In January 1828, a bunch of men sitting in a palace in Mexico City signed the “Treaty of Limits,” a document that would set up the bureaucracy used to draw and then redraw the borders based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and later the Gadsden Purchase. All of this led to an arbitrary line in the sand of the desert near the 31st parallel. Today we know that line as the international border between the United States and Mexico.
In October 2018, seven adventurous souls from Hastings, Nebraska. made a trek to the 31st parallel and spent a week studying boundaries, borders, barriers and lines through the lens of their faith and through the stories of people living on both sides. What did we discover? God’s love, manifest through God’s precious children, transcends boundaries, borders, barriers and lines.
Our team arrived in Tucson, Arizona, on a Saturday afternoon. Our Presbyterian mission co-worker Mark Adams lovingly greeted us, and we loaded in the van for the two-hour ride to the U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint at Douglas-Agua Prieta. By the time we arrived at the checkpoint, it was dark. We sailed smoothly through into Mexico and were warmly greeted at the Lirio de los Valles (Lilly of the Valley) Presbyterian Church in Agua Prieta, our home for the next six days.
Sunday morning came early after the long travel day, but the energy of Mark Adams and the congregation hosting us in Mexico was contagious. We started the morning with a Bible study and a walk along the Mexico side of the border, both led by Mark. We reflected and prayed on what that border means to us and to our neighbors in Mexico. Next we joined the church for worship and were confronted with authentic and radical hospitality in the form of smiles, handshakes and hugs. We sang bilingual hymns together and heard a moving sermon on the Apostle Peter.
Following worship, we were invited to a church member’s home, and this is where the walls began tumbling down. The Ramirez Llamas family opened their home and their hearts to us. We shared a meal of the best fried chicken we have ever eaten, followed by two hours of conversation about the United States, Mexico, borders, love of God and love of neighbor. That night we were invited into the home of mission co-workers Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar and their two children who are still at home, Anna Flor and Nathan. It was a cold and rainy night, but the warmth of their hospitality far outweighed the weather, and we left full of great food and great stories of life on the border.
This first full day of our trip was a crash course in radical hospitality and fearless generosity. The rest of the week went by in a blur as we continued to be profoundly loved and embraced by the people we met on both sides of the border. We visited migrant shelters, alcohol and drug treatment facilities, entrepreneurial projects that are attempting to create job opportunities in Mexico so that people aren’t compelled to migrate, and so many other amazing ministries. On the U.S. side of the border, we were hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Douglas and also met the mayor of Douglas and some local activists and entrepreneurs as well as border patrol agents. We also shared more meals with our sisters and brothers and were invited into people’s homes.
Each visit was another lesson in radical hospitality and fearless generosity. The church in Mexico, with its limited financial resources, pours those resources into ministries that help others like the migrant shelter and the drug treatment facilities. Like the widow and her two copper coins in Mark 10, the church doesn’t worry about where their resources will come from the next month, they use what they have to meet the needs of their community each day. The same was true with each ministry and person we visited on both sides of the border. There was a fearless generosity that was present as people shared of their time, talent and treasure. They shared all that they had with our team, without fear of scarcity. Our neighbors on the U.S.-Mexico border embrace the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 through their fearless generosity. They work to meet the needs they see each day, not worrying about what tomorrow will bring, because they trust that God will provide. They take radical hospitality to a whole new level and offer an alternative way to approach the world, one that embodies love of neighbor.
The U.S.-Mexico border has been in the news a great deal in the past few months. The dominant narrative is one of fear: fear of violence, fear of scarcity, fear of the other. A group of seven Nebraskans spent a week on the border and learned a new narrative from precisely the people that we are being told to fear. Instead of violence, we were met with hospitality. Instead of scarcity, we were met with abundance. And instead of being treated like the “other,” we were treated like sisters and brothers in Christ, fellow children of God.
The biggest border, boundary or barrier along the 31st parallel is not an arbitrarily drawn international boundary, or even a border fence. It is fear. And the best antidote to fear is generosity and hospitality. If the people living on the border can live out that fearless generosity and radical hospitality in the face of political and economic challenges, it seems that we should be able to as well. There are at least 100 verses in the bible where God tells us to “fear not,” and at least 100 times where God tells us that we are called to take care of the foreigner, immigrant, refugee, stranger, widow and orphan. I would encourage anyone reading this to consider making the trek to the 31st parallel. Go break bread and look into the eyes of those living on both sides of the border. Allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the fearless generosity and radical hospitality, and then “go and do likewise.”