pamela-johnston-story1.jpgWhen I signed up to take Candler’s six-day travel seminar “Church on the Border,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the political narrative shaped around the people affected by U.S. border security—especially in the last few years—had become toxic, polarized, and distinctly inhumane. Hopefully, traveling to Texas to meet the people living in McAllen would help me create a new, more genuine narrative. I feel as Christians, especially as pastors, we must be better at informing our congregations of the true picture of life here and model living out a spirit of generosity rather than one of scarcity. We must not let fear govern our faith. 

Without a doubt, what changed me the most was not exposure to the socio-economic and political turmoil in these communities, but rather our firsthand witness to the spirit of God, alive and well in so many of the people there, in spite of their challenges. For example, our visit with Ramiro and Melinda Ramirez at the historic burial place of their ancestors beside Jackson Ranch Chapel was quite moving. As they told the story of fighting to keep the border wall and accompanying road from being built on the land inhabited and held dear by their family for generations, we could see the emotion in their faces and hear their clarity of purpose—keeping that cemetery and chapel from being razed was about much more than saving a plot of land or a historic landmark. It was about preserving the identity and dignity of their family.

Last year, Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church, visited Candler and spoke about The UMC’s involvement in the humanitarian crisis at the Texas-Mexico border. While the bishop is a leader in ministering to communities in South Texas, he is also well-known for his contributions to a series of autobiographical nonfiction pieces written about life on the border called “Border Crossing.” When I heard Bishop Schnase read his story "The Baptism," I knew that he would be a wise spiritual mentor, a good person from whom to learn. In the piece, he explained that following his calling is more vital to the work of God than obeying man-made laws about immigration.

Bishop Schnase’s talk did not leave me all year and has continued to haunt me (in a good way) ever since. It came full circle with this trip, because our group of Candler students, faculty and staff was blessed to have him teach and lead much of our class in Texas. Caring deeply for the people in his bilingual conference, the bishop has lived out his convictions, being the hands and feet of Christ for so many. 

Indeed, we cross borders all our lives, and learning to respond with curiosity and compassion is the key to our growth. Faith enables us to hear a deeper story and see a bigger picture each time we encounter people who are different from us, especially those in need. Building bridges across borders is the type of ministry I hope to continue after graduating from Candler: to see other people, especially those who aren’t seen by anyone else, with the eyes of Christ. Hearing my voice, may they find their voice. Through my love, may they know God’s love.

Top photo: Bishop Robert Schnase teaches the Candler "Church on the Border" class at the U.S./Mexico border wall.