This past January I was fortunate enough to attend a class at the U.S.-Mexico border to study migration. This class is through my graduate program at Brite Divinity School and aims to bring awareness to the humanitarian crisis happening at our borders. My classmates and I departed EARLY on the morning of January 4th to fly to Tucson, Arizona. We immediately packed into vans upon arrival and headed straight for the border town of Nogales, Arizona. The entire week that followed was a complete whirlwind; we travelled all over Arizona to hear from members of different faith-based nonprofits, churches, professors, etc. Each organization had its specialty in regards to how they were helping migrants. To take it a step further, the organizations seemed to all be in connection with one another – they knew what each organization was best at and knew the importance of working as a community. They recognized none of them could do it all on their own so, instead, they chose to do their part and trust that others would do the same.
While this experience was nothing short of eye-opening and the organizations were incredibly inspiring, I couldn’t help but come home feeling defeated by the things I learned from each place.
An organization called No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths) functions completely on a volunteer basis; volunteers hike miles and miles into the Arizona desert to build and leave water stations for traveling migrants. They have also built several medical stations in the desert to provide immediate care to injured, weak, and ill migrants. After providing medical care, volunteers of No Mas Muertes inform individuals of their options based on their assessment (i.e. if migrants are in good enough health to continue on their journey or not). With migrant dying in masses due to dehydration, starvation, injury, and sickness, these interventions are basic and vital necessities. Despite these needs, water stations have been vandalized or destroyed by border patrol agents, volunteers have been under constant scrutiny and legal trouble, etc.
Another organization, by the name of People Helping People, is located in Arivaca, Arizona. Arivaca is a town of about 700 people, composed of cattle ranchers and children/grandchildren of the counterculture era. Arivaca backs up to a mountain range; just on the other side of it is Sonora, Mexico. As a result, it is no shock to Arivacan community members to wake up a migrant sitting on their porch, or to find one in distress in the middle of their pasture. The community, as a result, has come together to find ways to help these individuals in any way they can. This aide has been met with consequence. A border checkpoint has been placed at the entrance of Arivaca. Members of the town, in order to leave or return to their homes, musts go through this checkpoint. Children being bussed to school must go through this checkpoint oftentimes with border patrol agents boarding their bus to search it.
These are just two of the many organizations we visited. Each one experiences their own struggles as they work to resolve the crisis. But, with only 2% of asylum cases being heard each year, and with only 0.2% of those 2% being approved, the crisis appears to have no end in sight.
Upon returning home, I was defeated. Hopeless. I felt no enjoyment from the things I normally love doing as they felt selfish and privileged. And while I know it is not selfish to still enjoy things like shopping at Target and going for afternoon runs, I believe there is importance in acknowledging the incredible privilege I have by being an American-born citizen. I will most likely never have to know what it’s like to flee America for another country out of fear for myself and my family and there is so much privilege in that.
My feelings of defeat carried on for days. But then Sunday came. It started out like all the days before: “I’m so privileged to be able to drive instead of walk to my place of worship…to even be able to worship…to even live so comfortably that I even think about pausing to worship…” I was WALLOWING. My wallowing was immediately interrupted as I walked into Anderson Center. The youth met me with smiles and hugs and “We missed you” and “How was it?” and “Tell me everything you learned” and “How can we help from where we are?” Of course I shared with them but I ended every time with “It just makes me sad.” Upon one of these conversations, my student told me about this allegory – they summarized it but I have found the complete version to share:
The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire. All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning and they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless, except this little hummingbird. It says, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’ So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can.
In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless. And they are saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’
But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, ‘I am doing the best I can.’
And that to me is what all of us should do. We should always be like a hummingbird. I may be insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching the planet as it goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird, I will do the best I can.
I was so shocked. I don’t know why. These students are incredible without even trying. AND THEN THEY STILL DO TRY. And they succeed in ways that baffle me time and time again. And they touch people’s lives in such incredible ways. They touch my life in such an incredible way.
They ripped me right out of my wallowing and reminded me that there is work to be done and wallowing isn’t going to get it done. They reminded me of what each organization taught me and what this church teaches me: that nobody can tackle it all and the most important thing to do is our part. They reminded me that God hasn’t stopped to wallow and I can’t either. I’m still not sure what my part looks like yet but I am excited to figure it out. I am even more excited to figure it out alongside such amazing youth as they continue to keep me centered and focused on God’s grace and love and good work in this world.