To See, to Touch, to Change

By Mercy Gonzales-Barnes

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2: 14-16 (NIV)

Prayer Vigil a the Border. Photo courtesy Church World Service, Aug 29 2014I was so excited! We had been planning a prayer vigil at the border fence that divides Tijuana and San Diego. The Sunday before the vigil we drove down to Friendship Park to see the place where the vigil would be taking place. I walked up to the fence and was immediately disappointed. I could not see who was on the other side. I heard a female voice and recognized it as my colleague and friend Adalia Gutierrez. If she had not spoken, I would not have known she was there. We touched the tips of our fingers together and immediately I felt a sense of overwhelming grief.

In the year 2000 we were commissioned as American Baptist missionaries. We had been invited to serve in Baja California, Mexico, and to live in close proximity to the border. I had my reservations and questions: would my children receive a quality education? Would there be more crime? How would we adjust to life in the desert in a border community? One of the reasons for my fears was coming to grip with my own preconceived ideas, my own prejudice.

The early Church also dealt with this discomfort, with prejudice and preconceived ideas of who they were called to be as the community of faith. Was the Kingdom of God only for the Jews? The answer to this question came in steps: The Good News was preached first to Aramaic Jews in Palestine, then to Hellenistic Jews, then to Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles. There was so much division and prejudice between these groups, yet Paul, as he writes to the Church in Ephesus, states that God has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, and has created one new humanity.

This new community brings with it discomfort, teachable moments, and opportunities to learn how to be the body of Christ in all of its wonderful diversity.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one.”

This unity sounds wonderful but any married couple can tell you that the union of two persons, let alone two cultures, is never easy. It takes a lot of work and love to make this union be what God intended it to be. Paul says in Ephesians 3:17-19, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (NIV).

My fears and discomfort were real; there were moments in which I shed tears of frustration but also tears of joy. I learned to live love in all its dimensions. I can write a laundry list of all the challenges my Mexican friends live with and those challenges are real, but they have also taught me about faith by how willing they are to learn and serve their communities. Am I willing to do all that they do?

“…And has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

So when I started to hear about the unaccompanied minors, my heart broke. These children have crossed our fence and have turned themselves in to the authorities asking for help. My prayer is that they be given due process and that, as the Church, we can be a solace to them in their time of need. I pray that we can identify the barriers and replace hostility with compassion. I pray that our governments can work together to help these families who feel desperate enough to send their children on this lonely and dangerous journey. I pray that our church communities in each country can also reach out to these families.

At the vigil we could only see in part, understand in part, and not have a clear picture of the other side. As I touched the tip of Adalia’s finger with the tip of my finger, I knew that we need to have the ability to reach out and physically touch our neighbor.

Jesus touched those who were considered unclean and received them into the community. I encourage you to take the risk to learn, discover and touch those in need. Then we will see as we are seen.

barnes_family_shot1_2007Mercy Gonzales-Barnes serves as a missionary in Baja California, Mexico, through International Ministries (ABCUSA). Her ministry in Baja includes leadership development for new church planting, serving on faculty at the Dios con Nosotros Seminary (Mexicali), and work with short term mission groups from the United States.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries has a national mission focus for 2014-2015, “Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?” Visit for more information and resources.


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