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The Gospel Call to Cross Borders

by Rev. J. Manny Santiago


April 13, 2015

The Gospel Call to Cross Borders

Manny Santiago at the US/Mexico border.

Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

En Español

When you grow up in an Island-nation, it is very likely that you have few borders to cross. Borders are for the big and widespread continents. It is there where the lines that differentiate one nation from another are drawn. That was my experience of borders growing up in Puerto Rico.

During my childhood and adolescence I never imagined I could cross a border. This does not mean that I never dreamed of crossing borders. On the contrary, I spent many hours reading the Encyclopedia and the Atlas; learning the names of the nations of the world, the colors of their flags; leaning about their location and their capitals. I enjoyed dreaming that, someday, I will visit as many countries as it was possible. But the truth is that my family didn’t have the financial resources to support my dream.

An opportunity to cross a border came up, however, while I was in college. I traveled to Nicaragua for a whole month with a mission group. This was the time in my life when I still believed that “mission” meant to go to another country and make of those who lived there clones of my own (and already colonized) way of being a Christian. How far from reality was I!

The – quite literal – insularity I lived in Puerto Rico did not allow me to see how that the world is way bigger than what we think it is.

To cross borders became, in time, something normal. I have spent most of my adult life crossing borders; some geographical but also social, economic, of language, of gender, religious and of all sorts. Since that first trip, I have learned that wherever we are, wherever we reside, we all share one identity as human beings. Each individual has been created in the image and likeness of God and therefore, we all share in the same dreams, the same struggles, the same pain and the same joys. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my own reality that I was able to realize that it is important to learn from and with others in order to be best prepared to minister to a world that often is so divided.

A while ago, when doing my CPE internship at a hospital in New York City, I met a young Salvadoran who lived with great psychological pain. After many suicide attempts and years of drug abuse, this young man was admitted to the psych ward at the hospital. I noticed that the psychiatrist never asked him anything about his life back home in El Salvador. During one of my visits, I asked the young man to tell me his life story. It was the first time someone asked him to share how it was to grow up in a country that was torn apart by violence and civil war. He started to tell me all the horrors he lived throughout the war. He shared with me the reasons why he had to leave family and country behind in order to cross borders and find refuge. I would not have known about the history of violence in El Salvador had it not been for my travels there and having seen firsthand the marks this war left. It was important for the healing of this young man to have someone with whom he could share about these experiences that so drastically changed his life.

This has been just one of the many instances in which I have had similar experiences. The Holy One has allowed me to cross geographic borders and on each crossing I have learned from and with my sisters and brothers.

At the same time, I have seen how a world that seems so large is actually a very small one. While walking the many miles of the wall that separates the United States from Mexico, I ran into a Brazilian friend. He was there representing the United Methodist Church for which he works. It was at that border, marked with a huge wall of separation, when my Brazilian friend joined a Mexican pastor on one side and a Mexican-Nicaraguan pastor on the USA side to consecrate bread and fruit of the vine. It was at that place where nations are apparently divided where the Church became one through the sharing of Communion.

Although having left my own country and being able to travel has helped me cross geographical borders, it is important to point out that there are many other borders that need to be crossed. We need only pay attention to our surroundings and notice them. There are social, economic, linguistic, gender, religious borders that we all can cross. The most important thing is to take that first step and recognize that to cross these borders is a gospel call, for it was Jesus himself who commanded his followers to “go therefore around the world…” (Mark 16.15)

The Rev. J. Manny Santiago is an ordained American Baptist minister of Puerto Rican origin. After having served congregations in Massachusetts, New York and Washington state, he now serves as the Executive Director of The Crossing, an ecumenical campus ministry in Madison, Wisconsin.   

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