Until I visited the border, saw with my own eyes what was happening, and listened to people recount their own experiences, I had no idea of the magnitude of the crisis of the large numbers of teenagers from Latin and Central America making their way north into the United States. Perhaps it was just easier for me not to know.
Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a Hispanic Ministry practicum hosted by the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. The cross-cultural immersion experience included a visit to Eagle Pass, TX, a town located on the US-Mexican border, during a time when local, state, and federal officials argued about what to do. Many of the unaccompanied minors were fleeing drug-infested communities, horrific violence, and extreme poverty in search of a better life. Even churches were overwhelmed by the sheer scope and magnitude of the crisis that was unfolding all along the border.
The story of the “undocumented Christ” began in 2004 when US Border Patrol agents retrieved “a package” (code word for a lifeless body) from the Rio Grande River, the border separating Mexico and the USA. To their surprise, agents discovered that “the package” was a well-preserved life-sized statue of the crucified Jesus (minus the cross). Since no one stepped forward to claim the statue, border patrol agents seized the statue as unclaimed property. No one, it seemed, wanted to claim Jesus.
In time, the mysterious discovery of the “undocumented Christ,” particularly in a location where so many immigrants have died, prompted people on both sides of the border to embrace the statue as a message from God. Eventually the statue found a permanent home at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Eagle Pass.
Looking back, something happened to me the day I encountered the “undocumented Christ.” A time in my life when I could no longer ignore the geo-political, religious, and humanitarian realities of what was unfolding before me at the border.
An encounter with the border crossing Jesus challenged me, then and now in this Lenten Season, to look for Christ in the least, the lost, and the broken, sisters and brothers created in the image and likeness of God. And though I fail to live this reality, time and time again, Jesus the border-crosser transcends the boundaries we make, compromises with evil that try to separate us from God and from one another. The “undocumented Christ” comes to us time and time again, lifting up the broken, joining the despised, comforting the ones who mourn, and standing with those being crushed, crossing every boundary — even death itself — that tries to separate us from the love of God.