24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” -Matthew 7: 24-27
For the past few months, the shelter, La Sagrada Familia, has been undergoing some serious reconstruction. After a successful campaign with Oxxo (a very popular convenience store here in Mexico), they had the money to begin an update to the shelter’s physical space as well as replace some worn out kitchen items and storage containers. I’m not sure the last time the shelter was updated, but I suspect it has been quite a while based on the mismatched pots with lids, chipping paint, and general wear and tear. I do know that when the shelter was first built in 2010, they started essentially from the ground up.
The shelter is located along the tracks for La Bestia, a network of freight trains that migrants ride on top of in order to more efficiently travel from the south of Mexico to the north. It’s also located in the back of a Catholic church, Cristo Rey, which donated the property to be used for a shelter after many in the community noticed an influx of migrants from Central America who were in need of food, warm clothing, rest, and sometimes medical care. Since its origin, the shelter has relied on the continued community and church support to provide for the migrants.
Over the past few years, we have seen problems in Central America increase and thus, the number of migrants passing through the shelter increasing as well. Aside from the political strife and gang violence that we often hear about, there are also big global issues, such as climate change, which are devastating the livelihoods of farmers and those living in rural areas. Over the past year I have heard a full spectrum of these stories. I have met a 17-year-old who told me he had to leave because he didn’t want to be recruited into a local gang. I have met a 60-year-old man with calloused hands from years of hard labor who told me that he had to leave because his family has no food anymore and that he can’t make money off the land. I have met a transgender woman facing life-threatening trans discrimination in her country. I have met young mothers with their babies, unaccompanied minors, men that cry on the phone with their loved ones, people with no one to call at all. These are people building their lives from the ground up.
So, the shelter is increasing our capacity to host these travelers and dreamers. We’re making more space for beds, a more efficient kitchen for meals, a freshly painted and cleaned clinic, etc. While we are under construction to improve our ability to serve the hungry, the tired, and the weary, I find myself troubled by US policies which are deconstructing the same concept. Migrants are sometimes held in custody in Las Hieleras or “iceboxes” which are reportedly freezing rooms where migrants are often denied access to hygiene products, beds, and other necessities like access to medical care. Many people who are taken into custody, whether sick prior to arrival, end up sick or worse. There are numerous stories of migrants facing mistreatment/abuse while being detained and six children have died while being held in US government custody just over the past 8 months.
Meanwhile, the trial for Scott Warren has begun in Arizona. His crime? Aiding undocumented migrants. Not the first of his kind, volunteers along the US/Mexico Border (many with the No More Deaths organization) have faced an increase in criminalization for putting out food and water in the desert along well traveled migrant pathways. Furthermore, a report done by No More Deaths detailed the destruction of their water jugs and food out in the desert and the evidence of Border Patrol agents being the ones most likely responsible. (It was shortly after No More Deaths released their report that Scott Warren was arrested.) None of this even begins to address the rhetoric we hear in the media and from government officials which dehumanize migrants and asylum-seekers alike.
In the Bible verses at the beginning of this blog, Jesus tells the parable of the wise and the foolish builders. Those who are wise build their houses on a solid rock foundation while the foolish build theirs on sand, and when the storms come only the houses on rock will survive. We can read this as a metaphor for our lives. If we put God as our foundation, we can create a stronghold against the storms in our lives. But I think we have gotten a little lost along the way. The house we’re building isn’t the United States house or the Christian house. It’s not a house solely for people with legal documentation or a house for people who look and live like we do. The shelter opens its doors every day of the year to the tired and the weary, to the people who are building their lives from the ground up. We’re going through a tedious construction process in order to provide for these people and for our God who lives inside of them.
I return to the US in less than one month from now. I will be leaving a place that is being built up as a house of service and refuge, to a place that is increasingly turning away the stranger at the door. Both places are my home and I wrestle with how to reconcile them. I have caught myself multiple times this year trying to explain to people that I’m not part of what’s happening at the US Border. I express my disdain for the policies put in place by the US government and the disregard of ethics and international human rights. But the fact of the matter is, I am part of this and most of you reading this are part of it too. We have to accept that the privilege of having citizenship in the US also comes with the responsibility of demanding that we are under construction for the better. That we build a house a home on the cornerstone of God’s unconditional love and justice.