Categories
Baja Christian Living San Diego Living

A Foot on Each Side

My life is in San Diego. We live here. I’m as involved locally as I’ve ever been. My work is here. My friends are here. My home is here. My bills are here. Everything is here.

I live here in Rolando.

My life is also in Tijuana and Ensenada, two cities in Baja California, Mexico. There’s simply no denying that.

Categories
Baja Social Action

One Year In

It’s been a year since I’ve got involved in working with asylum seekers at the border. Remember the migrant caravan? That was a year ago. 

And I think we need a reset. Let’s get back to the basic question of, “Why are people coming here to seek asylum?” 

Here’s where I want to start. The reason people are coming to seek asylum is because the United States has made their home countries unsafe. 

Categories
Social Action

We are Israel, We are Russia, We are Mexico

Her day starts long before daybreak. She rolls off a mattress onto a clammy cement floor, hoping to step silently towards the light peaking between the doorframe to get outside. She pulls on the door but it’s jammed a little. Finally, with a thud, it opens. In a breath she looks back to the mattress to see her kids wiggle into her warm spot and slips outside. A car honks down the road in the distance, she exhales, letting sleep go while fumbling into her jeans pocket to fish out a cigarette.

She lights her morning smoke and squats to sit on the step. In the thick air of the morning she sits and waits for her ride. This is the most beautiful moment of her 15 hour day. Fresh morning air, a bird chirping far too early, and a hushed quiet as her neighborhood sleeps.

A few moments later an old Buick pulls up, scratchy brakes announcing it’s arrival. She climbs in the back, squeezing between a few other women to find a patch of seat. In near silence they ride together for 30 minutes to the gate of her job. She pays $20 per week for this ride. She can’t afford it but can’t afford not to.

For the next 9 hours she’ll force her hands into the freezing cavity of a fish caught a million miles from here. She’ll make $200 per week, after taxes, union dues, and check cashing fees, she’ll take home $134.50 on Friday. She wonders what it means to be in a union or even if there is really a union. She knows they aren’t representing her but she’s afraid to say anything because she knows they’ll fire her. The taxes she pays aren’t for her because the number she gave the factory were just made up, anyway. But what can she do? She needed the job.

In a thoughtless motion she makes a small cut across the fish belly with one hand while pulling out the insides with the other. Next she cuts makes another cut, breaks the fish open and places it back on the belt. It takes just a few seconds and she’s off to the next. She works as fast as she can with almost no breaks, hunched over, she and her co-workers all trying to remain invisible to the people they work for. Sometimes while doing this she daydreams and thinks of her childhood, happier days, playing in warm breezes with her friends. Back then she never could have imagined her life would be like this. But mostly she thinks about nothing. She just wants to not draw attention to herself. Plus, if she thinks too much she might accidentally cut herself. So she just concentrates on doing what she has to do and getting out of there. She hates this job but knows that if anyone hears that she might want to look for a better one she’ll be fired on the spot.

When her shift ends at 2:15 she walks quickly to a place to clean up and grab something to eat out of a vending machine before another beat-up clunker comes to drive her to the Motel 6 on the other side of town. Another $20 per week she can’t afford.

She’ll spend 4 or 5 hours there, invisible, cleaning rooms for minimum wage. Even though she fights exhaustion– compared to her other job she’s exhilarated at the hotel. She changes into clean clothes at this job– a Motel 6 uniform, and before her shift starts she’s able to wash herself in the utility sink in the storage room where they keep her cart.

Sometimes, when no one else is around, she fills up the big sink with hot water and hops in, squatting into sink is closest thing she has to a tub. To us, this might seem silly and she feels like a giant baby washing in a sink. But to her, those 5 minutes of bathing are pure luxury. She uses half-empty bottles of shampoo left behind by truck drivers or vacationers to have her own spa.

At the hotel, she finds some semblance of dignity, but also cruelty. Her shifts here aren’t regular and sometimes when she shows up to work she is sent away. She works odd shifts to fill in and her boss would text her when he doesn’t need her but her phone never has enough minutes. So sometimes she shows up to work and there’s no work for her, so it cost her money to get there but she’ll make nothing. To make things worse her ride won’t come back until 9. So she can’t go home to be with her kids, anyway.

Late at night she gets back home. Her 3 year old, the baby, is already asleep. Another day goes by and she hasn’t seen her. Her sons are still awake, one watching TV and the other is next door. She goes next door to get her oldest, the three of them make small talk and play cards for a little while before they all go to bed.

