The Birth of Jesús

This is an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands, by Margaret Regan.  The book was chosen as the 2010-2011 Common Read for Unitarian Universalists, and has a downloadable discussion guide.

The weekend before Christmas 2008, temperatures dropped sharply across southern Arizona. By midnight on December 21, the border town of Douglas was shivering in the low 40s. By the time a baby boy was born in the desert a few hours later, it was down to 34, so cold the soft earth had hardened and the cactus spines were crackling. The baby’s mother, Lilian Escalante Abrego, had been hiking the wilderness for three days, in a group of quince compañeros caminando, “fifteen friends walking”: five women,a nine-year-old girl, and nine men. Lilian had started out with a friend in their native Honduras, and the two of them had met the rest of the migrants along the way. The journey
lasted weeks, and the travelers had become close. That night they were in the foothills of the Perilla Mountains, ten miles east of Douglas, hoping to make it to a road and a ride. Lilian wasn’t expecting her baby until January. But in the wee hours of December 22, she went into labor.

Unlike those who walked with Josseline, Lilian’s compañeros didn’t even consider going on without her. They shook off their backpacks and spread a yellow blanket on the cold desert floor, trying, vainly, to find a spot free of rocks and prickers. “I lay down on the ground,” Lilian said later, and the wayfarers gathered around under the stars to await the birth of the child. They were in ranch country, and cattle were lowing. With Navidad on her mind, Lilian prayed to the Christ Child.

This was her fifth baby and the labor was short. After only two hours, Lilian brought her baby to the light, lo dio a luz, as the Spanish term for childbirth has it. At three thirty in the morning, near where Silverio Huinil Vail had died eight years before, Arón Jesús Escalante Abrego was born.

“One of the muchachas”—the women—“cut the umbilical cord with a knife,” Lilian said. Both the baby and his mother were in trouble. Arón Jesús was dangerously small and Lilian was bleeding vaginally. She had banged up her legs during the trip, and her feet were badly blistered. “I couldn’t run,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk. I wanted help from la migra.” So someone lit a fire. The birthplace was in lonesome country, and the agents never saw the flames blazing in the winter night. When no help came, ten of the migrants set out to find it.
“A man stayed with me in the desert,” Lilian said. “A Mexican compañero. He told me, ‘I’m not going to leave you alone.’ ” Nicknamed Capulina, he had already teasingly asked the widow Lilian to marry him. She’d teased him right back, saying he was too old, forty to her thirty-nine, but at her moment of crisis he was there at her side. “He cried when the baby was born.”

At daybreak, the others found a solitary ranch house and banged on the door. The owner peered out and, hearing of the birth in the desert, put in an emergency call to the Border Patrol. When la migra arrived, the migrants regaled them with the story of the Christmas baby. The agents hurried out, and in the morning light tracked the walkers’ footprints back to the yellow blanket. They found Arón Jesús and Lilian swaddled in sweaters and trembling in the cold…

On Christmas Eve, the upward arc of Lilian’s story—and the heartwarming tale of the Border Patrol’s rescue of a new baby in Christmas week—spiraled back down. In the early afternoon, I found her dressed and sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, discharge papers in hand. A new Border Patrol agent was standing by. Now that she was medically able to travel, the agent had orders to take her to the station. Never mind that she was a nursing mother with a newborn son in intensive care. And never mind that it was Christmas Eve…

From The Death of Josseline copyright Margaret Regan 2010. Published by Beacon Press.

Read the full story of Lilian and baby Arón Jesús in the Epilogue to The Death of Josseline. It is one of many moving immigration stories from the Arizona Borderlands found in Regan’s book. How have you used Regan’s book in your congregation?  What insights did the book offer to you?  How did it call you to action?  Send us your stories!

All-Church Christmas Pageant: Las Posadas

This begins a series of posts exploring the wisdom Christian and Jewish scripture and tradition offer as we strive to respond faithfully to immigration justice issues. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, AL, presented a Christmas pageant using elements from the Spanish celebration of Las Posadas to highlight the experience of seekers of refuge and a new start throughout the ages and in our own time.- Ed.

The pageant begins:

READER #1 (SHEPHERD): There are many ways to commemorate Christmas. One of them, common in the Spanish traditions in the Southwest, is Las Posadas. The Inns. In some places this is done for nine nights preceding Christmas, in others nine houses are visited in a single night, or nine rooms in a building.  A procession led by figures of Mary and Joseph, the parents-to-be of the infant Jesus, goes from place to place, searching for an inn in which to stay.

READER #2 (WISE PERSON): At the time of Caesar Augustus, a census was ordered. Everyone was required to travel to their own home town to be registered. So Joseph traveled from where he lived in Nazareth to his ancestral home in Bethlehem. His betrothed, Mary, accompanied him on the journey despite the fact that she was pregnant.

READER #3 (SHEPHERD): Scripture tells us that when they arrived in Bethlehem, they had difficulty finding lodging in the crowded town and finally had to settle for an animals’ stable. It was there that the road-weary parents gave birth to their first-born child, and made a bed for him in the hay of the animals’ feeding trough because there were no better accommodations. (more…)

Connecting the Dreamers with Dr. King

In this post, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith writes about how he put together a service for Martin Luther King Sunday that explored the dreams of undocumented immigrant youth and connected them with the dream of Dr. King. Perhaps you might consider doing something similar in your own community.– ed.

