Sunday, March 27 2022 was a day I will not soon forget. That was the day I had planned to attend church services at The Border Church / La Iglesia Fronteriza at the US/Mexico border. We recently submitted a grant proposal for the AARP 2022 Challenge Grant and one of 4 events we proposed in this grant application was a possible community bread activity at the US/Mexican border focused on seniors 50-plus of age. The Borders Church's mission is "To follow Jesus and seek the reign of God by breaking bread along and across the San Diego-Tijuana border." Well, breaking bread is something we love to do as part of our mission as well and so I decided to bake and take some bread with me on this adventure to the southern most part of the Western United States.
Last November I had met a gentleman named Robert Vivar through Elisa Sabatini, Pesident of Via International). Robert was a deportee who had just been able to return to the US after 8 years of deportation. I have since learned that his case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In any case, Mr. Vivar, was/is a member of the Border Church and it just so happened that this Sunday, was a special worship to celebrate his return. My initial intent for the heart shaped loaf I had baked was to gift it to Robert Vivar as a "housewarming" gift to celebrate his return, if I got to see him. However, it turned out that he was on the Mexican side of the wall.
Since the road to Friendship Park was closed due to intermittent flooding (which carries with it contaminated sewage) we parked 1.8 miles away from Monument Mesa and met up with Pastor Seth Clark and a very lovely lady named Maria Teresa Fernandez who, as we found out, has been documenting the San Diego -Tijuana Border since 2005. Pastor Clark graciously accepted my offering of bread and declared that we would have it as communion bread. What an honor! BREAD Encounters bread has been used on many different occasions but never as communion bread! This takes our "Share The Loaf" program to a whole new level...
Friendship Park is a binational park located at the western end of the US-Mexico border. For generations people have gathered here to meet up with friends and family "across the line." While this historic location remains fully open and joyously well-utilized in Mexico, the U.S. side is marred by a system of double walls erected by the Department of Homeland Security. Since 2008, San Diego Border Patrol officials have severely restricted public access in the United States. In February 2020 they completely closed the Park to the public in the United States. At present they have made no commitment to its re-opening." (quoted from the website Friends of Friendship Park)
There were few people on the US side and even though the sound system was malfunctioning we were able to listen to the music and festivities coming from the other side. Not being able to enter Friendship Park meant that we were separated by at least a hundred yards from worshippers of the same church on the other side of the border. When Pastor Seth Clark spoke a prayer and mentioned something about "touching this wall", we lifted our arms as if touching the wall while the worshippers on the other side of the border actually physically touched the border wall/fence. Pastor Clark alternately spoke in English and Spanish and as he was speaking, I looked up to see the people far away on the other side of the fence waving at us, and it was then that his message really struck me! For one split moment I felt such sadness for the loss and pain of the families separated by this wall, that it brought tears to my eyes. But then Pastor Clark spoke of hope and I realized that even though we may currently be separated by this wall, divisiveness is only temporary for those who believe in Christ. I hoped that this would be a comfort to those directly impacted by this physical separation.
Once Pastor Clark finished the prayer, we connected with other worshippers by touching pinkies (pinky kiss - a symbolic gesture remaining from the days when worshippers were actually standing face to face across from each other separated by a fence so tightly meshed that only pinkies could reach through) and we blessed each other with the words "Peace of Christ! Paz de Cristo". My memory of this is a s blurry as my vision was at this point.
Then came the moment when Pastor Clark broke the bread, the heart shaped crusty bread based on BREAD Encounters' signature recipe (which we use for all of our solidarity bakes, community bread bakes to benefit those with food insecurities.) How fitting that this solidarity bread should be used to break bread at the border! And how symbolic! Because it was a heart-shaped, crusty loaf, it was not easily broken. As Pastor Clark tore apart the bread into 2 pieces, I couldn't help but think of all the families torn apart by this wall we were standing at. And yet, as he lifted both pieces in the air to pronounce the blessing, both pieces became one again in spirit regardless of their current physical separation. As much time as I spend thinking about bread, this was the first time it ocurred to me that there is comfort and hope to be found in the symbolic act of breaking bread.
When I heard that Pastor Seth Clark recently released a book "Church At The Wall" I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! He actually delivered it personally to my home which gave me the opportunity to meet his delightful young children.
I am currently still reading it and learning more about this unusual church and The Friends of Friendship Park. I am positive that BREAD Encounters will continue to be involved with Friends of Friendship Park for future bread activities to spread kindness and connect people on both sides of this militarized international border. I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience Border Church on the US side and am looking forward to experiencing church services in the future on the Mexican side (a privilege I get to enjoy based on the fact that I was able to became a US citizen in 2012).