From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Mission caravan examines people living at Mexican border

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 7 Dec 2001 13:52:31 -0600

Dec. 7, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy Gilbert*

A visit to the border of the Mexico and the United States caused a United
Methodist deacon to question how a country that champions freedom could
build imposing obstacles to keep citizens of another nation out.

Alice Kunka of Cary, N. C., was one of seven United Methodist deacons and
diaconal ministers who journeyed to Nagales, Sonora, Mexico, in November as
part of a mission caravan to explore the conditions of people living at or
near the border.

"As I studied the imposing barrier that has been erected by the U.S.
government to separate the two countries, I questioned how a country that
prides itself on its symbol of the Statue of Liberty could build an 18-foot
wall along its borders," Kunka said.

Sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's
Section of Deacons and Diaconal Ministries, the trip was coordinated through
BorderLinks, an experiential educational organization that educates North
Americans about the realities of life on the border and also works to
empower those who actually "live the border life" to understand and respond
to their situation in responsible ways.

"We met people living right at the border, who have never once in their
whole lives been able to cross over to the other side, to work, to shop, or
to visit family or friends," said Sharon Rubey, a section director. "We also
met with persons who have traveled the whole length of Mexico, risked
everything they own, their family and their lives to try to cross the border
to find a better life." 

Deacons and diaconal ministers are called to ministries of love justice, and
service that connect the response of the church with the needs of a hurting
world, she said. "We experienced, firsthand, the reality of connecting with
some of the most needful and marginalized people.

The mission caravan visited a local maquiladora (assembly-line factory),
where the standard wage for the common 45-hour workweek is equivalent to
about $35, or $7 to $9 per day. 

"I had thought that since an employee of a maquiladora made only $6 or $7 a
day, perhaps the cost of food would be correspondingly low. But the shock
came in realizing that some items were actually more expensive in Mexico
than in supermarkets in the U.S.," Kunka said.

A market survey of staples in the Mexican diet such as beans and rice
revealed to the team that a high percentage of the average worker's wages
goes to buy groceries, she said. 

No zoning or urban planning exists in the "colonias" (neighborhoods) that
have been established as people migrate looking for work in the
maquiladoras. Many of the people are on the land illegally, and as a result,
most do not have running water or electricity.

"To say that the homes are modest by our standards does not begin to
accurately convey a picture of what I saw," said Bernadine Johnson of Baton
Rouge, La. "There are many that live in cardboard structures with dirt
floors, sparse furnishings and without running water. Yet all the people
were hospitable and did not express any sense of anxiety or victimization
about their situation. Many seemed grateful that they had improved their lot
in life," she said. 

The caravan members divided into groups of two or three and stayed in the
homes with some of the families. "The highlight of the trip for me was the
home stay. The family I stayed with is poor by definition, yet I came away
with an impression that they are rich in spirit and rejoice in the life they
have," Johnson said.

The caravan experience challenged Terry Dougherty to explore ways to assist
"those whose desperation has led them to my town." A diaconal minister at
Lee Chapel United Methodist Church in Bryan, Texas, Dougherty asked team
members to examine their communities to "see the faces of the Mexicans who
toil there."

"The gospel, as I understand it, calls us as Christians to embrace our
brothers and sisters wherever they are, however they came to be in those
places," Dougherty said. "The church has no borders or boundaries."
# # #
*Gilbert is a staff member of the Office of Interpretation at the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

United Methodist News Service
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