Editor’s Note: Interviews conducted in Spanish were done with the assistance of an interpreter.
Shrubs dot the southern New Mexico landscape. Their dry roots cling to life atop the hills and between the steep ravines of the seemingly endless Chihuahuan Desert. A long shadow stretches across this barren landscape. A rusted fence divides the United States of America and Estados Unidos Mexicanos.
Knowing no bounds, a breeze passes freely through the fence and the distant, shrill call of a hawk can be heard.
On a mountaintop on the U.S. side, a large, white cross overlooks both cities — Santa Teresa, New Mexico and Puerto de Anapra, a colonia of Juarez, México.
Trash is strewn along the edge of the fence in Anapra. A wedding procession spills out of the stone grey facade of Iglesia San José de Anapra. People move in and out of cinder block homes.
On the U.S. side, homes are distant, but train tracks hug the curving border.
The two cities have a different look, but both countries have the same dusty, worn trail along the fence. It used to be a road that connected the countries.
A four-door silver Hyundai with Texas plates approaches the rusted hulking fence, stopping within feet of the bars, the driver gets out. He pulls a table from his car, then an amplifier. He looks around as he unfolds the table’s legs and unwraps a microphone cord.
He pops the hood of his car and gets to work, connecting the speaker to his battery. He is setting up a worship service.
The sun casts the fence’s shadow on the U.S. side, enveloping Tim Gray as he set up his makeshift altar. His sunglasses reflect the fence’s thick iron bars as he pulls out a green sash, two loaves of bread and two chalices. He places them on the table.
Gray is a pastor with the University Presbyterian Church. Before long, he was joined by other pastors from Presbyterian churches across the U.S. and Presbyterian pastors on the Mexican side of the border.
Through the fence, he hands a bilingual worship service itinerary to a group of pastors.
A white and green U.S. Border and Customs SUV circles Gray’s group. Gray walks to meet the officer.
“I talked to (Border and Customs) prior — I’m just saying hi,” Gray says.
The Border and Customs officer sits in his car and exchanges pleasantries with Gray.
“We had talked with y’alls public office about something, had y’all heard that?” Gray asked the officer.
“Nah they didn’t tell me,” the officer replies.
“Okay, and just to make sure, no hands across, nothing across, etc., etc. I’ll communicate that with my group as much as possible,” Gray says before the officer left.
Gray returns and distributes itineraries as more pastors and Presbyterian affiliates arrive.
The collection of pastors and reverends converse about their lives in the U.S. Those who can chat with their Mexican counterparts talk through the bars.
Pastor Bill Rose serves the Grace Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas. He says despite his political beliefs, he is here to pray with those on the other side of the fence.
“It’s just kind of showing solidarity between the two sides.” Rose says. “Well, maybe some people come down to maybe protest the wall. I don’t.”
“Why do they come?” Rose asks, referring to those who cross the border illegally. “Because they have to.” A plane flies overhead, crossing the border. “When I walk across the bridge and I get in this beat up car that belongs to some preacher over there, and I drive to this beat up building, I am taking my life in my hands.”
The sound of a train’s horn blaring a dozen feet away washes over the crowd of U.S. and Mexican citizens.
“Let’s gather in a circle,” Gray says, beckoning the faith leaders toward him. Crowds on both sides of the border murmur amongst themselves before the service starts.
“Some of the things are only going to be in English and some of the things are only going to be in Spanish,” Gray says to the crowd. “The idea here is that God continues to work with us, on us, no matter what language we’re speaking, no matter how much we think we’re understanding.”
Mere feet away, Samuel Adrian Gonzalez Arredondo, also a Presbyterian pastor, repeats the sentiment in Spanish.
In unison, their voices travel freely, reciting a psalm as bits of Spanish and English blended together.
The group breaks to greet others across the fence, shaking hands through the rusted bars:
“The Peace of Christ be with you,” some greeted, “And also with you.”
“La Paz de Cristo sea contigo” others said, “y contigo tambien.”
The two congregations continued to join their voices into one. Gray, leading the U.S. side while different pastors took turns on the Mexican side.
Together, the congregations read The Immigrant's Creed, pointing to stories in the Bible as reason for assisting immigrants in need.
They first spoke in Spanish: “Creo en el Espíritu Santo, el inmigrante eterno del Reino de Dios entre nosotros, que habla todos los idiomas, vive en todos los países, y reúne todas las razas.”
Then in English: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us, who speaks all languages, lives in all countries, and reunites all races.”
As they held Communion, the border is peacefully quiet. The political rhetoric and posturing that seem to shroud this arid land were nowhere to be found.
“Friends, you are invited to come forward,” Gray says, beckoning the hesitant crowd. “Friends, these are the gifts of God, for you, the people of God — come and eat.”
Gray holds the bread and chalice as parishioners tear off a piece, dip it in the chalice and eat it with reverence.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez is a pastor from Principe de Paz, a church in Juarez. Border congregations are not new for Gonzalez, who has participated in ceremonies like this for two years.
“I think that first it impacts ourselves because otherwise we’ll lose our sensitivity of our brotherhood and sisterhood,” Gonzalez said in Spanish, “Because of the political conditions and in some way those conditions can influence our cultures and I think that the Bible is counter culture.”
On Oct. 29, the Defense Department announced the deployment of 5,200 troops to the Texas, Arizona and California borders with Mexico in response to a caravan of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, who are traveling through Mexico and seeking asylum in the U.S.
Kevin Mcgee contributed to the reporting in this article.
Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @just516garc.
Anthony Jackson is a staff reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.