She turns off the light. Barefoot, she walks silently across the clammy concrete floor to the mattress. She leans over, slides the baby closer to her brother as she lays down next to her. The toddler re-settles, makes some sweet sighs, and they both drift off to sleep to do it again tomorrow.

We are Israel, We are Russia, We are Mexico

Often, when we watch the news and we think to ourselves, “I can’t believe those countries treat their people like that. That’s disgusting.” We live our middle class lives, we drink our Starbucks, go to our movies, stare at our phones, and we start to think that everything is an over there somewhere problem.

  • How can Israel justify bombing people in Gaza? 
  • I can’t believe people support Putin, what a monster. 
  • Why doesn’t Mexico clean up those drug cartels once and for all?

Let’s not be myopic. It’s easy to look over there somewhere and forget that we have over there somewhere problems right here in our own communities, too.

We’re no better than Israel. We’re no better than Russia. We’re no better than Mexico.

The woman I wrote about above lives in your neighborhood. She lives in every community in America.

She’s black. She’s white. She’s Latino. She’s African. She goes to your church.

Over there somewhere is right in front of you. She’s not invisible. She’s no better or worse than you. You just refuse to see her.

Photo by A C O R N by Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
Social Action

The view from the other side of the fence

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus

Seeing these words painted in protest on the newly built, hugely fortified border fence in Playas de Tijuana, was eye opening. What happened to us? How did we get to this place? And where is the America of Ellis Island?

Here’s what we know. The American society we all enjoy is built on the backs of cheap labor. While we complain about expensive gas we enjoy cheap foods picked by nameless, faceless, undocumented people throughout our country. And that’s just the people who likely went in debt $5,000 to cross our monster border. We so easily forget about the hundreds of thousands of hands that manufacture goods in Tijuana.

Two weeks ago, I went into Costco and spent $230 on a new flat screen TV. I confess I never thought about the hands who assembled it in TJ or somewhere like it. Their fingerprints were invisible on the box. Their breathe filled space in the box between the styrofoam and the cardboard. But it was their product I purchased. We are enjoying their faceless handiwork.

I didn’t think that the person who assembled my TV makes less than $60 per week working 60 hours lives just 45 minutes from my home. That person might live in a community like I visited yesterday. It’s a place that doesn’t technically exist though several thousand people live on the flood plain of a river below the plant where toxic waste is routinely dumped. There’s no running water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. And since they don’t have legal rights to the land the government can decide to move them out whenever they feel like. A team from Centro Romero was there a few years back when bulldozers did just that. They gave families 5 minutes to leave before bulldozing half of the community for a canal project.

When I bought my TV I didn’t think about the children who will grow up playing in the toxic mess while both parents are off at the assembly plant. I didn’t think about the miles those kids would have to walk to get to school. I didn’t think about the realities of their birth defects caused by heavy metals. I didn’t think about the loan sharks and child traffickers who make their living keeping these young families stuck in these conditions.

All I know is that I smiled when I bought my $230 TV at Costco that Sunday. It was cheap. I got a good deal. And our TV was broken.

It’s easy to hear about our nations billion dollar fence and feel good about it. But know that we’ve not stopped the flow of illegal immigration. As one of the signs said, “If you make a 12 foot fence we’ll build a 13 foot ladder.” All our fence has done is made the journey more treacherous. Along one stretch of road we visited a memorial to the 4500 documented deaths of people attempting to cross the border. It’s also gotten more expensive. Until recently, it only cost a few hundred dollars to hire someone to get you across the border. Now the price is around $5,000. How do people making $56 a week afford that? They become indentured servants on American farms. 

It’s easy to say things like, “I’m all for people immigrating to our country, they just have to do it legally.” Those are easy things to say from this side of the fence. These are easy things to say when you were born here. These are easy things to say when they are nameless and faceless to you. But also think about your $230 TV or your $1.99 fresh strawberries or your $10 t-shirt. It’s easy for you to say those things when you are enjoying the fruits of their oppression.

My challenge to you is to do what I’ve done. Take the time to learn their stories and walk in their shoes. I’ll take you to these places if you dare.

And then you’ll ask yourself– which side of the fence are you on? 

 

Categories
Travel

Relaxing in Rosarito

One of the commitments that I made for 2012 is to rest better. I know, that sounds silly. But with all the stress and craziness of 2011 I forgot to take more than a few sporadic days off. That’s not healthy or sustainable. 

With that in mind, and Kristen’s parents in town for the week, we jumped on the opportunity to take a 36 hour getaway down in Mexico.

