Isaac S. Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship and the president-elect of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He was born and raised in the U.S. borderlands as a child of Latin American parents.
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When Death in the Desert is Not an Accident
IN DOUGLAS, ARIZ., in the shadow of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, a cemetery stretches across the desert. Between the orderly rows of gravestones, I notice clusters of cement blocks lodged in the sand with the same word etched into their flat surfaces: Unidentified. “Unidentified Female,” “Unidentified Male,” carved into the center of the tablet, along with a date: “Found Aug. 9, 2004.” “Found Dec. 31, 2005.” “Found Jan. 18, 2009.” “Found Feb. 12, 2009.”
A Mennonite activist whispers over my shoulder, explaining that the date marks when the remains were found in the borderland wilderness—a corpse in decomposition, a skeleton bleached in the sun, perhaps only a skull or a set of teeth.
In the beginning was the end
and in the end, silence
and the silence is God.
Jesus Resurrected and 'The Undocumented'
At the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham last week, I saw Marco Williams’ new documentary, The Undocumented, which tracks migrants as they hike into the United States across the border between Mexico and Arizona, trying to escape the detection of border patrol agents, and trying to survive the deadly heat of the Sonoran desert.
The documentary follows a young man, Marcos Hernandez, as he tries to find his father, Francisco, who was last seen in the desert walking for days in the 120-degree summer heat. Francisco left their home in Mexico with a coyote — man he paid $2,000 to lead him across the border — to make enough money to pay for his son’s expensive dialysis treatments. But he never called; he never returned. The coyote reported that he left Francisco in the desert because he was sick and couldn’t keep up with the other migrants in the group. Marcos fears the worst — that his father died of dehydration, of heat exhaustion. But to confirm the death he has to find the body.
The filmmaker focuses on the morgue in Tucson, Ariz., where the medical examiner investigates human remains, looking for clues that would help identify the dead in order to return whatever is left to family members and friends, to provide some kind of closure, to honor the dead with a burial.
In the film, Marcos won’t believe his dad is dead until he can see his dead body, or whatever is left of his body — a skull, teeth, his rib cage. He will not believe unless he can see.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). That’s what Thomas says to the other disciples about the resurrected Jesus; and what Thomas says about needing to see the body reminds me of the story of Marcos, about the need to see in order to believe.
The apostle Paul calls the church in Corinth a body — and that’s political language: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be … As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Cor. 12:18-20).
As Dale Martin argues in his book The Corinthian Body, Paul gets his language about the social body, the political body, from other Greco-Roman speeches and letters. He uses a style of writing and speaking called a “concord” — homonoia in Greek. Politicians would give speeches or write letters trying to convince the diverse people of the city to unite in a common project, to share the same goals for society, to share a common politics. In these “concord” addresses, politicians would call the society a body, just like Paul does in his letter to the divided church in Corinth. We are one body, politicians would say, so we need to act accordingly. We are one — united, bound together. Of course, politicians only made these speeches when they needed to: that is, when dissatisfied segments of society wanted to revolt (see Martin, Corinthian Body, 38-47).
Drones: Forces of Evil in Heavenly Places
People of Jesus work against demons — against the forces of evil that eat away at the goodness of God, the wonder of creation, the life of God in the world. Demonic forces roam the world, corrupting minds and bodies, cultures and governments, trying to bring ruin upon all that is good and beautiful. They dehumanize, devastate, and destroy life.
Weaponized drones are demons: evil spirits of the air, specters in the heavens, shadowy presences. They are forces of evil in heavenly places, triggering mental anxiety and bodily harm, instigating psychological damage and death, raining down terror and trauma.
Called to Welcome the Stranger
Many people in our country say that their Christian faith is a significant force in their lives. I am one of those people. As I listen to my sisters and brothers in the church discuss immigration legislation, I wonder why our faith hasn’t lead us into a way of life that defuses this contentious debate.
If, as Christians claims, the story of the Bible is important to us, then we shouldn’t be so worried about foreigners; we shouldn’t be so afraid of immigrants.