Beyond Despair and Death at the Border

Jan 2, 2024

December 1, 2023

By Rev. Brad Braley, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Participating in a mission trip to the U.S.-Mexico border through Frontera de Christo is hard to explain. People hearing about my trip want to know what kind of mission work we did. I tell them that this trip wasn’t about us “doing for” others. Instead, our mission was to listen to the many and varied stories of people on both sides of the border to learn what is happening firsthand. In a way, this “mission” was much harder work than any actual physical work we may have done, as it was hard to absorb all that we experienced and to ponder the sometimes-confusing complexities of the situation.

I have been aware of the Presbyterian Border Ministries for most of the almost forty years they have existed.  So when three presbyteries in Iowa planned a trip to Frontera de Christo, I jumped at the opportunity to see it myself, especially in light of how immigration has been so prominent in our news.

My expectation was that we would hear heart-wrenching stories of broken lives, despair and even death – and we did hear that as we dined with some migrants and saw the tears in their eyes as they told their stories of why they believed they had no choice but to leave their beloved homelands to escape violence or poverty to make a new life. I sat next to one man who managed to climb the thirty-foot border wall but fell off it and broke bones in three places. Some left him to die, but he survived thanks to several unlikely Good Samaritans who took him to a hospital. We heard of treacherous journeys people had made across Mexico, being robbed, taken advantage of by “coyotes,” running out of food and water in the desert. We witnessed the harsh reality of the desert on both sides of the wall, and we participated in a weekly vigil to remember and name some of the over 300 people who have died in that desert in Cochise County, Arizona, alone.

But beyond the despair and death, I witnessed lots of life and joy and hope on both sides of the border, from Sunday worship with the Lirio de los Valles (Lily of the Valley) Presbyterian Church to the beautiful murals extending hope across borders on the Mexican side of the wall, to friendly interactions with people trying to overcome their addictions, to the faithful commitment of those offering compassionate care to people at every stage of the migration process, to hearing a story of success in addressing root causes of migration through the Café Justo coffee cooperative.

People who have seen pictures posted from our trip say, “It looks like you had a wonderful trip!” I rephrase that to say that it was a hard trip, but indeed a very worthwhile experience to meet and connect and join with brothers and sisters in Christ in our mutual journeys seeking to live fulfilling lives. This gives me hope and determination to do whatever I can to make even a small difference.

If you would like someone to give a presentation about this trip or border ministries at your church, please contact the presbytery office at (319) 233-1747.