This last week, 17 of us from the Chapel had the opportunity to spend some time along the border in El Paso, Texas, my hometown. El Paso is part of my soul as are the people of Mexico and their magnificent culture. My family has lived in that region since the late 1800’s. It was an eye-opening experience for many as was the intention, including the fact that it is one of the safest cities in the US, despite the deadly conditions in neighboring Ciudad Juarez.
Our time was spent walking along the border wall, meeting with the Mayor, as well as with the Director of a bi-national health care operation and an Art Director. We also served at a food bank distribution center, and visited with local people from both the US and Mexico, many of whom I have known for years. Our discussions in Spanish, broken English, and Spanglish were enlightening and honest. In addition, we spent three nights in an area of El Paso called the Segundo Barrio, one of the poorest places in the US. Despite the poverty, there is much pride among the residents of the area and I had zero concern for our safety, even though we were five blocks from the border.
The house in which we stayed is owned by a school named Lydia Patterson Institute. It was formed in the early 1900’s as a Methodist Church outreach to boys from Mexico and South El Paso. The purpose was to teach English and train the boys for future ministry. In fact, Lydia Patterson Institute is where ESL programs were created and started.
Today, Lydia Patterson is a day school for boys and girls, grades 7-12. Three-hundred of the 350 students live in Juarez, Mexico, a stone’s throw from the school campus. The students, some of whom live in cardboard shacks with pallets, rise early and walk to one of the international bridges close to the school. On the bridge they wait between one and four hours to cross on foot, legally. We met the students at the bridge early one morning and walked with them to the campus.
The vast majority of the students are on scholarship as their family members at home, if they are employed, have little to nothing. Scholarships come for the Methodist church and private donors and tuition is $500 per month.
The children were respectful, kind, loving, full of life and motivated. Ninety-nine percent of the kids graduate from 12th grade at Lydia Patterson and 98 percent go on to college in the US and Mexico. Many graduates of the school accomplish extraordinary things upon completion of college.
All of us visiting were deeply impressed by their character, strength, integrity, motivation, courage, and commitment. We reflected how much children in the US have to learn from these kids who have to go through so much just to get to class each day. Sure, kids are kids, but these students respect their teachers, don’t complain, have no sense of entitlement, and drugs and alcohol are a zero problem.
One morning we spent time in the school Chapel with about 50 students hearing their stories in English. What we heard was deeply moving and awe-inspiring. In the midst of this time, the students became aware of the fact that one woman traveling with us was celebrating her birthday. She is a parishioner at the Chapel and is from Guadalajara. Spontaneously the students stood and began to sing “Las Mananitas,” a traditional song in Spanish. When the song ended, without any prompt, all 50 children surrounded our parishioner and gave her a group hug to celebrate her life. All were moved to tears by this expression of selfless love.
Near the end of the trip, one person said to me, “It is impossible to know what we have experienced living so far from the border. You must experience it to even begin to have a glimpse about what those living on the border are like.”
I believe that regardless of where one is politically or philosophically on concerns that divide us on border issues, one thing is very clear to me. The rubber meets the road as we follow Jesus precisely in those places in which there is the most pain, dissension, division, misunderstanding, and heartache. It is in such places we encounter a mirror that shows us where each of us is in our walk with the Risen One who is love.
As I go through my mom’s possessions following her death in July, I continue to find some hidden gems. A few weeks ago I shared a letter she had written about my brothers and me. Recently, behind a photograph I was in the process of hanging up, I found another letter securely taped. The photo was of my mom and dad having dinner in New York City the day he arrived back home when WWII ended. He had been on the beaches of Normandy, in the Battle of the Bulge, and other places of bravery and horror.
