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Two little boys compelled me to visit the border last month.
I saw one in New York, in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, sent up from the border by Texas Governor Abbot. He looked about ten months old and was kept warm with a Church World Service blanket.
I noticed the wrap because I had raised money for CWS/CROP. Some of those funds bought that blanket. His mom, maybe from Venezuela, wore a light dress on a cold fall day, but she was selflessly looking for clothes for her boy. We had none. An hour and half later a box of onesies came in, but mother, father, and child were long gone.
The other boy is my grandson, Jack. By the time he was one month old, he already had more clothes than he could possibly use. Tears fill my eyes for a world where one boy has all he needs while another boy has so little.
I was at the Port Authority working with activists in New York who introduced me to Witness at the Border, a group that pays attention to what goes on down there. Their Journey for Justice was going to drive from the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Texas, to the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. I decided to drive to Brownsville and join them. An Army veteran named Jesse was there to bless us on our journey. He was part of a native people who lived by the Rio Grande before the Spanish came. Who’s legal and illegal on the land? That also makes me cry.
We witnessed the chaos of the border. There is more military presence on that stretch of land than anywhere else in the country. At the crossing of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico, we came upon a military operation where young National Guard soldiers with AR-17s and extra ammo clips traveled in camouflaged armored personnel carriers. They were detaining people who swam across the Rio Grande and surrendered themselves to the troops.
We came upon eight people who were being picked up. An officer commanded us to stay back fifty feet and not take any pictures of the soldiers’ faces, though a soldier took pictures of us. A woman who had crossed the border was crying. When a videographer with our group asked why she was crying, she said they were tears of joy because she could not believe she had made it to America.
I left the border at Big Bend National Park and headed to Okmulgee, Oklahoma. My grandfather, a minister in the Reformed Church, was born there in 1900. Okmulgee was the end of the Trail of Tears, where President Andrew Jackson sanctioned the removal of the Creek nation from their lands on the east coast and sent them to Oklahoma Indian Territory. In 1889, after oil was discovered in Oklahoma, a land grab was offered to white settlers to displace the natives. “Sooners” were those who cheated and got to the front of the line, to get there sooner rather than later. I wonder today what brought my family from Iowa to the Trail of Tears when my grandpa was born.
I come from a family of refugees that came over on the Mayflower. I can only imagine that my many-greats grandfather Samuel Fuller, age 12, must have wept when they made it to Plymouth Rock. Yet in years to come, it would be those who greeted the Mayflower who would weep the most.
My grandson, Jack, was born under the harvest moon of September. I drove home from the hospital and a full, glowing orange moon reflected all the beauty of the world in that moment. I wept that night, and have wept at the beauty of every full moon since.
As I left the border, the December full moon was setting over Mexico. I had seen much brutality, but also much beauty.
There were murals painted in Uvalde for the school shooting victims. Those murals now line the streets of that town.
There was Xan, who fuels her box truck on vegetable oil and goes around the country working for justice.
There was Rachna, an Indian grandmother from Queens who showered love and cookies on everyone she met.
There was Josh from Brooklyn, who stood for days outside of Matamoras and Homestead when families were being separated, to witness what was happening.
There are tears of joy for those having made it to America and tears of hope that we can do better.
I’m a retired preacher now, who preaches when the primary preacher is away. I did not preach on Christmas, a day of beauty wrapped in great joy, but I did preach the Sunday after Christmas, a day of weeping and great sadness. The lectionary invites us to witness the story of refugees on the run to Egypt. Herod’s wrath is poured out on the baby boys of Bethlehem. Rachel weeps for her children, but the hope of Israel makes it across the border. These two stories reflect the realities of our world: the brutality and the beauty, the despair and the hope.
It’s a long drive from Bethlehem to Brownsville. There are a lot of tears on that trail. There is plenty to make you cry, yet there is also plenty to make you hope. I saw people willing to make a stand and willing to lend a hand. I saw people willing to swim towards hope and people willing to stand for hope.
Herod will have his say, but he will not have the last word. Jesus made it across the border. I pray for both of the boys who drove me to the border, that they both may have enough–enough food, shelter, and clothing, and also enough hope in a better world.
I have not come back from the border with all the answers, but I do have hope.