I went and had dinner at my grandparents’ home the other night, having called them up to say that it would be nice to see them before I left for Mexico on Monday.
“I just don’t understand why you people feel the need to go flying all over the world looking for people to help,” my grandpa said as he set the table. “There are plenty of people right here who need help. You don’t have to go to Mexico for that.”
His point is a valid one. As I had ample opportunity to discover during a class this past spring, there are plenty of places here in the Twin Cities that need our assistance. My classmates and I spent the semester volunteering every week at places such as a Headstart program (giving low-income families a chance to send their children to preschool), a nursing home, Bridging (a local non-profit that helps people transition from being homeless), or Meals on Wheels. It became quickly evident that there is a very real local need.
And yet these trips down to Mexico and Central America aren’t a mission trip. The idea is not that we are going looking for people to help in a hands-on material way. We aren’t going down there to teach or preach or do or improve. We go without an agenda.
I could have taken that moment with my grandfather to explain about the Zapatista uprising on January 1st, 1994—a revolution launched without a bullet fired. I could have talked about systems of oppression and how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is incredibly detrimental to the native Mayans who are forced to work the land without basic human rights. I could have asked if we really wanted to live in a world where slavery was a daily reality for the people whose country shares a border with our own. For the sake of a peaceful dinner, I did none of these things.
Quite simply put, we are traveling 2000 miles south into a low-intensity war zone to bear witness and stand in solidarity with the Mayan people whose voice cannot be heard from our comfortable Minnesota homes. In whatever way we each came to our personal decisions to go on this trip at this time, we have covenanted to accompany each other into a place that will, for many of us, be completely foreign to anything we have seen before. We will listen to stories, told by the people who lived them—stories of unspeakable tragedy and of heartbreaking courage. We will travel into pockets of oppression and resistance; of fear and hope; of brokenness and of community.
And then we will come home again. I wonder if that homecoming is going to feel as foreign upon our return as our initial excursion into Chiapas is likely to feel.
When we come back to our waiting homes, with friends and family to greet us, there will be more in our hearts than we will know how to share. Bear with us, dear friends. We will all share what we can, as we find the words and the ways to do so. We are so very glad that you are reading along, because perhaps with you accompanying us from home, you will be able to understand how difficult our return might be.
As this note is posted, we are all in the process of finishing our packing and saying goodbye to our homes and our loved ones on our last afternoon before we leave. In the morning, we will be gathering at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport at 5:45am in order to catch our flight to Phoenix, Arizona. From there, we will fly to Mexico City. After a longer layover, we will catch a flight to the Tuxtla Gutierrez Airport down in Chiapas. Then we will board a bus that will drive us for an hour and a half east through the mountains until we arrive in San Cristobal de las Casas, where we will be staying in a hotel. It is currently estimated that we will be able to find our beds around 11:00pm.
It will be a long day of traveling, but we will try to accompany each other with good will, patience, and hopeful spirits. Please understand, though, dear reader, that it will be difficult for us to post tomorrow. Perhaps we will be able to update during our layover in Mexico City, but we can make no promises. With luck, we will be able to post on Tuesday evening if we are able to get to an internet cafe near our hotel.
Peace be with you, friends.