Encenada is a pacific coastal town an hour and a half south of Tijuana. It is a tourist town which is frequented by both foreigners and Mexicans. It is also a town with many internal migrants who try to get as close to the US border as possible or who try to find work on the vast farms in that area.
There are two Methodist churches in Encenada, and the one in the centre of town supports migrants by opening their doors every Saturday and cooking a hearty meal for about 60 migrants who are predominently Mexican men aged between 30-60 years old. A group of enthusiastc ladies (and one gentleman) from the church lovingly and joyfully cook this meal every weekend, serving the migrants and showing them the love of Christ.
The gospel is shared with the group before being served the meal and it was so encouraging to see may of the migrants visiably affected by the word of God preached by the church’s Pastor. There was an ‘alter call’ for prayer after he preached and many stood up to receive prayer.
After this the group were served the delicious meal by the volunteers. There were two young children in this group, both aged under 10, and it as not clear whether they were accompanied by an adult or not. This is a common ocurrence in this migratory corridor of the world, leaving children vulnerable and exposed to many dangers. The Methodist Church here offers them some security and follow up.
I spoke to a gentleman called Joel. He must have been close to being 60. I asked him how long he had been in Encenada for and he said he had arrived four months ago. He had found work as a casual labourer and was hoping to stay for 4 years in the area. He seemed burdoned with this plan but many migrants will leave there families to travel to other Mexican towns and do the same. The Methodist Church in Encenada was doing a wonderful job of giving them some respite from the pressure of the financial responsability towards their families and their usually difficult living conditions.
Hayley Moss writes:
The contrast between the beautiful beach scene and the divisive and imposing fence was striking.
This is the fence which separates Mexico and America. It also separates families, friends, and seems to threaten to separate humans from humanity. Families are divided for a number of reasons; for example, in some cases children are given permission to stay in the USA but parents are deported, leaving parents with the painful option of leaving their children in a different country and only being able to see them through the fence, in order to give them what they view as a safer and better life. I met one gentleman, Robert, who had been deported after living in the USA since he was a child, and had served in the American military. He is separated from all of his children and grandchildren who are settled in the USA.
We visited the American side of the fence on 20th August and the Mexican side on 21st August. You can see pictures of each side below.
The American side allows people to enter what is called ‘Friendship Park’ on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm. Only 25 people are allowed in at a time and the area is closely monitored by a border patrol. Information about Friendship Park can be found here: http://www.friendshippark.org/. The fence was previously bars which people could hug through, but this has been replaced by a dense mesh, which is shame as you can hardly see through it and it really limits human connection. We witnessed many families meeting up at the fence, speaking and exchanging the only bit of physical contact possible – the touch of fingertips through the mesh. One family I saw appeared to be celebrating a birthday as they had a huge cake with them!
Each Sunday there is a 30 minute service with the congregation across both sides of the fence. We participated from the Mexican side. The service involved a bible reading, a short message, communion and prayer. The service was in both Spanish and English throughout co-led by Pastor Guillermo of the Methodist Church of Mexico and Pastor John of the United Methodist Church. I found it to be a moving experience, particularly when we prayed with our hands on the fence for divisions to end and families to be reunited, and when we walked down to the beach and waved to our brothers and sisters on the other side. These symbolic actions felt very meaningful and earnest.
Hello! I’m Hayley and I’m a former Youth President. I’m feeling very blessed to be accompanying the next Youth President Tim on a trip to the Methodist Church in Mexico.
On the first morning in Tijuana I asked Pastor Arturo what he would be doing later that day and he said that he would be going with some members of his congregation to a local prison. As I volunteer regularly in a prison back in the UK, I had wondered whether I would get the opportunity to visit a Mexican prison but expected that this would not be likely due to security checks (based on my experience of security checks in UK prisons) and it possibly being too dangerous (based on watching Prison Break!). However I am really happy that Pastor Arturo was pleased to welcome me along on the prison visit.
There was a group of 10 of us participating in the prison visit, members of the local Methodist and Salvation Army churches. We entered the prison with no security checks and I was surprised that we were able to take in our phones and even a knife to cut the cakes.
The first thing I noticed as we entered was the smell; although the corridors and cells appeared clean, there was a strong smell of uncleanness. A church member told me that the prison is often less clean than it was this day. The upstairs of the prison housed the males who were accommodated four to a cell, around 230 in total. Each cell had four bunks with no mattress or bedding, and a toilet. The cells were along either side of long corridors and I was advised to walk in the middle so that I couldn’t be reached through the cell bars. I learned that the prisoners stay here for up to 72 hours, after which they will either be released or go to another prison.
