09 2 / 2013

De*sert. Des*ert. 

This is my definition now.

Desert- Dry, barren land; extreme. During the day, it steams with fever. Twilight draws out the heat, and it is replaced with relentless chills of the night.

You may see it, take a leisurely hike through the cacti hoping to God you don’t interrupt the afternoon siesta of a diamondback, or even take photographs at a distance.

Imagine with me for a minute having to take a journey across the vast wilderness of desert in search of a better life.

What if that were the only hopeful option?

Tomorrow, the other YAGM volunteers and myself will be traveling to Tucson, Arizona to spend a week on the U.S/Mexico Border. We will be visiting a number of organizations that are devoted to assisting those that have attempted/crossed the border in search of work, family members, or a new chapter in their lives. 

 For those of you who are interested in learning more, here is a sampling of some of the organizations that we will be visiting during this retreat:

The first Café Justo (formerly Just Coffee) cooperative was formed in 2002 by members of the Lily of the Valley Church in Agua Prieta. Their first pound of coffee was roasted, ground, packaged, and sold to market that year. They have since teamed with cooperatives across Mexico eager to pursue a new model, not just for growing coffee, but for roasting, marketing, and selling the beans as well. Doing so has revitalized rural communities and has kept families together. They have been joined by partner congregations across the United States who are striving to make a positive impact on both sides of the border.

Agua Para La Vida (Water for Life) was formed in 2002 by residents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, as participants began to leave bottled water (first liters, then gallons) along popular migrant trails on the U.S. side.  About 60% of these bottles were slashed and left along the trains, presumably by vigilante groups.  In 2004, in response to the increasing number of migrant deaths from dehydration in Cochise County, the group discussed placing 55-gallon water barrels along the trails.  Because of concern about vandalism and poisoning, however, the group decided to place the tanks in Mexico, just south of the border.  In 2005 alone, more than 50,000 gallons of water were provided from more than 30 water barrels.  These tanks are paid for and maintained by a number of organizations on both sides of the border, including CRREDA, a Mexican drug and rehab organization with centers across the country, including one in Agua Prieta.

Healing our Borders is an interfaith group based in Douglas, Arizona.  They organized in December of 2000 in response to the growing number of migrant deaths in Cochise County, which has become the most popular entry point for undocumented migrants along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.  Healing Our Borders has four main areas of focus: organizing a weekly prayer vigil, education, humanitarian aid, and advocating for legislative change.  The weekly prayer vigil takes place every Tuesday evening along the Pan American Highway in Douglas, Arizona.  Participants gather to remember and pray for those who have died crossing the border through Cochise County.

No More Deaths is an organization whose mission is to end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border through civil initiative: the conviction that people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights.  The goals of No More Deaths, founded in 2004, are to provide water, food, and medical assistance to migrants walking through the Arizona desert; to monitor US operations on the border and work to change US policy to resolve the “war zone” crisis on the border; and to bring the plight of migrants to public attention. These goals are implemented by recruiting aid programs as well as supporting already-existing ones, by interfaith, humanitarian, peaceful, solidarity-building events, and by establishing camps for assistance, outreach and border monitoring. Under the No More Deaths umbrella, participating groups—staffed by volunteers—abide by clear medical and legal protocols and worked in concert to save human lives.  Gene LeFebvre is an active member of No More Deaths in Tucson.  He’s a retired minister, and was very involved in the founding of the Sanctuary Movement, along with the Revs. John Fife and Ken Kennon.  

** All of these descriptions were written by our country coordinator, Andrea. 

Immigration as most of you know, is a very hot topic in the United States right now. The conflict is layered, and both sides are so split, its as if the issue were balancing on a tightrope. I am eager to share this journey with the other YAGM volunteers as we open our hearts and minds to this issue and learn all that we can.  

As I have never spent a significant amount of time in the desert, the definition that I gave above is what I imagine it to be. When I return, I will be writing another post reflecting on my experiences during the week and sharing my new definition.

For now, I am left to guess and to wonder. 

For now, the desert is just a misunderstood wasteland.

A deadly diamond in the rough left to collect hopes withered by the sun.