I recently participated in my first posada, a ritual that re-enacts and commemorates Mary and Joseph’s census pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Traditionally, las posadas last nine days and are performed just before Christmas. The one I joined was La Posada sin Fronteras, or Shelter without Borders. We journeyed several miles on foot to the US-Mexico border as an act of protest, worship, remembrance, and solidarity. When we reached the border, we joined brothers and sisters on the other side of the fence, raising our voices together in prayer and worship of our God.
As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, I resonate with those who seek refuge out of fear and desperation. Yet my experience at a white, conservative, evangelical seminary familiarized me with how followers of Jesus still place value on the idea of borders and separation. While our basic call as Christians is to love our neighbors as ourselves, we can easily fall into the trap of asking, “But who is my neighbor?” as the legal expert did in Luke 10.
Instead of building parameters around who and when we are to serve, we must be willing to cross the borders that keep us from standing in solidarity with those in our midst.
What the Walls We Build Reveal about Our Hearts
What struck me on a personal level as I walked my posada was that this passage symbolized my own theological journey of crossing borders—a journey that began in 2016 in southern Louisiana where I attended a conservative, evangelical seminary. I lived on the seminary’s campus, which sat close to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans—the area that gained national attention for its tragic devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
This mostly white evangelical institution sits in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Like many other evangelical institutions, it prides itself on its “sense of urgency” in engaging with a city “in need of Jesus.” This attracted me initially, and while there surely are ways this seminary has invested in the community, one specific thing stood out to me during my time there: this evangelical institution, which houses many of its seminarians and professors and harps on the idea of “life on mission,” is surrounded by a very tall brick wall, adorned with barbed-wire finishing at the top, separating those inside the seminary grounds from the rest of the world on the outside.
I only lived within the walls of the seminary for a few months. Something in me just didn’t feel right. We’d sit in chapel services twice a week and listen to sermons that told us we must do whatever it takes—even be willing to put our own lives in danger—to “reach the lost.” Periodically, missionaries who had served in countries hostile to Christianity would come and share their dangerous stories of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. We were often encouraged to follow in their footsteps. However, I could never reconcile the gap between the kind of Christianity we were told to practice and the reality of what that brick, barbed-wired wall communicated to the outside world.
It was also 2016, right before the presidential election, and “building a wall” was very much at the forefront of the political conversation. I was working as a college minister at Tulane University. In order to be more available for my students, I moved to an apartment on Tulane’s campus. One Mexican student who was a part of our ministry and the president of a Latinx student group on campus had begun to receive threats after speaking out against a white fraternity who had built a makeshift “Trump wall” outside of their house. Being a Latina myself, and a daughter of immigrants, I felt the fear and the pain that my students were experiencing.
Yet during this same period, I would attend class at my evangelical seminary across town where pastors-in-training would state their cases for why we should cast a vote for the Republican candidate despite very damaging and racist rhetoric. While students I was investing in were being harassed, my seminary peers were complacent, even supportive, of the ideology that fueled the harassment.
The wall that surrounded my evangelical institution began to symbolize so much for me theologically. I began to see that truly following Jesus requires we tear down the walls in our lives that separate us from standing in genuine solidarity with others.
Several events led to my spouse and I deciding to transfer to a different seminary. We sold most of our belongings, packed the rest of our lives into our car and journeyed West to California. We didn’t know where we’d live or what was ahead of us, we were just hopeful that God would meet us there.
And indeed, God met us here, not just at a new seminary in California, but more specifically, alongside dozens of other faith leaders at the US-Mexico border on December 15, 2018—roughly two years later—for La Posada sin Fronteras.Following Jesus requires that we tear down the walls in our lives that separate us from standing in genuine solidarity with others. Click To Tweet
Worshiping in Solidarity Across Two Fences
Our posada began with a trek through empty, desert terrain (photos from our pilgrimage are below). After about 2 miles, we arrived at a gorgeous beach that looked nearly untouched. I felt a wave of anxiety come over me when I caught a glimpse of the daunting border fence in the distance, stretching over the white sand and into the deep blue ocean. Border patrol officers lined the fence in their full gear—guns, helmets and vests—ready and waiting for the hundred or so of us that were making our way toward them.
As we approached the fence, we were ushered up some stairs to an empty area that faced the border fence, ironically called Friendship Park. Program directors shared with us the history of the park and its original intent: that there would be free access to it for people on both sides of the boundary. We also learned that First Lady Pat Nixon stepped across the border to embrace Mexican children during her visit to inaugurate the state park in 1971. “I hate to see a fence anywhere,” she lamented, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too long.”
Mrs. Nixon would be surprised to know that not only are there two fences separating us from our neighbors now, but that this would be the first year of the 25-year history of the posada that we wouldn’t be able to get close enough to actually see those on the Mexican side. In fact, not much even remains of Friendship Park. Instead of fresh lawn and inviting picnic benches, there is a swath of churned-up earth telling a story of what could’ve been, what many have longed for it to be.
After the introduction, we sang Christmas hymns and exclaimed presente, or present, on behalf of those who have died this past year crossing this side of border. This signified that although they were not here with us physically, their presence remained with us in spirit. As the names were read, I thought of my family’s desperation to escape the conditions of our home country. Each name represented my own mother and grandfather, aunt and uncle.
The fence obscured the faces of our Mexican neighbors as we sang the posada song, and though we were far from them in sight, we were gripped by the sound of their voices singing the same song we were. It was a moment of genuine solidarity—a kind of solidarity that not even two fences could stand in the way of. We finished our time with cheers and whistles, the sound of each other’s voices offering just the amount of hope that most of us needed.
As the evening ended and we headed back to our cars, we were met with counter protesters waving “America First” flags and holding up signs that read “Build That Wall.” They yelled at us, saying that we should be ashamed of ourselves for “teaching our children to hate America.”
However, many from our group met them with kind words, smiles, and handshakes, communicating that the power and burden of unconditional love is the chief aim of God. Instead of teaching our kids to hate America, our hope is that we are encouraging them to persevere in that love and embody God’s compassion sin fronteras, without borders.God's love and compassion are 'sin fronteras' - without borders. Click To Tweet
Crossing Borders to Follow Jesus into Mission
As we reflect on the events of Christmas, and as our social media feeds flood with news about what’s happening at our national border, let us seek to ask ourselves what literal or symbolic borders in our lives need to be crossed.
Whether it’s walking across fences in our own community to reach out to a neighbor in need, or engaging in an act of peaceful protest on behalf of those who find themselves in life-threatening situations, let us seek to persevere in the love and compassion of God who embodied solidarity with humanity on his journey to the Cross.