She walks the trails until her ankles swell and her back pulsates with pain. Her abdomen, swollen with eight months of pregnancy, slows her down, and with each step she cannot help but think, "Will I be left in the middle of nowhere to give birth among the dirt and desert pines? Does anyone out there care to take me in, give me shelter?
Similar questions were certainly asked by Mary, the brave young woman who carried Jesus across borders trying to please the mandates of the Roman Empire. Only this time, "Mary" does not have a partner or a donkey to help, and there definitely is no pleasing the empire.
After two days of searching and wandering, someone does hear her cry, but instead of giving her shelter, warmth, and hospitality, she is thrown into a cold detention center without medical attention, food, or water, and she is told, in no uncertain terms, "at the United States border, there is no room at the inn."
This "Mary," or Maria, pleads and cries as she is released back to the other side of a borderline, dumped into the violent and vulnerable streets of Northern Mexico. That's where, as a No More Deaths humanitarian volunteer, our lives recently connected and my season of Advent came to life. Maria asks me how it is possible that there is no room on the other side, when in comparison to the desperate and poor conditions of Oaxaca, the land to the north is like a five-star hotel. Even more, she wonders, how it can be that there is no room when she has already spent years laboring in U.S. factories and chicken slaughterhouses? Indeed, 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.
With every day that passes, Mary is closer to her due date, which could possibly be Christmas. It appears as though she has no other choice but to give birth on Christmas day in a humble stable, far from all family and friends. More than likely, poor shepherds and neighbors who have heard the news will visit her and the new baby. This stable sits juxtaposed to great power, wealth, and large walls.
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 in our lives even today. All around us are strangers wandering the land looking for an open door and asking for compassion and justice -- not detainment or criminal status. May we not miss our chance to welcome them, as they have much to bring and to teach. In fact, they are the hope for our future that comes to us humble and expectant. Not unlike the baby Jesus.
Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border that promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.