Cultivating relationships and understanding across borders
January 16, 2021
The impact of mission delegations is said to be like the rock that hits the water and ripples outward.
That’s what Gene Ryan of Western Theological Seminary said about a previous trip to the border with his seminary class to visit Frontera de Cristo (FDC), a Presbyterian border ministry located in the sister cities of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona.
Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Hannah Singerline has been hosting mission delegations in 2019–20 as part of her year of service. She hosted a webinar series called “Coffee and Conversations,” about cultivating relationships and understanding across borders.
The YAVs serve as part of the FDC’s binational internship ministry in which up to four interns — two from the United States and two from Mexico — live in community by sharing an apartment in Agua Prieta and serve with FDC’s different ministries.
This year the other U.S. intern came through the Serving and Learning Together volunteer program of the Mennonite Central Committee in Mexico. The two from Mexico came from the churches of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico — one from Chiapas and the other from Tijuana.
Singerline is a recent graduate of John Carroll University, just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, with a degree in cell and molecular biology. The Jesuit institution instilled in her the love for service learning through participation in weekly service, international immersion trips and education on social injustices in the classroom.
“My desire to serve specifically in the borderlands began with my most recent immersion trip to El Salvador and the U.S.-Mexico border,” she said. “Through this experience I learned about the conditions that pushed individuals out of their home countries and saw the way they were welcomed upon arriving to our country. In the 10 days of that trip, I learned far more from the many firsthand accounts that were shared with me than I have through the media.”
The goal of ministry visits is to form relationships between U.S. and Mexican siblings and to:
- Build understanding of spiritual, political and economic connections across borders
- Challenge participants to understand the realities of life on the border
- Provide participants the opportunity to share their talents or gifts and discover new abilities
- Provide participants with enough knowledge of Frontera de Cristo to be able to interpret its mission and ministry and those of its partners.
Singerline told webinar guests she thought the best way to illustrate the impact of visiting delegations was to invite those who had participated to speak about their experiences. Ryan was one.
“We went with the intent of learning how the church operates in a place other than where we live,” he said. “What I found most interesting was how many solid connections there were with my life here in Holland, Michigan, and the border. When we went back to Holland, we could see the different borders in our community. We wanted to break the bubble to start to cross those borders in our ministry.”
Stuart Massey of Shandon Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, was also a past participant. He said he was inspired by the work at Frontera de Cristo to overcome borders.
“Our church put up a Black Lives Matter banner on the fence outside the church. As a result, we received some pushback from the community,” Massey said. “I realized this was a border in my own community and these attitudes were separating us.”
Laura Labrada, director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Recuperation, has joined participants for walks in the desert called “Water for Life.” The program was established 18 years ago to reduce the amount of deaths in the desert by providing water, food and temporary shelter.
“We would see groups of all sizes, sometimes 40 or more. Some were injured or dehydrated. Seeing a little of what the migrants have gone through inspires us to keep going,” she said. “We go in a car with supplies, but this isn’t how it is for migrants. They can come into contact with border patrol or the cartel or get lost. We go to the (landmark)
‘Tree of Life’ because that’s where we can meet them to share time with them. It touches my heart.”
Kathy Melvin, Director, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Frontera de Cristo (FDC), a Presbyterian border ministry
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Thank you, God, for the loaves you provide in our lives. We pray that you continue to bless the people as they grow and develop into who you have planned for them. We ask that your mercy and peace be poured out on them. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.