Hotel: We stayed at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. It was great. We stayed in the Pacifico Tower, which is only 4 years old. It’s gorgeous. We got a king suite with a beach view and balcony for a little over $100. The property is right on the beach, has great beach access, a kickin’ pier, and all the amenities. Free parking was a nice added bonus. We’re already planning to go back with the kids. Seriously, the hotel was like 45 minutes from our house. I really dig the old world charm of the older parts of the hotel. This thing dates back to the 1920s. All the stars have been there. I mean… Marilyn Monroe stayed there back in the day. How cool is that?

Beach: I don’t know how long the beach is. It’s long. You can walk about a mile south of the hotel and… we got tired after about a 1.5 miles to the north. It was very clean and mostly empty. We thought it was cool that there were some fun things to do on the beach if you were into that. Like, rent a horse or ATV or drink a piña colada or eat shrimp. In the afternoons there is even a dude that will take you up in a sail plane. We didn’t do any of those things but it was all right there.

Food: There’s no lying about it. One reason you go to Mexico is to get your eat on. And that we did. The star of the show is El Yaqui. They basically do one thing and do it very, very well. They have a skirt steak taco (perrones) that is perfect. The steak, onion, guacamole, cheese, and tortilla make love in your mouth to produce a love child called delicious. We had 4 tacos and 2 sodas for like $11. You can’t beat that deal. For dinner we went to a divey place on the main strip and shared a fish combination. We had shrimp, white fish, calimari, and lobster plus drinks for $20. I mean, get real. It’s so cheap and good and fun! For breakfast we grabbed coffee and a couple of pastries and walked the beach. Simple and magical.

Shopping: Kristen had actually never been to Mexico. So we had a good time exploring Rosarito’s shops. The main market has dozens of little stalls with every souvenir you could imagine. We didn’t buy much but had fun. The main thing we bought stuff was in a big candy shop! They had everything you could ever want to put in a piñata. $10 in that place could get you a very serious sugar high.

Safety: I’m so sick of hearing how unsafe Mexico is. Yes, if you’re in a gang or you buy drugs or you’re in the red light district at 2:00 AM… Mexico is probably dangerous. (Um, just as dangerous as Omaha or Dallas doing those same activities) But it’s also a country with millions of people who are very proud of their homeland. Believe it or not, not every person in Mexico wants to illegally immigrate to the United States! I’ve been to Mexico several times in the past year or so and never once felt the slightest bit in danger. In fact, when we walked back to the hotel after dinner at about 7:45 PM the streets were basically empty. If you’ve stayed away from Mexico because you heard it was dangerous… my experience in TJ/Norther Baja have been awesome.

An invitation: Whether you are thinking about bringing your youth group/church to Mexico for a mission trip or maybe you’d like to find a sweet getaway spot. I don’t know any other way to make it OK for you than to simply invite you to come down. Drop me a line. I’d be happy to either connect you with some friends who live/work in Mexico or, if I have time, take you myself.

Categories
San Diego Living Travel

Mexico isn’t Scary

Not-so-scary street tacos and real Coke

I spent yesterday with some folks from Amor Ministries in Tijuana.

The point of our trip was to visit some recent Amor houses built in a colonia to create a video inviting NYWC participants to spend a day of convention there building a house. The houses we saw were anywhere from 3 days old to 10 months old. If you aren’t familiar with how it works, essentially Amor acts as an agent of blessing for a local group of pastors. Individuals from the community request help from their local church, and the pastor asks Amor to build a starter-house for a family. They intentionally don’t do everything because they want the family to come in and make it their own.

You aren't afraid of a place where children buy neon colored baby chicks, are you?

Here’s the reality for Amor (and YWAM, whom I visited last year): Fear of gang violence has lead to tons of people from the States stopping their annual trips down. Conversely, the downward dip in the economy has meant people already poor in TJ are now much poorer.

All Amor is trying to do is help the local pastor answer the question, “How can the church be Good News so that the community will hear and receive Good News?

Let me just say this: Forget what you’ve heard on the news. Yes, there are problems. Yes, drug cartel violence is horrible and deadly. But is Jesus always asking you to do the safest thing? 

But TJ is still TJ. It’s a border town. And a border town is a border town. (No one ever claimed that Sarnia or Windsor Ontario were the hallmarks of Canada, did they?) If anything it’s much more developed than it was when I first went there 10 years ago. And I don’t think there is anything there to be afraid of for you or I.

Now, if you’re buying or selling drugs. Or at a club until 2 AM. TJ might be dangerous for you. But so is Carlsbad.