When my mom wrote the following letter, she was 20 years old, he 23, and my parents had been married around 6 months. I know she would not mind me sharing excerpts from this letter as I believe her words have much to offer. Remember, when she wrote this letter, she did not know whether she would see my dad again because of the war. Here are the excerpts…
Dearest Peter. This is not a goodby note. This is an I love you note. In it, I want to tell you something I learned today. Love is as sacred as two people make it. It is beautiful only as they allow it to be beautiful. It is as God-like as they wish it. The word love is often misused and hence the world in general gets a very rough and uncouth idea of what it is.
Love is the unselfish gift of one person’s self to another. Unselfish is the important part of love. Only unselfish love can be complete and permanent. Neither you nor I yet has completely unselfish love for each other. Do not be shocked for I don’t believe that we will attain it on this earth or even until we reach the culmination – the merging of our souls with God. But in our desire and striving for it we lift ourselves above ordinary love.
Through my mother’s words of so long ago, I am reminded of what one person in our own era says. “Hate is not the opposite of love, selfishness is.” Indeed, selflessness is at the heart of what love is all about, something Jesus clearly understood and lived by.
My mom’s words are not only invaluable for loving couples to ponder and act upon, but they are words useful to all of us whether in a relationship or not. To be selfless is to follow the footsteps of Jesus and to be selfless is how to relate to those we encounter day by day.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote these words to the people living in an area called Galatia long ago. His words really are quite extraordinary if you think about the culture at the time in which women had few if any rights. I have never understood patriarchal societies, inequality of any kind between the sexes, nor limiting the roles that men and women can have.
I am who I am because of the women in my life. Women have shaped who I have become in every area of my life. I have been blessed not only by an extraordinary wife and daughters and of course a son, but I have been taught and mentored by astonishing women over the years. This in part, is why I have always loved the Book of Esther. What a hero she was.
Esther’s story is about a woman, a woman of courage, guts, and doing the right thing even when the consequences of doing so could have been catastrophic. But in addition to Esther, there are so many stories of amazing courageous women throughout scripture, so astonishing in fact it is unbelievable that any church got started without having women at the top of leadership. Many of the greatest leaders, passionate faith followers, and engagers of bold action in the Bible were women.
Take the Samaritan woman at a well in John’s Gospel. She was a foreigner and part of a despised religion. And yet, she does not run from a man named Jesus. Instead she engages him, questions him, and takes the news of who he is to disparaging men. Take Deborah, an amazing leader at a critical time who was instrumental in military victories that freed the people of Israel. Take Hannah who boldly prayed to God over and over again and dedicated her son to God’s service.
Take Abigail whose husband nastily rejected a request from King David. It was Abigail who intervened in the situation with tremendous courage and insight that kept David from murderous revenge. Take Mary, the mother of Jesus, who praised God in spite of the surface odds against her. Take Ruth who put commitment and integrity ahead of her personal interests. Take Mahlah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah who went to Moses over a land distribution issue. Their actions expanded the rights of women when such actions were unheard of. And the list goes on and on and on.
I share these stories because I believe we have a long way to go in our country when it comes, not only to eliminating discrimination based on gender, including within many communities of faith, but that men in particular need to continue working on speaking less and listening more.
Not long ago I joined the Board of Response, the organization whose purpose is to support, educate and empower survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Tragically such issues are rampant in the Roaring Fork Valley. I believe we are compelled by our walk with Jesus to respond and confront these issues head on.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month Quoting from Response, “The purpose of DVAM month is mourn those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrate those who have survived and to engage communities with those who work to end domestic abuse. Domestic Violence – or Intimate Partner Violence – is a pattern of abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion that are used by one intimate partner against another to gain or maintain power and control in a relationship. Batterers use a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, blame and often injure and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.”
Eighty-five percent of victims are women and 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. It is also important to point out that men too suffer from inexcusable rates of domestic violence.
All of us are called, I believe, as people of faith, to celebrate and uphold women in our lives as fully equal partners, and work to model listening more than speaking and then acting upon what we hear from those who have suffered in a culture that often turns the other way in disbelief.