Next year, April 24-26, 2024, Incarnation will send a team to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for a border encounter trip with our outreach partner Abara. I would love for you to begin praying now about the possibility of participating in this trip, which will be open to adults and teenagers (age 13+, accompanied by a parent).
This will not be a service trip, but an opportunity to listen, learn, pray, and encounter Jesus in the face of the "stranger." Sunday's gospel text reminded us that Jesus willingly identifies with immigrants seeking refuge: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25:35).
Here's how Abara describes these trips:
"Abara Border Encounters (a.k.a. 'listening trips') are 3 day educational immersion experiences designed for students, faith leaders, and groups of all stripes to re-humanize relationships outside the news cycle. These encounters are an invitation to listen, learn, and reflect on what the border can teach us, who we are meant to become, and how we can engage closer to home. This is not border tourism. Through a border encounter, we want hear differently as we connect across divides. We desire to sit with our neighbors, stand with one voice, and walk with those who sojourn over many miles in search of refuge, safety, and wholeness."
In addition to Abara's description, you can also hear directly from people in our congregation who have participated in a trip like this. Vestry member Buz Schultz and I both participated in Abara border encounters in 2022, though not at the same time (his was in May, and mine was in February). We've each described our experiences below.
"These three days opened my eyes to a part of the world I found I knew very little about. It was a powerful learning experience. The most informative aspect of the visit was gaining real proximity to the people on the ground. I will always remember interacting with the kids and families in the Juarez holding center that we visited, and stepping alongside the volunteers serving them. My group received excellent briefings and a variety of presentations, which were enhanced by dialogue sessions. There is a lot you learn about the history, policies, culture and raw data surrounding a very different part of the world.
The pilgrimage is both painful and inspiring. Painful in the hard-to-hear stories of violence and abuse that force immigrants to leave their homes. It is very disturbing to hear the history implicating the U.S. in systemic injustice in Central America. And I had to face what our neighbors see every day: the hostility projected by some churches toward immigrants. But the pilgrimage is also inspiring; primarily in the work of Abara and local churches sponsoring and supporting centers to house and feed these immigrant families."
"Two moments stand out to me from my border encounter. The first was an afternoon spent in a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This shelter was run by local churches to meet an urgent need for safe housing for asylum seekers en route to the U.S. On the day we were visiting, several women were graduating from a job skills training program offered in the shelter, and they invited our group to stay for the ceremony and celebration. We cheered for the women alongside their husbands and children when they graduated; we feasted together on homemade Central American food; and we haltingly attempted Spanish-English conversation, all while dozens of migrant children played underfoot. It was a joyful, humanizing evening together. I was humbled by the generous hospitality of these migrant families as they welcomed me, a stranger, to their table.
The other moment that stands out was a visit to the border wall, where our group prayed and sang together. We pray regularly about immigration at Incarnation, and we support the work of organizations that help migrants, like Restoration Immigration Legal Aid and Casa Chirilagua and Abara. Stories from the border are not new to us. But there was something profound and powerful about praying onsite at the border, seeing the wall towering overhead and the guards patrolling nearby, imagining all the people who have crossed that threshold and the myriad of stories that compelled them to do so. During that prayer time, the border was not an abstract concept or a policy problem; it was a real place where real feet had walked. And as God inhabited the prayers of his people, it was also a holy place."
Curious to learn more? Linger after the service on Sunday, December 10, for a short informational meeting about this opportunity, and begin praying whether God is inviting you to participate.