This time last year, I wondered what to do about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday worship service. Naturally, I was thinking about his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. At the same time, I was among the many immigrant advocates hoping for the passage of the  Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth and young adults brought to the United States by their parents as minors. Then it came to me: What about doing a service that would bring together Dr. King’s Dream and the dreams of the Dreamers? The idea for the service, “Dreamers and the Dream” was born. The title comes from the song “Here’s to Life”. The version of it I know and love best is sung by the late Shirley Horn:

Here’s to life / and the joy it brings

Here’s to life / to dreamers and their dreams (more…)

Grace and Gratitude

With thanks to the Rev. Sonya Sukalski for this post! -ed.

We accept life’s gifts with grace and gratitude and use them to bless the world.

This piece of the chalice lighting often heard at Starr King School for the Ministry is an easy sentiment to connect to at Thanksgiving. Through the jostling at the dinner table about who says “Grace” and prodding about every person present voicing their gratitude, we try to reconnect to the abundance of harvest time.  “Grace” as a word for what we do before a meal (sometimes, perhaps not often enough) has not always retained its meaning as something we enjoy but did not earn.

The apple tree in my back yard reminds me of this and opens doors to the joy of our interdependence. I have to pause to thank the woman who planted and nurtured the tree.  I have to thank the workers who laid pipe and keep water flowing so that in times of drought, it was able to have life-sustaining liquid.  I ponder the first people to try apples (Eve and Adam?), and know apples were good food. I do very little to this tree- I trim off the branches that break due to the weight of the apples, try to pare back the blossoms or tiny apples so that the branches don’t break, and then sit back and enjoy the shade.  Hopefully taking time to notice the beauty of the fruit growing, and praying that I notice when the apples are ready to harvest.  In the harvest, I am always limited by the time, help and imagination for products or recipes.  There are always more apples than I know what to do with.  Seeing this abundance connects me to grace, and helps me appreciate a world of plenty. (more…)

Training the Next Generation of UU Social Justice Leaders

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California (UULMCA) is paying attention to training the next generation of UU Social Justice leaders.  This fall, they launched a 10-month internship program for passionate, idealistic, and entrepreneurial young adult leaders. Under the direction of Rev. Sonya Sukalski, the program aims to build leaders who are healthy in spirit, mind, and body. They will engage with current campaigns and leaders while also discovering how to sustain a lifelong commitment to social justice via theological reflection, community building and personal spiritual practice. The SALT program flyer invites you to follow adventures of this year’s 16 SALT Fellows on the website of the UULMCA, and to look for them at Justice GA in Phoenix!

“Com-passion:” A Theological Foundation for Intergenerational Worship

Why do we do justice work?  Theologically speaking, we are guided by ancient tradition and covenants that teach us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”  A more contemporary articulation for Unitarian Universalists would be that to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person means advocating for all human expression whatever the situation.  Such advocacy is how we honor that worth.  But when we’re crossing cultural boundaries in doing our advocacy work, we need to be mindful that our efforts do not patronize nor our expressions become misappropriation.

In my own anti-racism and anti-oppression work over the last decades, and especially in the early days of that awakening in me, I came to appreciate a way to understand “compassion” more fully.  I am thinking here about the Latin roots of the word compassion:  the prefix com meaning with, and passion meaning to feel.  “Com-passion” equals “feeling with.”   I’m not writing about some action where one in privilege reaches down to alleviate the pain of someone less fortunate.  That is a vapid, empty devaluation of the word itself.  But I am talking about discovering ways to identify with those whose positions we advocate, so that their concerns and their struggles become ours in the most intimate, intuitive ways. (more…)

The Deep Well of Appreciation

To rise, to rise each morning

with the faint glow of starlight on our backs

as we head into the joys, the surprises, the challenges of each day

sometimes with awe and wonder, perhaps expectation,

perhaps dread…

 

To rise, to rise each day peering over waterlines,

sandbags, walls, garbage, bunkers…

in wind swept deserts and streets

lined with sweet smelling olive trees alike

What a gift we are given when we can rise

in freedom, of some sort, to some degree. (more…)

Modeling Multigenerational Learning and Service

The UUA Mid-South District’s Annual Healthy Congregations Conference focused on Immigration as a Moral Issue.

This  multigenerational conference, presented on October 8, 2011 had a number of tracks, including political, congregational, and social media responses.  The multigenerational faith development track included reflection, an immersion experience field trip and an introduction to a long-term social justice project. For a project, the District has planned a mobile library of bilingual children’s books to be located near an indoor playground. Pat Kahn reports on the multigenerational track written for the Mid-South Faith Development Council. 

Plaza Fiesta!

As part of the Mid-South District Healthy Congregations Conference hosted by Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta on Saturday October 8th, 14 people (5 children ages 6-9, 1 infant, and 8 adults) participated in a multigenerational workshop and field trip.  In the morning session, all ages heard the keynote address by Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO, followed by a workshop during which UUCA member Laura Murvartian (helped by her children Claudia and Nicolas Murvartian-Rhim) shared her own immigration story. (more…)

We Are Not Guests

A Reflection by Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde

 

Am I a guest here. Here in this House. Are you?

Are we guests here. Here in this House. And, whose House do we inhabit?

In the small world of our lives

the borders between us: easements, fences, gates, hedges – serve to delineate,

to separate us. To remind us of where my property begins and ends.

Where your property begins and ends.


If you cross over: you are a trespasser or a guest in my house.

(more…)