I have a confession to make. Both Jonathan and I are worn out from the Spiritual Growth campaign. We confessed this to one another in our most recent meeting. The book is, well, thick and heady – it’s not the most enjoyable or engaging literary work. There are certainly good lessons that I’ve taken from the material though, such as the more-horizontal relationship between heaven and earth, and the proclamation that the transformative power of the Spirit is present for this life rather than pushing it off to the next. And then, there’s the repeated emphasis on the Exodus. And I mean, REPEATED. Fair enough, since the Exodus was in fact the primary faith formation event for the Israelites, but still. One of the small groups that meet have a running joke that if you don’t know the answer, just say "It’s all about the Exodus." And then I’m reminded of this story.
In 2005 and 2008 I took a group of 30 youth to work for Genesis Diaz Ministries, located just below Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. At the time, I was ministering in Oregon, and myself and a group of parent volunteers drove these 30 kids in 6 separate minivans the 14-hour trip from Oregon to Ensenada. I have done at least 8 border crossings through Chula Vista into Tijuana, and back. When we would cross, representatives from Genesis Diaz would meet us in Tijuana in their vehicles to escort us the 2 hour drive through Mexico. Mostly because in Mexico, when you get pulled over by a police car, the person inside the car may not be a police officer. We additionally were told to keep our heads down while driving through Tijuana – gunfire was always a possibility. Please don’t spend too much time questioning how unsafe these trips were – we were all too aware.
We went there for the children. We worked for a week at an orphanage, building homes, building relationships, helping some of the mothers rebuild their lives. We cooked together, we built together, we played together. It was wonderful, life-giving work. Work and ministry that connected us deeply with the Mexican people and their stories and their lives. Myself and many of my former youth group members are still connected with our ‘ninos’ today. Yet the most memorable part of those trips was that there were days we didn’t have water. Let that sink in for a minute. We went days without water. I shared this with someone who said, “That’s ridiculous. Of course you had water.” No. We did not. Even though the ministry would order large shipments of bottled water, the cargo was often hijacked by the coyotes*. In Mexico, water is a luxury. Hot water is as valuable as gold.**
In 2008, Patti and Greg Amstutz, the founders of Genesis Diaz, worked with government officials to obtain a large machinery-type drill to burrow into the ground to reach water, in the hopes of creating a well for the orphanage. The cost of this machinery was $35,000 (my memory may be off by a few dollars in either direction). This turned out to be a complete waste of money – the ground was too hard to break through. There was to be no well for this orphanage. I always returned home in tears, swearing I would wash all my dishes by hand, using a dish tub to not waste water. I swore I would cut down on showers. I’d use less hot water. I cried every time I turned on a faucet and hot water came out. These feelings lasted about a week before I went back to business-as-usual. And to think now that Mexico is on the ‘better side’ of everything that’s happening in Central America. I knew then, and I know now, that there is something deeply broken in the world.
One of our Deacons wrote so succinctly: “Of all the acrimony that flies through the airwaves every day, the one cruelty that distresses me the most is our closed-hearted attitude toward immigrants, those seeking asylum from conditions we cannot even imagine. ‘Geography is destiny, my friend,’ declared a character in a series I am watching. I could have been born elsewhere. So could each of us.”
During the past 6 weeks of our Spiritual Growth campaign, Jonathan and the writings of NT Wright have been challenging us to look at our long-held beliefs about who we think Jesus is, and instead look at who He says He is. But we will need to go further. Jesus wants us not to only look at Him with new eyes, but at all our affairs with new eyes. Eugene Peterson, the author of ‘The Message,’ and pastor to other pastors, died this week at age 85. Before he went on to a great reward, he wrote these words:
"Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son."
And every week I recite some version of the following words at the communion table:
"And people will come from all over the world--from east and west, north and south--to take their places in the Kingdom of God."***
Migrant caravans are not new. There’s one in this Sunday’s scripture as the crowds follow Jesus out of Jericho on the way to Jerusalem (Mark 10: 46-52). Then there’s the migrant caravan as the Jews were brought out of slavery in Egypt by Moses. This was the defining event of their history.
Where will the Church, the bride of Christ, find herself in the Exodus that’s taking place today?
As one small group likes to say, "It’s all about this Exodus."
In His Service,
*coyotes are human smugglers in Mexico that promise to escort immigrants across the US border, but are more often con artists, extortioners, and kidnappers who almost never get people where they want to go. Typical costs range from $3000 to $10,000, per person.
**There is plenty of hot and running water at the many gated tourist resorts throughout Mexico.
***Luke 13:29, Matthew 8:11