World about the issues facing the peoples of the Third World and the effects of unjust policies on their lives. For more information go to www.annunciationhouse.org.