One member is touched by the wind
May 29, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John M. Nelsen, co-pastor of University Presbyterian Church in El Paso and a member of the Foundation’s Board, encouraged the Board to host a meeting in El Paso in order to provide a cross-border opportunity.
“It is one thing to read about the border situation,” Nelsen said. “It is another thing to experience it.”
University Presbyterian Church has been ministering along the border for decades. “I am so pleased that this group of folks came from the Foundation a day early in order to hear about what is going on directly from the Mexican government, and from those who are working with the migrants,” Nelsen said.
The day began with an introduction by Sami DiPasqule, head of Abara, an organization that facilitates encounters on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez as well as resources migrant shelters on both sides of the border.
“In 2016, we were actually at a 40-year low of border apprehensions, from 1.5 million in 2000 to less than 20 percent of that in 2016,” DiPasqule explained to the group.
Those numbers were primarily single male Mexican nationals who were trying to cross the border in order to find employment. “In many ways, the whole apparatus was around this demographic, and these single men were easier to detain and deport,” he said.
But in the past five years, that demographic has changed. “Now, the majority coming are families from Central America seeking asylum,” DiPasqule said.
“This is not an economic or national security threat as much as it is a humanitarian crisis,” DiPasqule told the group as it began to make its way to one of El Paso’s five bridge border crossings.
Once across to the Mexican side of what has historically been a single metropolitan area, the group heard a presentation from Mexican officials working with Consejo Estatal de Poblacion (COESPO). COESPO is tasked with general population services and development, communications and education of the public, family planning and sexual health, and migrant services.
The remainder of the day was spent visiting two migrant shelters, Pasos de Fe (a part of the Presbyterian Border Ministry) and Pan de Vida, a converted community center that now houses more than 100 people.
The Rev. Wonjae Choi, pastor of Gwynedd Square Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, serves on the Foundation’s Board and went with the group to Juarez. “I was shocked as we began our day that these Mexican government officials spoke to us with such passion for their work in helping the migrants, as if they were doing ministry,” Choi said. For Choi, the joy that she saw in these government officials — whose job could be seen as more administrative than generative — was eye-opening.
“From there, we went to visit with a pastor who converted his church into a shelter because he heard a prophetic word to help these migrant people,” Choi said. “He was just a regular pastor — I saw myself in him.”
But for Choi, what was perhaps most impactful from the day was the wind.
“I was struck by the wind and I remember thinking, it wasn’t a violent wind, but it was blowing, and you don’t know where it is coming from or going to,” Choi said. “I stood there along the border, with the wind blowing at me, knowing that I have a legion of people who hold me up in the wind,” she said. Her family, her church family, her privileged life — all of these things hold her up against the wind.
“But it is the same wind that blows on this side of the border as on that side — and I began to be weepy about the folks on the other side, the migrants, the displaced,” she said. “But then I was also heartened by the thought that the church is helping them, and the passionate government employees, that even in the midst there are those who are there to gird up against the wind so that it doesn’t become so bitter cold.”
Erin Dunigan, an ordained evangelist and teaching elder in the PC(USA) and graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, serves as a photographer, writer and communications consultant and lives near the border in Baja California, Mexico
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Foundation Board of Trustees
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Dear Lord, thank you for the blessings brought to the many who have been called to serve your mission. We pray that you would bless them as they serve others in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.