U-C: What I See

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I arrived home last night after three weeks of travel - mostly in churches in the mid-west. Today I am trying to prepare for the last major event of my term as Moderator. This week I will be joining a group of ninety people who will spend the week walking through seventy-five miles of the Sonoran desert to follow the trail of the migrants. The event, called the Migrant Trail: We walk for Life http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/migrant_trail_2006.php4 will begin tomorrow, Memorial Day in the border town of Sasabe where so many of the migrants are beginning their journey. It will finish seven days later with a rally in Tucson, Arizona.

I'll be hiking with many colleagues from the border region, of course, but I'll also be accompanied by a thirteen year old named Ben from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I met Ben and his folks at an event at Maryville College in February of 2005. During my talk, I encouraged those present to consider getting rid of their televisions as a step toward creating the space in our lives for more active engagement in living our faith. This is a pitch that I often make, and it typically finds resonance with some folks, and others often to write me letters expressing outrage that I would make such a ludicrous suggestion.

Anyway, on this particular evening when I finished my talk, Ben was the first person in the audience to raise his hand. He wanted to know how he could convince his folks to let him go on a mission trip. Somewhat glibly, I responded that if he would agree to get rid of his t.v., I would convince his folks to let him go "do mission." With ear-to-ear grins, Ben and his folks, Peggy and Dan, shook hands on it right there in front of everyone.

What I learned over the next few days is that the Terpstra family is actually quite committed to all kinds of mission service work, and Ben's dad has led groups of students into Latin America on environmental trips, they've participated in Katrina relief work - and the list could go on. Ben's situation is special, however. When he was nine, he contracted a life-threatening illness, eventually diagnosed as "Guillion Barre Syndrome." It was not at all clear that Ben was going to make it, and he lost the better part of a year in recovery. The experience clearly deepened Ben's interest in living life as fully as possible, and put him in touch with his faith and his desire to do something meaningful in a way that is foreign to the vast majority of eleven-year-olds in our country. It also is quite reasonable that his folks' tendency could tend toward caution and protection.

Well, to make a very long story short, Ben and his folks did, indeed, give up cable and put the television away, and last October, all three of them joined me for a BorderLinks trip that I led in Arizona and Sonora. Toward the end of the trip, we attended church at Sol de Justicia Presbyterian Church, part of the Presbyterian Border Ministry project in Sonora called "Companeros en Mision." (You can check out their website at http://www.binationalministry.org/companerosenmision). Sol de Justicia has made a pretty consistent effort to offer an evening meal to migrants in the shelter that is less than a block from their church. One of their needs, they explained, was to provide phone cards for migrants to be able to call their families, and they said that it was beyond their budget to come up with the forty or fifty dollars a month to support the migrants in that way.

After a quick consultation with his folks, Ben asked to speak with the young woman who was pastoring the church. He suggested that their family would be willing to send the forty dollars they were saving on cable service each month to the church to buy phone cards.

During the week, Ben also learned about the migrant trail that has taken place each of the last couple of years during the first week of June. By the time he left, he was trying to cajole his parents into letting him return to do the walk. His parents agreed when I suggested that I also wanted to do the Walk this year, and that I would be willing to take responsibility for Ben if they wanted to send him.

So last night, a couple of hours after I arrived home, my son Teo and I returned to the airport to pick up Ben. Tonight, we'll join the rest of the walkers for an orientation, and tomorrow we will begin the journey. I will do my best to journal during the week, so that I can post a couple of blog entries when I return.

I can think of no better way to wrap up my term as moderator than to spend time in the desert. The desert wilderness is such a theme throughout scripture, time after time God's people end up in the desert as they look for renewal or a clearer sense of God's call. I'm looking forward to the coming week, at least in part, because I am in need of serious discernment as I think about where God might be calling me next.

I remember that Gandhi quote that I found and blogged when I was in India last January:

A Talisman:

Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Remember the face of the poorest and the weakest man you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate will be of any use to him? Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions. Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.

Mahatma Mohandis Gandhi

I think this is probably the best place I could be to do the kind of memory work that Gandhi proposes. Please keep Ben and I, and all the other walkers, in your prayers during the coming week. Even more importantly, please remember the migrants who are crossing the borderlands themselves this week in search of survival for themselves and their families. As you move around your own community, keep your eyes open to see where those folks are, and stay ready for the possibility that God might be calling you to accompaniment, to the margins, with those who are most at risk right there, wherever you live.

We cry out for peace, though there is no peace.