(Photo provided by El Camino Del Inmigrante)
Even after I arrived in California I was not sure why I was there, but I found that I was in good company. The participants in El Camino Del Inmigrante ranged from 1 to 79 years of age, most of whom were drawn to the event due to relationships they had with immigrants, or having been an immigrant themselves. We had all been touched by people’s stories, were frustrated by the negative rhetoric surrounding immigration, and searching for more merciful way to address the crisis of worldwide displacement of millions of men, women, and children.
We began at the U.S. border between Tijuana, Mexico and Imperial Beach, Calif. where there already stands not just one wall, but two, that stretches 300 feet into the waves of the Pacific Ocean. The area is heavily patrolled, and we were only allowed to approach after applying for a permit, which limited our gathering to 100 participants.
The day began overcast, and the ceremony was somber. We planted crosses in the sand that represented both the lives that had been lost by those attempting to reach safety, but as a reminder of Jesus’ heart for the oppressed.
Over the next several days the group walked. The event was not meant to be a march, or protest. Everyone walked at their own pace, sometimes alone and some times in groups. There were those, of course, who were faster than others, but we would intentionally adjust our paces in order to hear each other’s stories, and help one another if someone was injured or tired.
By the seventh day, I was not just physically tired, but emotionally tired, as well. Most of the other days of El Camino, I didn’t know the terrain of the journey ahead. However, for this particular day, we had driven the route the night before, and I knew how hilly and difficult it was going to be.
All day long I was either on the verge of tears or weeping. Managing my pain, and pushing myself to continue was a constant struggle. On top of my exhaustion, I had received the text that morning, stating that I was one of those representing the 1 in 3 immigrants who die attempting to cross the desert in search of a better life. My “death” did not actually sadden me. For the one who dies, the struggle is over; it’s the ones who carry on, who must find reasons to press on and continue. As a symbol of my death, I walked the day in silence.
My emotional state and isolation turned out to be providential for it gave me the opportunity to experience in a small way what the asylum seekers must truly experience. While El Camino was challenging it only simulated in part the experience of those truly seeking refuge. We had the support of local churches and organizations, which supplied food, water, and shelter along the way. We had maps and cell phones to guide us, and people driving with medical support, if there were a need. We, also, walked a much less treacherous route, in part for the visibility of our cause, but also because it was much less dangerous. Moreover, we had each other for inspiration and comfort.
I thought about my privilege, the support I received and the safety I experienced, not only on El Camino, but in my everyday life, and I felt compelled that those luxuries have greater purpose, than for my own gain. I was reminded of all that Jesus gave up in order to demonstrate God’s solidarity with humankind. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he quotes what had become a familiar refrain,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8 NRSV)
Jesus leveraged his privilege so that you and I could be set free.
It all started to make sense. Solidarity is inextricably linked with incarnation. Jesus modeled how to identify and take on the burden another by becoming human himself, and walking alongside us in our pain and suffering. In order to demonstrate true solidarity with another person or group, we need to be with them in the flesh.
CEO of Christian Community Development, Noel Castellanos, puts it this way, “The way you make an impact for the kingdom is you do it the way Jesus did. You enter into the pain of the reality that people live everyday and you live in solidarity with them” (http://www.nobts.edu/gatekeeper/news/2016/talking-about-race-speakers-say-reconciliation-begins-with-incarnational-living.html, accessed October 3, 2016).
It took me almost eight hours to walk 16 miles on day seven. Captive to my thoughts and aching feet, I prayed, wrestled with my ideas, and sang to myself to keep going. I contemplated Jesus’ sacrifice for me, and reflected on what I could do for others. I couldn’t help but think about a song written by Brooke Ligertwood called “Hosanna.” The bridge says,
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
(Hillsong, http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/hosanna-united, accessed October 3, 2016)
As we came to the close of El Camino, we talked about whether, knowing all that we had come to learn, we would do it again? The question is not about the physical undertaking of walking the distance, or even the individual opportunity for reflection and spiritual growth. The real question is, “Would you be willing to endure the physical pain, emotional anguish, anxiety of the unknown, and expense of time and resources in order to stand, or in this case walk, with those facing danger and oppression?” Without hesitation, all of us would respond, “Yes,” because our hearts have been broken, and the fitting reaction is to not allow the women, men, and children bear the weight of that injustice alone, but in solidarity join them.
Marie Moy completed the Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in May 2015. She serves in the city of Buffalo through Jericho Road Community Health Center and Renovation Church. Marie is passionate about Christian community development, and works with like-minded individuals and organizations to holistically restore communities.
This blog post is the third in a series of three posts dedicated to Marie’s participation in the El Camino Del Inmigrante pilgrimage held August 20-30, 2016.