What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself? A visit to the border
Recently Leslie Dao, our postulant, and I had the opportunity to volunteer in Nogales, Mexico at Kino Border Initiative. Our own Sister of Providence Tracey Horan ministers as Associate Director of Education and Advocacy there. Kino helps promote policies that affirm the dignity of the human person. Kino also imparts humanitarian assistance and accompanies migrants who have found themselves fleeing terrible violence, in many cases fleeing for their lives.
As we flew into Tucson, Arizona, I looked in awe at the splendor of the mountainous landscape adorned by giant saguaro cactus that can grow as high as 40 feet and live as long as 150 years. I marveled at this view for an hour as we drove to Nogales, Arizona, where we shared a small home with Dani Brought, a Sister of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ from Columbia, Pennsylvania.
In the next few days in Nogales, we volunteered at the Kino Border Initiative. It was there that I encountered many women, fleeing with their children, who looked tired, exhausted and filled with uncertainty. “Why? Why did you leave everything behind to embark on this unknown journey?” I asked.
She gently wraps her arms in front of her chest, as to give herself a hug. Her head is tilted to the side, and her eyes gaze towards the floor as they begin to fill with tears. She is courageously holding back tears. I can tell the memory itself is traumatizing and invokes the violence over again. I place my hand on her shoulder, and I remind her that she is safe at Kino.
Over and over I heard similar stories from women desperately seeking safety, food and shelter for their children. In most cases what drives these women to embark on this dangerous journey into an unknown future has been years of physical and sexual violence. Their situation is one last desperate attempt to have what you and I might take for granted — freedom.
The reality is that any one of these women could very well be me or you. “Why her?” I ask myself. Simply for no good reason, I have had the great fortune of being born in the United States of America. I didn’t do anything to earn, deserve or gain this privilege. It was simply luck, chance, a blessing or maybe a fluke. I don’t have the answer, but I do know that in Luke 12:48 Jesus tells us that “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
Meaning I am responsible for what I have been given. If I have been blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge, time and abundance, it is expected that I use what I have to benefit others.
Why then do so many people go hungry? Why are so many people without shelter, clean water or a basic, safe place to lay their heads without fear? Does our American Dream in all its privilege and superiority teach us to climb that “corporate ladder” at all costs? Does the American Dream glorify ambition, self-indulgence, self-interest and a hunger for profit at all costs? Is our appetite for wealth devastating and debilitating others from their fair share?
I am convinced today more than ever that we in the U.S., who make up a slim 4.25 percent of the world population, perpetuate poverty around the world. We marginalize and dehumanize people for the sake of personal wealth. We disproportionately consume over 80 percent of the world’s resources. This triggers devastating consequences for people, especially women and children, around the world.
Is my lifestyle the cause?
By now you might find yourself feeling a little angry or defensive. Good for you! You might be asking yourself how do I perpetuate violence or hunger in let’s say, Africa, which is as far, as far can be, from the U.S.?
The continent of Africa has the natural resources and commercial power to become the richest continent in the world! However, oppression, bribery and exploitation by the West hinder Africa’s development. For example, Africa is known for producing one-third of the world’s cocoa, mostly in West Africa including the Ivory Coast and Ghana. But most of that cocoa is obtained with unfair trade deals and child slavery.
You might be saying to yourself and shouting at me: “Wait a minute! How am I responsible for what is happening in Africa?”
Morality and chocolate
When you buy your chocolate, do you pay attention to where this delicious sweet treat is coming from? Most Americans do not.
It is important to seek items that boast Fair Trade Certification. Fair trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, consumers, advocates and organizations putting people and planet first. They are committed to the idea that the products bought and sold every day are connected to the livelihoods of others. Fair trade is a way to make a conscious choice for a better world.
When you choose or look for Fair Trade certified items, yes you will be paying a little more for your product. But you are making a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment. In other words, you are doing your part in sharing your wealth so that others will have their share. Not to mention you are helping save the planet. https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade
For the love of avocados
Let’s look a little closer to home. The avocado boom in the United States has grown to 11 billion pounds a year. Most recently experts laud avocados as healthy lifestyle choice. The great demand carries enormous environmental costs that you or I are probably not aware of.
Mexico produces more avocados than anywhere in the world. But it is people in North America, Europe and Asia who consume most of the world’s “green gold.”
Our appetite for avocados is causing extensive biodiversity loss, extreme weather conditions, extensive soil degradation. It is on the brink of causing an entirely human-made environmental disaster. The list of products is long. So, while I enjoy my guacamole dip watching a game, I may just be contributing to an environmental disaster in Mexico.
Opening my eyes
My trip to Kino brought me to a place of enlightenment. It opened my eyes, my spirit and my soul. I saw myself in each person I met.
The young woman who was fleeing violence with her children. Her deep courage, tenacity and unyielding hope lives in me. I hold her and her spirit within me. The young homeless boy Kevin, whom I saw on most days on my way to Kino. Kevin stood covered in dirt and begging on the streets. One day as I approached Kevin I put my arms out and shouted, “Kevin, mi hijo.” Kevin smiled and ran towards me. We embraced each other. At that moment God showed me the child within myself that has been wounded and hurt. By sharing my time and resources with Kevin, I was healing my own childhood wounds.
The people at Kino are volunteering to help those in need. Their spirits live in me too. They deeply desire to make a difference in our world. A world where we have learned to look out for number one.
Understanding Jesus command
I began to understand and see what Jesus is telling us in the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I realized God’s invitation to love my neighbor as myself comes with great responsibility. I am now profoundly mindful of how our lives entwine and interconnect with all of creation. As the famous Ram Dass quote goes, “We are all just walking each other home.” My life’s choice to become a Sister of Providence comes from a deep desire to walk with compassion, love and forgiveness in my heart and have others walk with me. I desire to live out Jesus’ message of love and to unite myself to the perfect selfless love that is eternal, rooted in the God that created us all.
My prayer is this:
May I too be a companion to all on the journey home to our Provident God who has blessed me with this gift of abundance.
May I live out my life’s journey in love, generosity, truth, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and forgiveness.
May I continue this journey opened to the wisdom of love, mercy and justice that has called me to the Mission and Legacy of our Foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.
May you too be open and enlightened. Amen
Learn more or donate to Kino Border Initiative
For more information about becoming a Sister of Providence visit Become.SistersofProvidence.org
Thanks Joni for the inspiring and challenging reflection.
Thanks, Joni, for your reflection on your trip to the border. US history of its economic and military relationship/conflict over the years in the region makes it all the more tragic for those made poor by them. Thank you for raising up their stories and the good work of the Kino Initiative. Gratefully, Kathleen,
Thank you Joni such a great experience for the two of you l am going to sign up for this loved your descriptions what a beautiful ministry Tracey has great pictures also sr Marilu
Joni, you certainly were clear in the account of your trip to the Border. And it really brought back to me so points, so many thoughts about the responsibility that I have to think twice before making any judgement, before choosing certain food items. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. God bless you and any future plans on this/these topic/s.
Thank you for sharing your experience and reflection, I was moved to tears; May God continue blessing you as you bless others with your ministry. D. Tovar