Fly more than 2,000 miles to another country with 17 other student leaders, faculty, and staff to learn about global peacemaking through the lens of immigration? Although it may sound unusual, this is exactly what I found myself doing over Fall Break. We traveled to San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico (TJ) for a four day trip on "The Global Immersion Project" (TGIP).
TGIP co-founder and Northwestern alum Jer Swigart spoke at Northwestern's daily chapel service weeks prior, challenging the student body to examine the Jesus they follow, asking what Jesus' words and example mean for how we engage with others.
This passion birthed TGIP.
What is "The Global Immersion Project"?
As defined by the founders themselves, TGIP is "…a peacemaking training organization that exists to renovate and activate the U.S. American Church as an instrument of peace," and this is to "… mend the divides in our families, communities and world." Immersion trips are just one way TGIP promotes peace, and this trip to Mexico was the second Northwestern has joined.
We came as learners, not "to accomplish" work but to gain insights to take to our communities.
We listened to stories from different perspectives. On our recent trip we heard the tear-filled story of a deported mother with stateside children she hadn't seen in seven years, the experience of a deported but American-pride bearing veteran seeking citizenship, the work of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, the current reality of DACA dreamer, and the efforts of a CCCU institutional leader.
It is hard to describe the solemn heartache we experienced walking through Tijuana's red-light district or the prayers of those we joined in a cross-border, bi-country worship service while being separated by the fence between the two nations.
As we experienced the human impact of immigration first-hand, we were challenged to: 1) dig into what resonated with us 2) grapple with what resistance surfaced 3) explore the everyday peacemaking practices we saw and 4) strategize towards homeward-bound next steps. I was struck by the small moments--hearing Alle look at her city and talk with home-town pride, experiencing Maria's incredible driving skills while listening to her describe the city's core injustices--but also burdened with the bigger concepts--global justice, our call as Christians, and how this all fits within my daily life. With so much processing still in progress, here's a few key lessons I'm continually learning.
What Did We Learn?
Swigart gave us four key ideas to frame our learning.
Being a peacemaker in our communities requires us to first see.
As one global peacemakers stated: "We have to have diversity in order to have abundance." When we recognize not only the diverse needs but also the diverse strengths of people around us, we begin to understand collaborative potential. Truly, through focusing on the diversity of people and our diversity of skills and experiences, we find God-honoring unity.
Seeing the need, we enter, asking questions and placing ourselves in others' shoes.
A dreamer didn't even know she was undocumented until her parents told her she had to refuse a full-ride governmental scholarship. Grappling with what to do, she despaired: "We're going to be fine' doesn't cover it." This isn't a reality everyone faces, but it is real and has real consequences. To be global peacemakers, we have to ask hard questions about others' realities and grapple with the implications. "I'm locked up but I'm free at the same time, but not really…" She feels her situation deeply, and we can find deep implications if we, too, immerse ourselves deeply in stories like hers.
Contending means relentlessly seeking the flourishing of others. This can mean protecting, advocating, starting discussions, or championing.
Contending seeks a just reconciliation where people use their gifts, hopefully towards the aim of glorifying God. As Swigart himself shared to women in the women's and children's ministry: "As a daddy of three little kids, I would do anything to ensure they have a future." This type of hopeful pursuit of justice is what contending is all about. We use our power for the betterment of others as another global peacemaker working in a TJ orphanage stated: "He with the power shared it."
How do we truly act as Jesus-following agents of reconciliation? A CCCU leader points out that diving into such an aim with political and social issues isn't always easy: "it's super complicated; it's hard." Nonetheless, in our justice seeking, we must remember the redemptive role of restoration: helping others is for the ultimate goal of pointing them to the Helper.
When approaching restoration, it's about this: Christian faithfulness. We can start by asking "what does God want to make holy and transform?" Our restoration often might not look like a physical handout but a hand up as we strive for "solidarity and not charity."
These ideas can seem daunting. Global peacemaking. Reconciliation. Justice. Restorative action. However, it's not as complicated as we often make it. We simply must commit to start, knowing we are small pieces a part of a much story God is weaving. Yet, we live with responsibility in each day given us. As stated by a TJ native living out his faith in peacemaking ways: "We are nothing, and we are everything."
Here are tangible ways to start:
- Invite someone over for dinner who comes from a different background than your own and ask questions seeking to immerse in their stories.
- Watch a documentary about immigration, human trafficking, or other conflicts existing today.
- Research local efforts to support the vulnerable (immigrants, minorities, orphans, widows, and more) in your communities to be informed or involved.
- Read about the intersection of justice and theology (try starting with Swigart's and Huckins' Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World).
- Ask questions to a professor or colleague who delves into these concepts on a daily basis.
Truly, global peacemaking starts now with each of our commitment to pursue Christ right where we are. When we are relentlessly pursuing Christ and loving those around us, impact happens. It starts with our homes, churches, on campus, and in the community. What can eventually happen? We can reach the world.