We took each prisoner a torta (sandwich), half a concha (cake) and a cup of juice. These were gratefully received by most although I was surprised at the number of men who would not rise from their sleep to receive the food and drink, even when shouted at and kicked by cell-mates. I wondered whether this was due to tiredness, influence of drugs/alcohol, or a lack of hope? I noticed that many of the men were unclean and unkempt, and learned from a fellow volunteer that many they are likely to be homeless. Hands black with engrained dirt taking food passed through bars is an image that will stick in my mind.
Following serving the male prisoners upstairs, myself and the other female volunteer served the female prisoners downstairs. There were far fewer, around 15, and I found this a more emotional time. The women were more talkative and more visibly upset, and we were able to spend more time with them as there were fewer of them.
I was impressed by the way that the ecumenical group worked as a team in a hot and claustrophobic environment to serve the prisoners as smoothly and quickly as possible. One of the volunteers, Alfredo, told me that they visit every three weeks and that this type of social justice work is core to Methodism here in Mexico. The church volunteers are clearly trusted and respected by the prison staff, and are able to offer valuable practical and spiritual care to the prisoners. In many cases the church members offered to pray with a cell when they gave them the food, and the prisoners accepted and sat with heads bowed not eating or drinking until this was done. Practical and spiritual care go hand in hand, the church showing love to people in a harsh and dehumanising environment.
We are being hosted by Bishop Felipe Ruiz, pictured here in the first photo with Tim and Hayley (far right) who has for many years felt called to work closely with migrants both as a local Pastor and when he became Bishop. One of the churches in his Conference, ‘Iglesia Metodista Torre Fuerte’ (Strong Tower Church) offers a hearty breakfast to migrants at a major Tijuana bus station where a number of migrants congregate.
The third photo is of brother Arturo (second from the right in a blue shirt holding a Bible) spending time talking to migrant men, whose ages seem to range between 30-60, and sharing the Gospel with them. He encourages them to look to Jesus Christ and hope in Him for their futures. He encourages them to forget their past, and to look at the choice they have before them to make Jesus their Lord and Saviour and to receive His saving grace and love. The church hands out breakfast to the men and they stay briefly before dispersing.
The third photo is of Martin. Martin comes from another town in Mexico and was deported from the US. He has health issues and is visibly saddened when I ask him about his family. I ask him why he does not try to be reunited with them. He doesn’t want to return to his town of origin in his current condition and situation. His face says it all-he is so ashamed of his current predicament.
The psychological impact of being deported back to Mexico from the US can cause what the Methodist Church in Mexico tells me is known as ‘post-deportation trauma’. Migrants who are deported back to Mexico or indeed back to other Central America nations have to deal with the shame of not achieving the American dream and of improving their family’s lives. Deportation has a profound impact on their mental well-being, and the Methodist Church in Mexico serves migrants who are deported back to Mexico by giving them access to phycologists specialised in helping them come to terms with this.
The church is very conscious of the human face of migration in Mexico and actively encourages its members to see migrants in this way.
Tomorrow I leave the UK to visit the Methodist Church in Mexico, a key player in the other migrant corridor of the world that we in Britain hear so little about. As I’ve delved deeper into the work our partners are doing in Central America, it is clear that this is a serious crisis, involving hundreds of migrants attempting to cross into the US daily through perilous border crossings, risking life, limb and the threat of deportation. 70,000 children attempted to cross into the US from Central American nations last summer alone, a growing number of which were unaccompanied.
I will be joining Tim Annan (our next Methodist youth President) and Hayley Moss (former youth president) in Mexico, to explore how the Methodist Church in Mexico is responding to the issues and how it is working with the United Methodist Church on both sides of the border to help migrants in a variety of ways. Tim and Hayley are already in Mexico, and together we will be visiting the work of the church with migrants in San Diego (US), Mexico City, Tijuana and in other Mexican towns. Watch this space for Tim’ vlogs.
Following a brief time in Mexico I will be visiting our mission partners in Nicaragua, Maura and Paul Cook-Collins and their children Scout, Assisi and Saffi and seeing the work they are doing with a local church and Methodist School in the town of Jinotega (a three hours car ride north of Nicaragua’s capital, Managua) which is known in Spanish as la cuidad de las brumas- the city of mists.
The final leg of my journey will be in Houston, Texas, for the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women’s 13th Assembly and for the World Methodist Conference, where my World Church Relationships Team colleagues and I look forward to valuable conversations with representatives from most of our partner churches around the world.
Thanks for reading my blogs as I travel through Central America.