Maggie is a beloved 4th year (UVa's term for senior) who attends my church. As she'll tell you, she and a group of students from two college ministries took a piligrimage to the US/Mexico border during their spring break to bear witness to the complexities of life on the border. Her story - and the stories of others who visited - were, at once, bleak and hopeful. In any situation that seems insurmountable, there are people who are determined to find a way. In Maggie's story, we get to meet some of them.
It's my feeling that you can benefit from the heart of this story whether you identify as Christian or not, so please know that you're invited to this conversation no matter your practice or belief.
This story recalls the words of Barbara Kingsolver at a talk she gave in town recently: "Hope is a moral imperative."
Two weeks ago, I returned from a pilgrimage to the US/Mexico border.
Although I’m back to my regular 4th year schedule of going to class, spending time with friends, and spending a slightly ridiculous amount of time in the architecture studio, my soul is still pretty tired. On the Mexican side of the border, one of my favorite parts of the trip was having the opportunity to spend time with what is maybe my favorite demographic of people, badass grandmas.
Many community engagement experts will tell you that if you are trying to get something done in a community, it’s a lot easier when you have the grandmas on board.
The kids are hard to reach without buy in from the parents, and the parents are too busy, but the grandmas - the grandmothers are often underrated as the group with the most influence and the most passion to make the world better for their children, and their children’s children.
On our trip to Mexico, I was struck by how many abuelas opened up their homes to us, fed us delicious food, and then would slowly start to tell us about the awesome selfless work they had done in their lives. They had fought against huge systems of oppression, all to make their community a safer and healthier place for their families and all the members of their community.
One woman worked trying to rescue children who were trapped living in tunnels under the border where they were abused and exploited by cartels, used as drug mules and mercenaries. This woman worked with others to get the children out of the tunnels, into orphanages and halfway houses to teach them how to read and write, and get them the help they needed. Unfortunately, the organization of women she was working with had to stop when trying to help the children in the tunnels was putting their own immediate families in serious danger from the cartels.
Another group of mothers and grandmothers we met had started a permaculture cooperative, a kind of community farm.
After seeing so many men in their town stop working because of an influx of charity and donations from well-meaning white people on the other side of the border fence, they knew they needed to set a better example for their children and grandchildren. So this group of women started making adobe bricks by hand, and then they built a workshop, and after that they built a greenhouse, and they built a shed to keep bunnies, and all this time they have been working the earth, repairing God’s creation, to grow fresh healthy fruits and vegetables for their growing children and grandchildren, and to teach them that they are worth something, their work is worth something, that they can provide for themselves and their families, that they are not victims of their circumstance.
In systems that are set up to oppress them and put them at a disadvantage, these mothers and grandmothers are fighting the good fight to spread God’s love and the hope of God’s kingdom to come.
[In John 19:26-27] Jesus tells Mary, here is your son, and to John, here is your mother. He calls on them not to love and take care of each other as one colleague to another’s mother, but as a family. Jesus calls on all of us to love our neighbor as our family, and just like a family, we may not like each other all the time.
We are called to love each other, and protect each other from injustice, and rescue
each other from hardships too vast to save ourselves from, just as Jesus loves us and works to
pull us all out of systems of oppression and injustice.
Jesus no longer walks our mortal realm, but we walk it together.
Dear God, who watches over us like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings, and comforts us as a mother comforts her child, help us to protect and comfort each other, loving each other as you have loved us.