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The Controversial Wall

A letter from Amanda Craft serving as Regional Liaison for Mexico and Guatemala

Fall 2016

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The U.S. presidential campaign brought many surprises this year. We know that most of you want to move on from it, forgetting it as soon as possible. However, we did not want to miss out on the opportunity to emphasize the significance of the topics the campaigns raised. Since we live and work along the U.S./Mexico border, we thought it would be helpful to offer the glimpse of what life is really like in this part of the world, since immigration and the “wall” became such controversial issues.

We live only a few miles from the famed international wall between the United States and Mexico. The wall is on U.S. land and was built as a security measure to protect the United States and to curb migration of the undocumented. The wall does not cover the entire 2,000+ miles of the border, but only a bit more than 700 miles, most constructed in urban centers where crossing was frequent. El Paso is one of those sites.

In past newsletters we have talked about the wall and how we try to create a space where we can move beyond the boundaries that separate us. We desire to create a place where we can live together in spite of state policies that make that difficult. One such way we have done this is by celebrating binational communion services at the fence. We would sit, pray, worship, and celebrate communion together as we sat on either side of the fence. However, the site where we would usually do this has been forever changed.

The location is a shared border between Sunland, New Mexico, and Anapra, Chihuahua, Mexico. El Paso, Texas, is only a few miles away. This mile stretch of fence was chain-linked. It kept us from embracing, but at least we could see one another, touch hands through the fence, and even pass through worship bulletins. As we sat there you could almost figure out how to see through the fence. It was a symbolic act that allowed us to be together in God’s place. This stretch was one of the few that had not been updated with towering steel beams. It has been part of the original plans, but due to lack of funds, it was never updated. That was until this past August.

The structural updates were approved earlier this year, and construction to remove the older fence began in late August. It will cost taxpayers $11 million to update this one-mile stretch of fence. People who live near the fence wonder if the update is worth it or necessary.

This small stretch of land divides communities that struggle. Anapra in Mexico suffered tragically during the violence in Ciudad Juarez. The city was so feared that police rarely entered. Those who still live there live on the margins. Sunland, New Mexico, is a community that struggles economically, too. One wonders how the mobile homes that dot the landscape stay put during the intense wind and dust storms. Spending that amount of money on a mile-long fence seems absurd in this context. Those funds could have meant hope in these communities. Instead, residents on both sides of the fence say it brings a sense of hopelessness, fear, and humiliation. Residents know that the fence may curb some, but if someone wants to cross into the United States, they find other means. They feel like this is not about security but about intimidation and fear, like those living in both locations cannot be trusted to respect the international boundary. Now it becomes a constant reminder of division. There is no chance that you can learn to look at the fence and not see it.

In Isaiah we read a vision of ancient Jerusalem’s coming exaltation: “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (Is 60:18). How do we learn to stop creating walls to divide, separate, and keep out? How can we create walls that do not divide but that can bring together? What if the United States could think about how to be a place with walls of salvation and praise? How would this shift in perspective enable us to change the dialogue about border security and immigration? It is not a question of letting everyone in, but it is a question of looking honestly at the complexity that is the reality on our southern border.

As a border ministry site we are rethinking how we might be able to “come” together to worship. This significant act now becomes much more difficult. We won’t be able to touch. We won’t be able to even really see each other. The steel beams that shoot 12-14 feet in the air become the focal point. So now we grieve. We know that this wall brings us together, but we are seeing how the wall can definitely keep us apart. Hopefully we will figure out how to make the combined worship services happen. Humans are ingenious, and we know that God has the answer and is in the midst of revealing what we can do.

Thank you for your outstanding and excellent support. We are always so grateful that you continue to be faithful as you accompany us. We invite you to continue to do so, knowing that your gifts, financial, spiritual, and emotional, keep us going.

Amanda


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