Reflections on a visit to a Tijuana migrant camp
Submitted by Rev. Sadie Mizisin-Cullumber, senior pastor of Harbor Christian Church in Newport Beach, CA
Over the last few weeks, I have really struggled as I’ve tried to write about my recent trip with Matthew 25 to the migrant camp just outside of Tijuana in Baja California. How can I put words to something like this? Honestly, most of my time in the camp was spent feeling completely useless, completely speechless, wandering aimlessly. I remember wondering what would happen to this open airspace once the rains began. I remember the sound of a loud cheer that spread quickly through the camp once a group of migrants succeeded in constructing a large tent that would cover many smaller tents and at least keep some of the impending rain out. I remember thinking quietly to myself how I would possibly be coping with this reality if I didn’t have the promise of a warm car to drive me home to a warm bed and good food. What would I do if I had my two young daughters with me? How would I possibly be able to show the resolve that these absolutely remarkable individuals were demonstrating, as they faced unreasonably tight quarters, a looming torrential downpour, and an insecure food supply?
I could go on and on in describing the desperate conditions of the camp: the broken plumbing in the bathrooms, the pop-up tent kitchen with a single burner that was trying to prepare food for the whole camp, the tents set up wherever there was a space, the children, the babies.
But if I spoke only of the desperation, I would be missing an essential part of this experience. Because in the midst of the desperation, what I witnessed was the indomitable human spirit. Things that literally would have broken me were being managed with incredible grace and strength. An example of this hopeful spirit came toward the end of my time in the camp. A large group of mostly young men and women began to form in one of the few open spaces. And then, suddenly, a young man began to play music and sing into an old microphone that someone had wrestled up. I have no idea what he was singing because there was so much noise and activity that I couldn’t make out the beautiful Spanish words. But somehow, even though I couldn’t understand all of his words, I could feel the strength of his spirit and the strength of spirit of those who surrounded him and sang along. In this moment of tragic desperation, this young man chose to sing, and others joined in.
Minutes later it would rain, and the singers would be dispersed as they tried to find what little shelter there was, but for that brief moment, I got to glimpse Christ’s strong spirit, that spirit that sings, even in the face of injustice. And I felt an incredible sadness at what my country is missing out on by believing the lies about refugees being criminals that need to be kept out. In truth, our dear country would benefit so profoundly by welcoming the people I met. What a rare thing it is to witness hope in the face of such incredible injustice. It seems to me, our nation has much to learn from the refugees that we have turned our backs on. In shamefully ignoring the growing humanitarian crisis unfolding along our southern border, we are not only causing harm to those who are in desperate situations, we are also missing out as a nation on welcoming remarkable people into our country, people who will continue to strengthen our country through their perseverance, through their audacious hope, and through their deep compassion. How shameful that we allow this dehumanization. How shameful that we allow ourselves to believe the propagandistic lies about refugees.
I believe we can do better as a people, and it starts with listening to the stories of those who have set out on this harrowing caravan journey, guided only by hope and strength of spirit. It begins with standing in awe of those who can find reason to sing even in the most hopeless of situations. And once we have heard the stories and the songs of hope, we must not fail to act and to call our government to act. As a church, we are being tested. What side of the crisis will we fall on? The side that wraps itself in politically motivated and dehumanizing lies? Or will we one day look back on this horror and be able to say that we stood in solidarity with those who are suffering, just as we know our Lord Jesus would have us do? I pray we choose solidarity, however painful this road will be. And I pray that as we stand with our refugee brothers and sisters, it will build in us strong spirits of hope and courage, the kind of hope and courage that I saw that rainy day in the migrant camp.