In Heaven, No Borders (AZ/Mexico)
"In heaven, there are no borders."
Monica L. Wedlock ’07
Borders, whether visible or invisible, separate. We see this separation in our world, our country, and even our local communities. Some of these borders are self-imposed because we want to be separated from things or people that may harm us or scare us – or change us. Other borders are erected for us, to keep some in and others out. And no one knows the real effect of a border until you’ve been on the other side.
A border separates the two sides of Nogales, one in Arizona and the other in Mexico, and some of us had the opportunity to experience both sides during the seminary’s Explorations course in January. One side of the city we knew well. It is our side, the side in which we live and breathe and have our being. But what would it be like to cross over? Who are these people who live on the other side? What is their language, their lifestyle, and their religion? And why, oh why, do they keep crossing the border? These were just a few of our questions during our one-week journey to the desert.
Immigration may seem like a new hot topic in the U.S. with all the media coverage and political hoopla. But reality is that it’s an historical issue, a geopolitical issue – a religious issue. Centuries have come and gone, and legislation created and amended for the benefit of U.S. labor, security, and economics. And we’ve all taken advantage of these benefits.
But the real question is: What’s lost when borders are present?
For the migrant, the one who is willing to venture beyond home, lies opportunity for change. Those we met on the other side of our border were in search of something new, something sustaining, something that would offer them and their families peace and relief. In some sense, we became migrants during our journey, too, and we found ourselves looking for the same things. We wanted to know what it would be like to walk in the desert with no food or water, and only a dream. We wanted to know what it would be like to be dependent upon the kindness of others to help us along the way. We wanted an opportunity to be changed.
As people of faith, borders are our historical dilemma. Borders have separated lands and peoples for centuries and have been an obstruction to change. We can think of Jericho, Jerusalem, and all sorts of fortresses confined by walls to protect and preserve, but also to separate. But as Christians, we are called to be border crossers. It’s our heritage, our legacy. It’s the example that Jesus Christ set for us. We are a people who have been called holy – set apart. But the paradox is that we are not called to be set apart from others. We are set apart to be for others. We have the task of crossing borders and working on behalf of those on the other side.
For those of us on the trip, crossing the border of Arizona and Mexico called into question our own understanding of what it means to be holy people – border crossers. We had to ask ourselves what we hoped to gain by crossing this border. We each came with our own curiosity, and perhaps some of us with our own sense of solidarity. Initially, we discovered pain and despair. Ultimately, we encountered hope and courage.
But the truth of the matter is that one doesn’t have to go all the way to Arizona to cross a border. We live on the edges of many borders every day. We stare in the face of difference every day and choose whether to learn from it or to ignore it. Take a look at the local communities around us. Have you ever traveled from the suburbs to downtown? Or visited a mosque or a synagogue or some other religious site not your own? Or have you taken the time to visit the neighbor next door or across the street? The very environments that surround us provide opportunities for border crossing.
The Explorations journey to the borderlands was a lesson in Christian mission. It was a lesson that taught us what it means to be like Christ in word and deed. It was a lesson in breaking down the barriers that separate us from others. On the border, one step is the difference between staying the same or being forever changed. In a leap of faith, we took that one step to be the border crossers we were called to be, and on the other side of that border, we saw the face of Jesus.
Monica Wedlock, a student in the Master of Divinity program is in South Africa this summer. She is living at the University of Western Cape and working at St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Capetown.