The Intersection of Brokenness and Beauty

I recently traveled to the borderlands of Tijuana/San Diego with The Global Immersion Project (TGIP). TGIP’s immersion journeys take Christians into international and domestic conflicts and into the lives of everyday peacemakers embedded within. Their training embodies 4 core peacemaking practices: See, Immerse, Contend, Restore.  During this trip, we focused on the importance of seeing and immersing before we can begin to contend and restore. While there is a lot that I’m still processing, I just wanted to share a few reflections about the people I encountered along the journey.  
  
Three men stood in front of us at Casa del Migrante, a Catholic migrant shelter tucked into the untamed hills and bustling city of Tijuana, Mexico. They shifted from one foot to the other, a little nervous perhaps at the thought of sharing their stories in front of US citizens who couldn't fully understand the pain and regret they live with daily. Slowly, however, they started opening up and graciously extended their complex stories to us.   


These three men are all deportees. They had lived 20, 38, and 45 years respectively in the United States before they made mistakes that got them deported to a city and country where they don’t know anyone. They each acknowledged their wrongdoing, feeling the regret of their decisions as they lamented the fact that they are now separated from their families. They've had to come to terms with the fact that their entire lives have been changed in the blink of an eye.


The US didn’t want them. Mexico is foreign to them. But the welcoming arms of the staff at Casa del Migrante has enveloped these men, reminding them of their dignity as human beings despite the mistakes they made. For thirty years Casa del Migrante has been a haven for migrants, asylum seekers, and the recently deported. Each person has a painful story, each is searching for stability and safety. The staff at Casa del Migrante works tirelessly to support each person through matching them with employers and assists them in reintegrating into society. 


Amid all this complexity, confusion, and pain, a question we were challenged to ask ourselves was “what’s broken and what’s beautiful around me?” It was easy to see the brokennessbroken systems, countries, circumstances, people. 

I became proximate with pain and suffering. I encountered it in the tears of a woman from El Salvador whose sister was murdered by a gang member. It was in the eyes of a woman and her five-year-old son who fled gang violence in Honduras, were abandoned by their smuggler, held hostage in storage containers, then repeatedly violated before crossing the border and being deported to Mexico. It was in the righteous anger of a young undocumented woman who grew up in San Diego believing she was a US citizen and has lived in constant limbo and fear as policies shift and change at her expense. As she shared her story, the air was full of the fragmented pieces of her shattered dreams. 


But I saw God’s goodness and beauty weaved into all this brokenness. Beauty was in the face of little Andrew who I ate dinner next to at Casa del Migrante, Andrew with the obsidian hair and deep brown eyes. Smiles and laughs transcended the language barrier and I could see my own mischievous nephews in his playfulness as he made silly faces, stuck out his tongue, and gave us high-fives and fist-bumps. I was told that his mother, who had endured so much that we’ll never know, had to leave behind her other son who is only two years old with family members when she fled violence in southern Mexico. Yet, as I shared a smile and laugh with her over dinner, I was struck by the way she radiated joy despite her circumstances.  
  
Artists have creatively covered the wall in a beautiful tempest of their anger and hope. The words, en lamente (in lament)todos somos migrantes (we are all migrants), la frontera nos cruzo (the border crossed us), the names of deported veterans who served in the US military, flowers, handprints, crosses, muralsare all acts of creativity intertwined with lament. 


As I stepped out to catch a glimpse of the sunset during our overnight stay at Casa del Migrante, a thin line of coral and gold stretched across the horizon and melted into the city. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of Spanish music and conversations wafting up to the third floor. I realized that God’s restoration is at work in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. This is the intersection of brokenness and beauty. 


As I look back on the trip, I’m constantly led back to the truth that “if you want to understand the gospel, go to the margins.” While immigration is a complex topic, we can never forget the inherent dignity of each undocumented, deported, and asylum-seeking man, woman, and child at our border. The people I met along the journey completely wrecked my indifference, challenged my privilege and showed me Christ in their humanity. 


-Emily

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