She walks the dusty trails until her ankles swell and her back pulsates in pain. Her womb, distended in the eighth month of pregnancy, slows her down, yet also gives her an almost transcendent determination. With each step she is aware of her anxious thoughts, Will I be left in the middle of nowhere to give birth among the rocks and thorny bushes? Does anyone out there care to take me in, give me shelter? What will the future hold for this special baby boy that I carry?
Mary, the brave young woman who carried Jesus across borders trying to please the mandates of the Roman Empire most likely asked herself the same questions. Yet today “Mary” is not accompanied by a spouse and there definitely is no pleasing the empire. Instead of a donkey helping with her journey, she has a coyote, or people smuggler, who leaves her behind.
After two days of wandering alone in a strange desert land, desperately petitioning the Lord for help, someone does hear her cry, but instead of providing her with hospitality and protection, she is thrown into a cold detention center without medical attention, food, or water. She is told in no uncertain terms that at the United States border there is no room at the inn.
This “Mary,” known as Maria, pleads and cries as she is dumped back to the other side of a borderline, facing the violent and unknown streets in her vulnerable state. That’s where, as a No More Deaths humanitarian volunteer, my life intersected with theirs, and my season of Advent became one of the most meaningful of my life. Maria asks me how it is possible that there is no room on the other side, when in comparison to the increasingly violent and poor place she comes from the land to the north seems so prosperous and abundant. Even more, she wonders how it can be that there is no room at this time when she has previously spent years laboring in US factories and chicken slaughterhouses. The situation is even more complex as Maria thinks about her other children, two little boys—American citizens, waiting for her with anticipation and grief to return to their home in a Midwest city.
This “Mary,” known as Maria, pleads and cries as she is dumped back to the other side of a borderline, facing the violent and unknown streets in her vulnerable state.
With every day that passes, Maria is closer to her due date, which could possibly be Christmas. She has no other choice but to give birth in a humble apartment provided by nuns, far from all family and friends. More than likely, the poor shepherds and neighbors of our time who hear the news will visit her and the new baby. This stable sits juxtaposed just blocks from the greatest power and wealth this world has known, surrounded by heavily enforced walls.
There are record high numbers of women and children, as well as tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, coming to the US-Mexico border from neighboring countries to the south. Our country’s leaders have called this situation a humanitarian crisis, but their response is to build more detention centers and implement more aggressive border enforcement to keep them out. But if Jesus lives among the orphan, widow and stranger, we very well may be keeping him out as well.
As we sing carols, look at lights and admire the miniature nativity scenes adorning our homes this holiday, let us not forget the most foundational elements of the Christmas story and how they come to life even today. All around us are strangers wandering the land looking for an open door and asking for compassion and justice—not detention, deportation and criminal status. May we not miss our chance to welcome and learn from them, as they have much to bring and to teach about the heart of our Lord. Indeed, they are the hope for our future that comes to us humble and expectant. Not unlike the baby Jesus.
Maryada Vallet, originally from Arizona, has kept busy as a border humanitarian, health professional, activist and evangelical agitator on the US-Mexico border since 2005. Maryada has worked with World Vision International in humanitarian response projects, with her alma mater Azusa Pacific University as an adjunct professor, and as a consultant for international humanitarian organizations. For more on US-Mexico border humanitarian work and faith-based principles for immigration reform, go to No More Deaths. This piece was taken from A Journey Toward Home: Soul Travel from Advent to Lent, and appears here by kind permission of the author.