The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” –Luke 4:18
Between air, wind, and fire, sight, sound, and touch, it is the air. The air of the desert stands out above all other features. It is the air of the desert which first makes it desert. It sings its tight tenor harmony of sage and mesquite, of sand and rock in the hard-lonely spaces.
The Chihuahuan Desert
It was the air of the desert for which Rosalba was first most grateful, then scared her the most. Though she had never breathed it before, she somehow knew it for what it was, a harsh and unforgiving place, a place where she and her baby did not belong. Strange as it seems, Rosalba took her first breath of desert air from the dead center of one of the largest deserts in the Western Hemisphere. And she had no earthly idea where she was. You see, Rosalba and her baby had arrived in this place of terrible beauty packed with 117 other people locked in a 40 foot by 8 foot by 8 foot metal Conex shipping container. This was beginning their third day inside that box, without fresh air, or water, or any provision for basic hygiene, it had been at least a day since their prison had stopped moving, and there were no more sounds of the truck or of any traffic. It was on that day that the driver, who had been left behind, finally decided that he too had been abandoned by the rest of the coyotes. He finally decided to open the door of the trailer, then make a run for it himself with the truck, and leave these ovejas, these sheep, to whatever would be their fate.
This is how Rosalba took her first breath of desert air from the middle of the desert. She staggered out of that metal box holding her two-year-old baby, thanking God for the air. But in her next few steps the gratitude gave way to fear, fear that froze her bones. Her baby had not had any water for two days, Rosalba for nearly three, and in what to her eyes looked like hell, there was no water as far as her eyes could reach; no water, or houses, or roads, or trees. She had no useful idea of where she was. Somewhere in the North of Mexico, she thought. But which way did the truck go? Which way was la frontera? How could she reach help? And, most importantly, how could she find water?
By no means lacking in courage but an utter child in the realm of critical decision making, Rosalba characteristically again chose just about the worst choice she could have made. She struck off alone, carrying her baby, into the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert.
The vast high plains between the Sierra Madre Occidental blocking moisture from the Pacific and the Sierra Madre Oriental blocking precipitation from the Gulf of Mexico, the Desierto Chihuahuense is a 140,000 square mile rain shadow desert. Eight hundred miles long and 2,700 miles wide, it extends from west Texas and southeastern Arizona down to Durango and Zacatecas, Mexico. This was back in September, when the daytime temperatures still redline above 110 º F and often drop below 60 º F at night. From the middle of the Chihuahuan desert, if exceptionally well prepared, it would take you 6 weeks to walk out in most any direction. Rosalba and her baby would not last a day.
As truth is often stranger than fiction, it was just at this point in her story that down here at Loma de Luz we learned of Rosalba’s desperate situation. Rosalba, of course, is not her name. Born and raised within walking distance of Loma de Luz, this is someone we’ve known since she was a young girl. Known by and in many cases related to a surprising number of Honduran friends and co-workers, the risk of hurting someone’s feelings is too great if I don’t at least blur a few details in this true tale. Because, you know, this is a true story I’m telling. It is a tale I most certainly would not tell if it weren’t. It is too outlandish to be believed straight off, too likely for someone to take offense over (which I don’t go looking for), too easily mistaken for some political statement (which I try to avoid like the plague), and too… well, too complicated.
I really resisted telling this story which concerns what everyone seems to be talking about on both sides of the border, the whole inflammatory issue of illegal immigration. It is an issue that is contentious, political, and complicated. But in the end, it seemed the Lord wouldn’t let me off the hook. Because the issue is important, the illustrating story is true, and, at its heart, it is not about politics. It is about the Gospel. Because, I find, all true tales lead to the Gospel.
If this were some fairy tale, “Rosalba” would be some poor, downtrodden but courageous waif trying to make her way in this world against all odds. But she’s not desperately poor. She has a house, a little land, a reasonably stable family. She does have courage, in an impulsive way—the courage to try to make what she thinks would be a better life for herself and perhaps for her children, coupled with the selfishness and terrible judgement to put her two year old boy at great risk of dying along the way, to try to use him as a pass into the USA, while leaving her husband, her sister, her mother and her 4 year old son behind. Those who go “mojado,” as they call it, are not exactly our brightest and best. They know what they are doing is illegal and so in some ways wrong. And they are neither our neediest, nor our worst (for the most part). They are most often somewhere in between. It’s complicated.
