A young aspiring US American peacemaker asked a Mexican who has followed the peacemaking Way of Jesus into the Immigrant’s Journey for decades, “What do I have to do to be with God forever?”
“What do you read in the Scriptures?” asked Oscar.
“Love God and love your neighbor.” replied the student.
“You got it!” said Oscar. “Do this and both you and others will flourish.”
Standing in Friendship Park in Tijuana and looking through the Border Wall to the skyline of San Diego, the aspiring peacemaker asked, “But who is my neighbor?”
In reply, Oscar told this story.
Because life in Central America had become dangerous, impoverished, and hopeless, a young boy named Martin began a perilous journey north to what he thought would be a more beautiful future. For untold days and nights, he rode the tops of freight trains through the heart of Mexico. He watched gangs burglarize, beat, rape, and throw the most vulnerable from the trains. He dodged thugs and Mexican migration officials at some check points and was assaulted and apprehended at others. After six deportations and harrowing attempts at the life-threatening journey, Martin finally arrived in Tijuana.
Once there, the smuggling network recruited him to act as a “rabbit.” His job was to jump the fence and to run as fast as he could to capture the pursuit of the Border Patrol. The smugglers knew that once Border Patrol’s attention was averted, they could send a larger, slower group of migrants over the wall in a different location. Martin was the best rabbit in the network, consistently collecting $50 payments.
One day, as Martin was preparing to make another run, an FBI agent zeroed in his sniper rifle and lay patiently in wait.
Martin got the green light and jumped the fence. The race was on! As he sprinted in his signature zig-zag pattern, he was surprised at the silence. He didn’t hear the familiar roar of the SUV’s and the ATV’s. Instead, he heard a “CRACK” and what felt like fire pierced his back and came through his belly button. He crashed to the ground writhing in pain and willing his non-responsive legs to move.
A Mexican Border Patrol agent drove up and when he saw the now unconscious Martin, he figured the rabbit was dead so he veered around him and kept on driving. A US American FBI agent, when he came to the place, wanted nothing to do with a dead, much less injured, rabbit. He, too, walked away.
Martin was eventually discovered to be alive and was flown to a nearby US American hospital for treatment. He had finally made it to the US but not in the way he had imagined so many months before. He would survive the sniper’s spine-severing bullet, but young Martin would never walk again.
After physical therapy and training for life in a wheelchair, Martin was deported to the streets of Tijuana where, in order to survive, he sold whatever his hands could make. When he realized that no one wanted what he could make he sold off components from his wheelchair. When there were no parts left to sell, he sold his crippled body for sex to any customer who was willing to pay.
Just then, a Mexican came by, and, when he saw Martin, he saw his humanity and dignity. He saw the image of God in him as well as his plight. Rather than walking away, the Mexican sat down next to Martin.
“What do you want?” asked Martin. “I’ll do whatever you want for a price.”
“I want one thing,” said the Mexican, “but I’m not going to pay you.”
“No payment, no service.” said Martin, dragging his bloodied feet on the rocks as he wheeled away.
“Let me bandage your feet.” the Mexican said as we walked alongside Martin. “Come over to my home for dinner tonight, take a shower, and rest in one of our beds.”
“What do you want from me?! Get away!” screamed Martin.
“Nothing.” said the Mexican. “I want nothing from you…only the best for you.”
With that, Martin allowed the Mexican to load him into his vehicle and take him to his home. While there, the Mexican and his wife helped him bathe, discovered and cleaned his colostomy bag, disinfected and bandaged his feet, shared a hot meal with him, and offered him one of the few private bedrooms in the house.
The next day, they listened to Martin share his horror story of migration, of the shooting, of his time in the US, and of selling his body in the streets of Tijuana. So moved were they that they contacted and acquired legal representation to contend for Martin in the US court system. For two years, Martin lived with the Mexicans as the legal battle ensued. In the end, the battle was ultimately lost, but Martin, rather than understanding himself as “Martin-making-it-on-his-own,” knew himself as “Martin-beloved-member-of-a-family.”
Ending the story here, Oscar asked, “Which of these, the Border Patrol agent, the FBI agent, or the Mexican, was a neighbor to Martin?
The aspiring peacemaker replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Oscar smiled and nodded his head. “Go and do likewise.”