Grief in the reality of a 30-foot dividing wall

Some stories end well, but many do not

By Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Mark Adams reads the Bible at the border wall. Pastor Elizabeth Smith

LOUISVILLE — Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar live and minister on the border of the U.S. and Mexico in the shadow of a 30-foot steel dividing wall, grateful for the opportunity to provide witness to the reality that “Jesus is our peace and has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.”

Adams and Escobar are mission co-workers with the Presbyterian Border Ministry in Agua Prieta, Mexico, where Adams has served since 1998. In his role as U.S. coordinator of the binational ministry Frontera de Cristo, he partners with Mexico coordinator Jocabed Gallegos, of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. Together, Adams and Gallegos coordinate the six ministry areas of Frontera de Cristo: church development, health, family counseling, the New Hope Community Center, mission education and the Just Trade Center.

Escobar connects people and organizations across borders and serves as a liaison of Frontera de Cristo with the Center for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Recuperation (CRREDA in Spanish), DouglaPrieta Trabaja and the Lirio de los Valles Presbyterian Church. She works with DouglaPrieta to help the community, schools, rehabilitation centers and families of the church grow their own food, increasing their nutrition possibilities and connection with God’s Creation and one another.

“When I first arrived at the border, many persons who had experienced the harshness of the desert and had been returned battered and bruised to Mexico by the U.S. Border Patrol found their way to the Lirio de los Valles Presbyterian Church in Agua Prieta,” said Adams. “They sought out a physical, emotional and spiritual refuge.”

Recently he received an email from “Roberto,” one of the thousands who have found refuge in the church in Agua Prieta.

“How are you, Brother Mark? I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus. My name is Roberto, and it is probable that you do not remember me, but I remember very well how you and your wife, Sister Miriam, opened up the doors of your home, and I don’t remember the name of the pastor [Pastor Rodolfo] but do remember all the kindness and mercy shared with me,” he wrote.

Sixteen years ago, Roberto was abandoned by smugglers in the Arizona desert. With “the help of God,” he said, he was able to make his way to Douglas and cross back into Agua Prieta. He made his way to the church, where he received both welcome and help.

Adams most certainly remembered Roberto. He arrived dehydrated with blistered feet and was barely able to walk. He needed almost a week of rehydration, chicken soups and bed rest before he regained enough strength to begin walking and eating solid foods again.

But not all stories ended with health and happiness.

“Some wept and prayed to be reunited with family,” said Adams. “Two young men from Puebla came to me after worship one Sunday and broke down crying because their cousin had been missing in the desert for three weeks. As one of the cousins embraced me so close that I could feel the beating of his heart and the heaving of his grief, he said to me, ‘If you could just return his body to us, we could have peace.’”

Adams is grateful for groups like Aguilas del Desierto, Los Armadillos and No More Deaths that choose to spend their time, resources and energy in search and rescue activities in the remote valleys and mountains of the Sonoran Desert. The public-private partnership of the Colibri Center and the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office work tirelessly to identify the remains of those found and reunite them with their families.

Over 7,000 women, men and children have lost their lives since the Clinton administration instituted a new border policy of “prevention through deterrence,” using deserts and mountains as lethal deterrents to migration. Over 300 people a year die fleeing extreme violence and poverty and seeking freedom in the United States.

“Indigenous people originally inhabited this beautiful and harsh desert landscape that has become a killing field. Through force, deception and violence, this part of God’s Creation that had been home to the Indigenous for centuries was occupied by the Spanish, the Mexican and subsequently, the United States,” said Adams. “In the midst of a pandemic that is devastating the Navajo nation here in Arizona and disproportionately impacting communities of color, we, as a nation, are spending billions of dollars to destroy large swaths of the Creation and desecrating the burial grounds of the Indigenous people by building a dividing wall of hostility.”

Adams quoted Tohono O’odham Nation Chair Ned Norris, who testified before Congress: “For us, this is no different than the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] building a 30-foot wall through Arlington Cemetery.”

“As we continue to lament this sin against God’s good Creation in which all are created in the divine image and beloved by God, we must repent of all the ways we participate in systems of injustice,” Adams said. “One way in which Frontera de Cristo is seeking to repent is by resisting putting our trust in border policies guided by fear and division. Frontera de Cristo is advocating with our partners of the Southern Border Communities Coalition for a New Border Vision of hope, opportunity and encounter.”

To learn more about Frontera de Cristo, go to

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