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  • What Walls Do We Need to Tear Down? by Myra Houser

    by Myra Houser 

    "As you leave, think about the walls you've built in your own life."

    Much of the discussion at "Peace Camp," the annual meeting of Bautistas por la Paz/the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America had already focused upon walls--both physical and mental. Delegates marveled at the bright, beautiful murals adorning Mexico City's public walls during the drive up to Campamiento Mazahua. The too-connected amongst us cursed the hacienda walls' obstruction of WiFi signals.

    Eleazar Encino, a professor at Seminario Intercultural Mayense, an Alliance partner, spoke about the power of those same hacienda walls. The hacienda, built of course by enslaved indigenous Mexicans, had served as a site of imprisonment and torture. Now, rehabilitated into a camp space and community center, it bears the name of the Mazahua group, whom it seeks to empower. Eleazar noted the power of taking back and meeting in such a space. According to BPFNA's registration count, about half of the delegates hailed from Latin America and half from the United States and Canada. Naturally, many Central American delegates lamented the impact the Mexico-Guatemala border wall had on vehicle travel north.

    And, oh yes, there was one other wall on everyones' minds.

    The U.S.-Mexico border wall provided quite a foil, as well as a tangible answer to the personal-walls-question. As U.S.-based peacemakers railed against The Trump Wall and BPFNA adopted a statement against it, many of our Latin American siblings pointed out that the physical wall and attendant human rights abuses and deportations, existed long before the megalomaniacal campaign promises of a white supremacist. Viewing the sea as a wall had also been imperial business as usual, as Caribbean delegates pointed out. The U.S. blockade on Cuba and othering of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico long preceded The Wall.

    These moments of self reflection had taken place all week, long before the traditional last evening's Youth and Children Service. While they told, drew, and sang the story of the man being beaten and passed by on the road to Jericho, youth and children brought in chairs and built a wall between the adult congregants. After asking the congregation what societal walls bruised and battered people, they asked how we could tear them down. After mentions of everything from a smile to universal healthcare, the youth introduced the Good Samaritan and disassembled the wall, asking us to examine our lives for those walls we ourselves might be building. I don't think there was a dry eye in sight as peacemakers from Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and the United States linked arms and sang the camp hymn on "Clothing Each Other With Love."

    While the physical walls still stand, the week provided a glimpse into how they are being torn down, both personally and societally. SIM shared about breaking down mental colonial walls through teaching Liberation Theology and then enacting it among indigenous communities. A U.S.-based activist recounted a history of marching on the U.S.-Mexico and Israel-Palestine walls. In one of the week's ongoing wrenching moments, an Ohio farmer spoke about his neighbor--an 18-year US resident, taxpayer, and father of four US citizens, deported to Mexico during the week of camp. Immediately, a Mexican pastor stepped forward and began mobilizing his congregation to care for the man. In many similar moments, while churches north of The Wall began forming networks to provide sanctuary and care, churches south of The Wall began forming networks to create home and resources for people deported 'back' to spaces with which they may have had little familiarity.

    The walls, both in our own lives and larger society, seem to be growing. But so do the human bridges of compassion. I am grateful for a week spent learning about the work of Alliance partners such as SIM and BPFNA, making friends from across our beautiful and too-often-walled-apart hemisphere, and participating in moving worship experiences.

    Now, what walls do we need to tear down?