Categories
youth ministry

Mexico + Fear = Stupid

Hanging with Phil in Baja

As I mentioned last week, I spent Friday in Mexico with Phil Cunningham of YWAM. We had a fun time meeting some people for coffee and talking about life, touring the YWAM Baja base, grabbing an amazing taco in Rosarito, and getting a glimpse of the vision they have for reaching Baja for Christ.

I live about 30 minutes from the Tijuana border. And I’m ashamed to admit that the last time I crossed the border into Mexico was 2003. Kristen and the kids have never been. (In fairness, the five years that we lived in Romeo, a mere 45 minutes from Canada, we crossed the border three times.)

The Tijuana/San Diego border sees an average of 300,000 people moving between countries daily. Considering San Diego has 1.2 million residents and Tijuana has 1.5 million… you’re talking a lot of people who cross one way or the other each day.

Two Types of San Diego Residents

There are really two types of San Diego residents when it comes to TJ. There are those who go often and those who never go. The average San Diego resident who doesn’t go has a visceral reaction when you mention going to Tijuana. Almost universally you’ll hear people say “Don’t go to TJ. It’s dangerous.” It’s a mantra I’ve had drilled into me since moving here and its had the intended result– I’d never gone to TJ since moving here!

Likewise the news media on the U.S. side does its best to reinforce this concept that TJ is super dangerous. Drugs, human trafficking, gang violence, murders. While it’s true that those are serious issues the end result is that there is an increasing fear of our neighbors to the south building up.

As if any city of 1.5 million in the United States didn’t have drugs, human trafficking, gang violence, or murders?

Fear vs. Reality

YWAM guest housing near Rosarito.

Now that I’ve been there I can affirm that not much has changed in Tijuana since my last visit in 2003. If anything, crossing the border both ways is a little simpler. Just like any border crossing around the globe there are procedures. You pull up, show some ID, answer some questions, and hope you don’t get waved in to an inspection lane.

If you’ve never been to a developing nation– or only been to a resort city in a developing nation– than Tijuana will come across as dirty and disorganized. In truth, TJ isn’t unlike many major metropolitans in the United States. There are nice areas and there are nasty areas. There are places where you are likely to get robbed and there are places you can relax. Being that Mexico is a developing nation and Tijuana is a fast-growing city it is no surprise that there are many parts of TJ which are slummy and could use some help. I’m not going to say that Tijuana is an awesome place to visit but I do want to point out that its a typical big city in a developing nation.

But if you watch the news, particularly conservative news, all of the Mexican border areas are filled with people who want to brutally murder Americans on site. Burned in our consciousness are all the Dateline NBC shows, Geraldo standing at the border and saying beheading as many times between commercials as possible, and documentaries showing us how people are being brutally murdered. Let’s remind ourselves of a simple fact… if you aren’t in a gang or not buying drugs or not soliciting a prostitute, you are unlikely to get caught up in anything having to do with drugs, gangs, or prostitution.

The news media, particularly the conservative news media, is well-aware that scaring people leads to good ratings. (Which translates to ad revenue) So it pays well to scare you away from Mexico. And it is working. Big time.

Here’s a little fact for you to think about. Killing innocent Americans is bad business for a drug cartel. With a little street smarts and a good dose of common sense I don’t think there is any reason to avoid going to Mexico altogether. (Obviously, there are plenty of places to avoid after dark! But you’d avoid those same types of places in any city in America.)

Mission trips to Mexico

I think the thing that shocked me the most during my day in TJ was to learn how Christians have stopped coming to Mexico to do missions. Participation is down 50%-75% in recent years.

And why? All of the agencies will tell you the same thing: People are afraid of traveling to Mexico.

I saw this same phenomenon on my Facebook status the other day. Had I posted that I was going out for a taco with my friend Phil, no one would have thought much of it. But because I said I was going to TJ… lots of people were praying for my safety. Now, I appreciate the prayers. But this reveals the fear factor.

What’s changing?

I couldn’t help but go down there, see the ministry locations, and hear the news that people aren’t helping as much anymore without being touched.

What’s changing first is my behavior. I know I can’t do a lot but I know that I can both raise awareness of ministry opportunities in TJ as well as make time to go and participate in small ways. Maybe that will mean finding a place to plug in as a family? Or a community group? Or inviting friends to go down to check out ministry stuff? I’m not sure on the exact details yet… but I do know that I can’t serve in Jerusalem and Judea without thinking about the Samaria next door.