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See both sides of the border during the Presbyterian Travel Study Seminar


Southern California-Tijuana, Mexico journey is an extension of Presbyterian Peacemaking Central American trip

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

A three-day seminar along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico southern border at San Diego and Tijuana has been added to the end of February’s Travel Study Seminar,  which will explore migration issues in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. (Contributed photograph)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble makes a bold promise for the February and March Travel Study Seminar to the U.S. Southern border.

“Prepare to have your life change,” she says. “I think it’s pretty hard, the way that this experience is being put together, to just kind of go back to business as usual.”

The Feb. 28 through March 3 trip to Southern California and Tijuana, Mexico is the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s first Domestic Travel Study Seminar. It is an extension of the program’s first International Travel Study Seminar of 2020, exploring migration through Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, Feb. 17-28.

“This was a logical continuation, to do Central American Migrant Trails, and then do an American border extension,” said Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “We decided to open that up to any Presbyterian who wants a three-day learning opportunity.

“We’ve always worked with global partners, but there are learning opportunities here in the U.S.”

The border seminar is being coordinated with Presbytery of the Pacific in Los Angeles, which is very active in immigration issues and care for refugees, as well as Presbyterian World Mission and the Peacemaking Program.

“Here in the Presbytery of the Pacific, the mission interpretation and promotion committee has … and continued to talk about how do we make these border visits possible because they can be such a transformative, eye-opening experience,” said the Rev. Tracey King-Ortega, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a mission co-worker in Central America and serves as Presbyterian World Mission’s regional liaison for Central America.

Border visits are often transformative, eye-opening experiences, according to the Rev. Tracey King-Ortega. (Contributed photograph)

“It just made sense,” said King-Ortega, who is currently residing in Southern California. “It’s an extension for those who will go on the Peacemaking international trip to experience the Northern Triangle and learn more about the push factors and why people are leaving. And so that border piece is a good sort of connector directly with U.S. policy or response to migration.”

The seminar itself will be three days, with Friday, Feb. 28, and Tuesday, March 3, as travel days.

Saturday and Sunday will be largely spent in Tijuana. Participants will visit a migrant shelter and meet with organizations providing humanitarian and legal aid. Sunday morning will include time along the border wall, a talk on migration perspectives, a bi-national worship service and a community meal.

The Peacemaking Program notes that while this is being promoted as a Domestic Travel Study Seminar, participants will need a valid passport so they can cross the border to Tijuana.

Monday, in Los Angeles, participants will learn more about immigration issues and about how churches are responding, as well as ecumenical partners such as Matthew 25 SoCal and Ecumenical Collaboration for Asylum Seekers.

Click here to find out more details and apply for the U.S. Southern Border Travel-Study Seminar.

Worthen Gamble said she hopes that following the Monday session, “people can feel equipped to really have some ideas, approaches to move the ministry forward in their own churches. We will be very intentional about giving a lot of practical tools and ideas about how to do this ministry, and that will be good for us to think through how we’ve been doing things and how we can go even deeper in our own work.”

One of the goals of the border seminar is for participants to go back to their churches ready to move ministry forward. (Contributed photograph)

While Southern California is on the front lines of the immigration crisis, there are immigrant and refugee populations in cities across the country that need care from local congregations.

But this trip is also going to give participants a look at the sorts of conditions many migrants endure attempting to get into the United States.

“The violence and poverty are not immediately apparent, but as you go intentionally through certain neighborhoods and some of the service centers that are there, that we will be visiting, you will really see not just people who need a meal, but people who look like they’re malnourished and starving,”  Worthen Gamble said.

She and King-Ortega note that as a large group of Americans traveling together, the travel-study seminar participants will be safe. But an important part of the trip is understanding how precarious the situation is for those trying to get to the United States.

“The other piece in Tijuana that I hope to really animate and hope that this can be experienced by folks is the unique role of the church,” Worthen Gamble said. “The migrants have very mixed reactions from the churches. But there are some churches in Tijuana who are responding with complete compassion. And their work is just so inspiring to see and be part of, and then also to understand that our work and Los Angeles in Pacific Presbytery and PC(USA) is connected, and that we’re really all one and brothers and sisters in Christ, meeting and welcoming migrants — heeding the call to welcome the stranger.”

Worthen Gamble says that as the United States has limited admissions and the administration has persuaded Mexico to keep migrants and asylum seekers on the southern side of the border, the situation has deteriorated.

“We need to fully understand what’s going on and then out of that, hear the call to action as a church,” she said. “We really need to have an integrated understanding of how we’re all connected in these realities and in U.S. policy. It just makes so much more sense if you can see the whole pipeline and have the whole story.”

Telling the real, human story of immigration, and bringing that home to congregations, was a dominant theme of applications for the Central America Travel-Study Seminar, King-Ortega said. And that is what she has seen as a mission co-worker and while leading other groups through Central America.

“Just to see those sorts of very human things, that they’re just like us, and they deserve dignity and respect and care,” King-Ortega said. “And how do we offer that?”

Worthen Gamble adds, “With the human side of the story, you know, real people’s lives, it just cuts through. It cuts through the political hypersensitivity around immigration and it also gives clarity — clarity of call and perspective on where we need to be as the church.”

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to continue the valuable ministry of the Peacemaking Program.

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