Faith vs. Fear

A letter from the Adams Maldonado family serving in Mexico

March 2016

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Write to Miriam Maldonado Escobar

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“Do not be afraid,” the angel told Mary when sharing the shocking news that she was to be the mother of Jesus.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told Joseph in a dream.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel told the shepherds announcing the birth of Jesus, the babe born to Mary and Joseph, who had traveled to Bethlehem seeking to get their “papers” in order and be registered with the immigration officers of first century Palestine.

Jesus was born into a world of danger and intrigue and his birth was perceived as a threat by the religious and secular authorities of his day.  “Do not be afraid” is one of the most often repeated commandments throughout Scripture.  God told the actors in the greatest birth narrative of all time that they need not be afraid—not because there was no danger, not because bad things would not happen to them, but because God was with them every step of the way.  In the same way God says to us, “Because I have called you and you are mine do not be afraid, because nothing in all of creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.”

"Why Choose Welcome in a Time of Fear?" forum panelists Rev. George Bitar, of the Middle Eastern Fellowship, Mayor Danny Ortega of Douglas, and Rev. Brad Munroe, pastor in the Presbytery de Cristo

“Why Choose Welcome in a Time of Fear?” forum panelists Rev. George Bitar, of the Middle Eastern Fellowship, Mayor Danny Ortega of Douglas, and Rev. Brad Munroe, pastor in the Presbytery de Cristo

As we journey through Lent and toward the cross, we are reminded that throughout his life and ministry Jesus faced opposition, violence and eventually death on a cross—which far from the “harmless” religious symbol that it has become today was in his day a political tool and symbol of how the Roman government would destroy all who dared to disturb the “Pax Romana.” The cross was used to instill fear and to control the population.

Politicians use fear to motivate (manipulate?) voters.  We are told to be afraid of refugees—the governor and legislature of Arizona are looking for ways to prevent Syrian refugees from being resettled here.

We are told to be afraid of migrants—we need to secure the border.  The Arizona state government has just added a multi-million dollar “Border Strike Force” to what is already billions of dollars used for border security even as education funding continues to be woefully inadequate after years of cuts.

Here on the border it is painful to see how policies motivated (manipulated?) by fear and implemented by the most powerful nation in the world lead to tremendous increase of suffering and death of people who are seeking the “American dream,” and how families are being separated for years and sometimes for life by a political border.  Not only are individuals and families negatively impacted, but also our communities and nations are harmed by growing division and obstacles to binational cooperation that would benefit both sides of the border.

Mary and Cindy sharing bread through the wall at the Agape Feast

Mary and Cindy sharing bread through the wall at the Agape Feast

We even get calls from our church supporters wondering if we are safe from the drug cartels in our little border community.  More often they ask if it is safe to bring mission delegations to Mexico.  On one occasion a board member of a campus ministry asked us whether it was safe for them to come and share life and ministry with us.  We gave our standard answer of how we are in close communication with our federal and local law enforcement as well as community members and elected officials regarding the security situation.  We further shared how Miriam and I and our three children ride our bikes all over town, play in the parks, shop, participate in church and school events, enjoy strolling in the main plaza and visiting friends throughout the city, and do not live in fear.  One of the promises of Scripture that our family experiences here on the U.S./Mexico border is that “nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ” that gives us the courage to live guided by faith and not fear.

We never promise that nothing “bad” will happen, just as we wouldn’t if we lived in San Bernardino, Calif., or Tucson, Ariz., or Aurora, Colo., or Charleston, S.C., or Newtown, Conn., but that we would not receive delegations if we felt that doing so would put our community or the visiting delegation at heightened risk.  The other thing that we can promise (although we do not do so, because it would probably only heighten anxiety) is that “in life and death we belong to God.”

While some have allowed the fear perpetuated by our media, elected officials, and politicians to prevent them from coming to the border, Frontera de Cristo continues to facilitate immersion experiences for churches, seminaries, universities and leadership organizations.  Our goals are to build relationships and understanding across borders and to help folks reflect (and act) biblically and theologically on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ when borders divide.

While gathered for prayer and reflection with the students of Western Theological Seminary in a shadow of the 20-foot steel wall that separates the United States from Mexico, Patricia, a participant preparing for pastoral ministry, shared her gratitude to God.  She said that by crossing the border and meeting people of faith on both sides, “God dispelled much of the fear that I had been fed.” She said this experience will allow her to be a pastor guided more by faith than fear.

I ran into Roy several years after he spent a week of sharing life and ministry with us.  I asked him how he was doing.  He lit up and he said that the week had changed his life.  “When I go to the store now and hear someone speaking Spanish, I go up to them and say, ‘Hola, como estas?’  I used to be afraid and would walk around the long way just to avoid coming close to them.”  Roy is now choosing to have interactions that provide a word of encouragement and welcome to people in his community who often fear excluded and afraid.

Miriam knows what it is like to receive a warm welcome in the United States and I know what it means to receive a warm welcome in Mexico. We give thanks to God that we are a part of a ministry that equips churches on both sides of the border to choose welcome and to witness to the reality that “Jesus Christ is our peace, who has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility” and is “creating in himself one new humanity.”

We are grateful to God for your words of encouragement, prayers and financial support, which help make possible our life and ministry on the U.S./Mexico border.  Please continue to provide support, and consider increasing your support for Presbyterian World Mission co-workers if you can.  Without it, our ministries would not be possible.  Join us in prayer that God would dispel fear in our lives and in the life of the church so that we may always be guided by faith instead of fear.

Mark

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 74, 75


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