View this website in / Ver este sitio web en:

Crossing Borders: Lessons from the Edges

by Gwenyth Lewis


July 27, 2015

Crossing Borders: Lessons from the Edges

Gwenyth Lewis

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!

“When your great-grandfathers were your age,” Dad told us three siblings, “the English owners of Welsh mines beat them for speaking Welsh and burned their Welsh Bibles. So they emigrated from Wales, to seek a better life in Kansas.”

“When your mother and I moved to New Mexico, we determined we’d be different from those English outsiders. We’d learn from native peoples here, people whose forebears were beaten for speaking their own languages and pressured by outsiders to ‘convert’ from their own religion/cultures.”

So we three kids joined Mrs. White’s tiny after-school Spanish class at Montezuma School (it being impractical to find teachers of Tewa, Tiwa or Navajo). That was the first border I recall crossing – learning about others via their different-to-me language and culture.   

Our parents’ business – newspaper printing – afforded us more multicultural experiences. We unrolled our sleeping bags under Window Rock, the natural rock formation in Navajo country when Dad went there for “Navajo Times” business. We were the only “belaganas” (non-Navajos) in sight, and I still can smell the rich aroma of coffee percolating over little fires among the Navajos’ wagons and pick-ups.  

Our family met the Rivases through business, and our two families often drove the five hours between Albuquerque and Juarez, Mexico to visit. We Lewises saw Mexico through the eyes of my age-mate Velia, including aspects that few US Americans get to experience. 

Meanwhile, despite my parents’ best efforts, I was incredibly shy and had few friends. My fourth-grade teacher discovered a suicide note I’d written and became a strong ally. Daily during my first year of high school, fearing that no one would let me sit with them during lunch period, I hid illegally under the stairs to eat alone.

Three experiences began healing me. First, Mom kept counseling me, those many Sundays she dragged me, sobbing because I felt like such a misfit, to youth group:  “Look for someone else in the same boat and reach out to her.”

Then I was invited to a teen prayer group. Ridiculous! Pray for an hour? But I went. Afterwards the adult leader prayed with me. And to my astonishment, I suddenly experienced a bright white light in the corner of the chapel. I “heard” a life-changing message: “I love you completely, Gwenyth. No matter what you do, you cannot make me stop cherishing you.”

Not much later I started sneaking to see a therapist at the family counseling center near my high school. Slowly I learned that I was not to blame for the abuse I’d been experiencing. I began to feel less crazy, less alone.

I continued to cross boundaries. I spent a college semester in Spain, where I learned to dance and to talk with male peers. The post-graduation summer I spent with Operation Crossroads Africa in Liberia taught me about white privilege.

The next 15 years were spent becoming a psychotherapist, marrying, becoming a stepparent and parent. I worked in a counseling collective, where we co-workers systematically worked to root out our own oppressive and “victim” patterns. Walking in gay rights parades opened me to more learning about homophobia.

Our family moved to Pennsylvania, where I trained as a Family Therapist. Assigned to record oral histories of parents and clan, I learned personally how “the sins of the [parents] are visited to the fourth generation” -- and eventually was able to forgive my father.

More recently, untreated mental health issues in my family, which led to financial traumas, led to my taking a low-wage job in which I was seriously injured – crossing borders yet again, this time to relate daily with wage-earners and to find myself as part of the differently-abled community.

I’m very grateful to my teachers – therapy clients and co-workers, friends with whom I’ve worked and shared in the Navajo Nation, in El Salvador, in Cuba, and most recently via BPFNA ~ Bautistas Por La Paz’s Juarez/El Paso border experience. Friends who’ve listened lovingly to me through my millions of mistakes. 

Now that I’ve moved back to Albuquerque, I’m seeking to use my gifts to transform police-community relationships (our city has had 10 times more deaths from police per capita than New York City!). By viewing relationships in terms of power (unearned power, corporate and military and political power, in the context of spiritual power) as well as through a Systems lens, the voices of my “cloud of witnesses” continue to form and nurture me.

I continue to learn that risking true, peer closeness with others across boundaries can be radically transformative – and soul-healing!

Gwenyth Lewis seeks excuses to help people deepen closeness as well as their ability to play. A Trainer of Conflict Transformation Trainers, Multicultural Mediator, parent and “Nain” (Welsh for “grandmother”), Gwenyth also is passionate about helping people protect their legal and civil rights with legal “insurance.” 

Peacemaker Fair Trade Project Meet Our Members Donate to BPFNA Buy Resources