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
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.

Categories
San Diego Living

Off to TJ

It’s crazy that I live 15 miles from Mexico but the last time I went to Tijuana was 2003.

I’m correcting that today.

Phil Cunningham, a YWAM staffer and adventurous missionary, is kind enough to offer up his afternoon to take me over and show me around.

I’ll post pictures and thoughts tomorrow.

Don’t drink the water. Check.