Odd as it may seem, it was at the point when Rosalba was planning to walk to the border that we first heard of her plight. She had borrowed a cell phone from someone in the group and on the last minutes of its battery called another illegal she knew up on the border to tell her of her plight and that, though she didn’t know the way, she was going to try her chances heading off alone and on foot.
That person called her sister in Lucinda, who came to us, clearly distraught, to see if we could help. Presented with the daunting situation of a woman whom we knew, with a two-year-old who had had no water for 2 days, with no knowledge of where she was, no knowledge of how to survive in that environment, who was planning to strike off on foot in the middle of the desert, after shaking our heads, we did what we could. We contacted the person up on the border, got the cell number from which Rosalba had called, tried to trace it, found that it was a “burner phone,” a pay per minute phone with a New York area code, contacted the embassy (which of course was of no help), and we brought the situation up in Missionary Fellowship for prayer… and we prayed. I can’t say whether it was those prayers or others that resulted in the rescue, or prayer at all really, but the most unlikely thing happened right about then. A company of Mexican soldiers just happened to be out in that part of the desert surveying for a planned communications tower.
an unexpected rescue & an uncertain future
They just happened upon this shipping container in the middle of hundreds of square miles of nowhere, with 119 people spilled on the desert around it, and it happened to be just before Rosalba had gotten out of sight. How unlikely is that? One can only wonder. They brought this hapless group of illegal immigrants (they were illegally in Mexico too, you know), many of them in pretty bad shape, to the nearest shelter. After some resuscitation, they were all eventually deported back to Honduras. It was the front-page story in the local papers… for a day…. then life went on.
At Loma de Luz, and APAH, and the Cornerstone Foundation, we try to stay clear of politics. This is not our sphere. The kingdom to which we hold our first allegiance is not of this world. We are about sharing the Evangel, the good news of the Advent of Christ Jesus, to share His Gospel and to live it out as best we can. But as I reflect upon this story, a story that so nearly ended in the senseless and miserable death of 119 people (and I suspect would have if not for God’s intervention), it seems the politics behind the story just shouldn’t be given a complete pass. So I’ll take a risk here and skate close to the edge. From the Honduran side of this issue, a very poor nation is hemorrhaging an unsustainable sector of its workforce (about 14 % of Honduras’s workforce lives in the USA), its “patrimonio,” its most valuable resource, its future, its sons and daughters, Mothers and Fathers, its capacity to build for a better day. Lured by the shaky promise of financial benefit in a faraway foreign nation of incomparable prosperity, the discontent, the unemployed, the underemployed, those living in the shadow of organized crime, a few good guys and plenty of bad guys leave their homes, leave their mothers and fathers, their sisters and children, leave their communities. They stake all of the money they can beg, borrow, steal or promise to pay. (The price for Rosalba was $4,000, twice the annual per capita income in Honduras, which would be comparable to $55,000 to a US Citizen.) They knowingly break the laws of several countries. (The price in our area last year was to carry a kilo of cocaine the whole way.) They take terrible risks (like dying in the desert), gambling for what on Facebook looks like a better life.
It boils down to this. The combination of the tremendous discrepancy in prosperity between the USA and the developing nations to the south (like Honduras), coupled with the perennial mixed messages (from both major political parties in the US) regarding immigration policy, has created an ongoing, escalating, mutually deleterious international co-dependency with toxic long-term consequences for all of the nations and peoples involved.
Last month I was on a trip up to the USA. It seemed that all that was talked about everywhere I went was illegal immigration: the politics on one side of it or the other, the political solutions, whatever one side or another favored (none of which, you’ve got to admit, seem to be working too well so far). On that recent trip up to the USA I saw lots of great Christian people. I was at a major missions Conference and saw thousands of them. Whenever anyone would ask where I was from, and I answered “Honduras,” they looked at me like maybe I had just crashed the borders in the Vanguard of “the Caravan.”
It was like I was the keynote speaker at a Vegan Convention and had asked everyone to raise their hand if they owned a leather belt. I seemed to have stumbled into a subject that just by being associated with it had somehow offended everyone on every side of the issue. And all of them had strongly held opinions about solutions. And all of the solutions were political ones: “the wall” or “amnesty” or “welfare.” Not once did I hear one Christian suggest one Christian solution. While some political solutions might be necessary, I’m not here to talk about politics. Not at all.
