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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Border wall art simultaneously expresses hope and resistance


Presbyterian Border Region Outreach celebrates 35 years of ministry

February 8, 2020

Jenea Sanchez, an artist and community college instructor, used flora and fauna to help design and paint a mural on the southern side of the border wall in Agua Prieta, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Raised in both Douglas, Arizona, and nearby Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, which is just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, artist and community college instructor M. Jenea Sanchez has an interest in the kind of public art that’s a simultaneous expression of hope and resistance.

Hence the colorful, eye-catching mural that she and about 20 workshop attendees recently designed and painted on the Mexico side of the border wall in Agua Prieta as the opener to November’s “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire,” which celebrated 35 years of Presbyterian binational ministry that now occurs at four other sites outside of Frontera de Cristo in Douglas and Agua Prieta.

Those sites are:

The five make up the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach, formerly Presbyterian Border Ministry, in which Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ministries work in partnership with Christian communities, other faith organizations and secular entities to create a kinder, more just and equitable world.

Frontera de Cristo hosted the three-day conference, which was attended by about 150 people.

Sanchez and her workshop partner, Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, used descriptions and pictures of birds and flowers from the nations represented by people who wait along the wall as they seek asylum in the United States. Images now adorning the wall’s southern side include the dahlia from Mexico, plumeria from Nicaragua, the scarlet macaw from Honduras, the resplendent quetzal of Guatemala, chamomile from Russia and the sunflower from Ukraine.

“It’s a way to capture the imagination, by capturing it visually,” Sanchez said. “There is power in art.”

As the mural took shape, Sanchez admired all the effort put in by people attending the workshop — a number boosted by about eight of her own students.

“It’s a flock of flora and fauna, traveling together,” she said, eyeing the still-wet mural.

Workshop participants add colorful symbols of hope and resistance to the southern portion of the wall. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Carolyn Stupin, a member of the Mission and Social Justice Committee at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was painting a bird in flight as her contribution to the mural. “It’s easy to generalize” the challenges that migrant people face, she said, “so I wanted to see it for myself.”

“I travel a lot in Mexico and I love the people, although I speak bad Spanish,” she said with a laugh. “Most people can piece together what I’m trying to say.”

“I need to learn more about immigration,” she identified as her reason for attending the conference, which included worship, talks, a number of delicious meals and a cross-planting in the Sonoran Desert. “It’s long been a concern of mine.”

At her church, Stupin sells bags of Café Justo coffee produced by a grower-owned cooperative based in southern Chiapas, Mexico. The company was formed to address poverty and migration challenges. Those attending the conference had the chance to sample the company’s products at the Café Justo coffee shop in Agua Prieta.

Not lost on Sanchez is the way that both flora and fauna can flout borders. The former grows according to where its seed is spread; flying fauna can easily scale human-made walls.

“We picked these flora and fauna as a way to honor immigrants,” she said. “All of us here care deeply about migrants in general. This is a way to show that.”

“There’s something really powerful,” she added, admiring the mural, “about showing it publicly.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  Presbyterian Border Region Outreach

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Ryan Smith, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Stephen Smith, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray:

Gracious God, pour out your love and care on your children near the border and across the globe. Grant us new insight into your dream for us of love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters. Amen.