But here is a Christian solution: Go out into the world. Change the world. Christians effectively living out their lives as Christians makes a place a better place. Live where people are migrating from. Make that place a better place. Motivate them to stay and change their own communities for the better. That is what we do at Loma de Luz.
But is Christianity supposed to be about Societal Problems?
Agreed, Christianity is first and foremost about the redemption of one person at a time. But one person at a time adds up. And a lot of people added together makes a society of them. And I serve a Master who took societal issues head-on. I serve a Master who, the first time he was asked to speak in his home church, read from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” …. “And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down.” Then He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Then He got up and walked out and set the world on fire.
The outworking of His gospel has been THE wellspring for positive societal change in essentially all aspects of life, private and civic, throughout the history of Western Civilization. Historically, Christians acting like Christians have been the driving force for progressive societal change in the realms of the Value of Human Life (Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Protection of Children, Abolition of Slavery, Civil Rights), Public Education, the rise of Representative Government, the development of Science, Free Enterprise and the Work Ethic, Art, Music & Literature. As D’Souza wrote, “However paradoxical it seems, people who believed most strongly in the next world did the most to improve the situation of people living in this one.”
And, if the solution is to make some other place better, then send Christian missionaries there. Robert Woodberry, PhD, probably the world’s foremost authority on the sociological impact of Christian Missions worldwide, concludes the most exhaustive historical statistical study ever done on the subject by saying that Christian Missions have been the “crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, most major colonial reforms, and the codification of legal protections for nonwhites in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These innovations fostered conditions that made stable representative democracy more likely.”
If you want to do something positive and effective about the whole illegal immigration business, or social justice, or civil rights, or human trafficking, abortion, slavery, poverty, or any of the evils in this broken world… then act like an effective Christian where you are planted, and send and support an effective Christian missionary where you aren’t.
This being December now, I can’t help but reflect on another story–one about immigrants (legal ones, though), a story that had a lot of politics associated, one that involved a young mother and child. That story was even more unlikely. It was also true. I first read of it in Isaiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” It is the most unlikely of stories; a king that is born in a stable, the king of a kingdom which has lasted now for 2000 years, a kingdom not of this world but with citizens all over this world, and of “the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” How likely is that?
But it is a true tale, you know. One that is worth telling.
Because, all true tales lead to the Gospel.
Let’s follow that story wherever it goes.
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
Please pray for those involved in the work at Loma de Luz, for God’s work in our area, in Honduras, and around the world. In our neck of the woods, the rainy season has set in, so please pray for safety related to transportation problems and the isolation the rainy season can bring with it.
Thank you, and may you have moments of joy this Christmas and in the coming New Year.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone Foundation
Front Row: Marinajo Fields, Rebecca Pirkle w/Isaac, Teresa Roberts w/Zoe, Angela DesMarais, Caroline Andrews, Linda Kuykendall, Reagan Jeffries, Koley & Peter Stockton, Katie w/ Kyler Stockton, Isaac Hotz w/Gideon & Anne Hotz w/Madie , Ella Kate Alexander, Kinzie Stockton., Elizabeth Martin, Kenna Stockton, Christine Bell-Maradiaga w/Samantha, Lucy, Rigo & Chrysti & Amanda w/Adrian & Abby, Jacob Alexander
Second Row: Dave Fields, Judy Blumhofer w/ Angel., Rony Moncada, Karen Amend, Jerry Kuykendall, Peggy Yost, Elizabeth Nettles, Sharman Stockton, Katie Stockton w/ Kyler, Ben Fields w/ Josia Hotz, Joshua Como, Ana Como, Jason Como, Rosanne McKenney, Calix Maradiaga, Christie Caceres, Kathryn & Oscar Sanchez, Estelle Barnette, Alex & Huyen w/Emma Batholomew, Meredith Alexander, John Alexander
Back Row: Dave Roberts w/ Levi, Andrew & Alisa Geer, Eldon Nafziger, Michael Amend, Mike Yost, Annie Sides, Solomon Como, Alissa Kearny Gomez, Omar Gomez w/ Alyana, Jeff McKenney, Carolien van Mourick, Calix Maradiaga, Natalia Suits, Tim Bartholomew, Dave Alexander
May the Dayspring From On High bring you light this Christmas and in the New Year.
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