By Rev. Christoph Schmidt, Lutheran Campus Ministry – Minot, 4/15/2015
For many, the thought of Spring Break in Mexico conjures up images of white sand beaches in Cancun and Acapulco. But for 12 MSU Lutheran Campus Ministry students, this year’s Spring Break trip to San Diego and Mexico was focused on cultural immersion. The goal of the trip was to learn about the places and people involved with immigration issues – in particular, the children and families that have been broken apart by the policies of a broken system.
The group spent an afternoon at the Lutheran Campus Ministry center at San Diego State University, where they heard the stories and struggles of undocumented students who were working to better their lives. They talked about the challenges of trying to get scholarships and financial aid without proper documentation, and the hurdles they had to overcome to simply enroll and register.
“It was great visiting with some of their campus ministry students,” said Junior student Kayla Scholes, “I enjoyed hearing their stories and learning more about the struggles that these students face. It made me grateful for the educational opportunities that are available to me as a United States citizen.”
After crossing into Mexico, the group ate dinner with a group of Mexican men at Casa del Migrante (House of Migrants), a shelter for deported men in Tijuana. Despite some language and cultural barriers, students learned that many of these men had lived for decades in the United States, working good-paying jobs and paying their taxes, marrying, and having children.
One migrant, Alfonso, told us of his desire to enlist in the U.S. military, and about his love for the United States as a country. “I was inspired by the faith of the people we encountered,” said First-Year student Else Nelson, “always referencing that their lives were in God’s hands.”
The vast majority of these men were deported on technicalities, having been unjustly targeted by individuals within U.S. Customs. Despite having the proper papers and permits, some were dragged through a system that denied them their rights to legal representation and due process. They were not violent criminals, but rather victims of prejudice, discrimination, and the politics of anti-immigrant fear.
After Tijuana, the MSU group traveled to Miracle Ranch in Tecate, Mexico. Miracle Ranch is a children’s home for 28 children, ranging from a few weeks old to high school age. The home provides the children with food, clothing, shelter, an education, and most importantly, love – a key necessity after having experienced abandonment by their parents.
MSU students played games with the children, ate meals, and sang songs around the campfire together at night. While the children were at school, the group did some service projects around the home to help with day-to-day operations. For Sophomore Haili Duchscherer, these interactions reminded her “that no matter what language barrier or color difference, no fence or wall can separate us from the love of God.”
It was a life-changing experience for MSU students. Faith was formed and new friendships were forged. In fact, some of the students are already planning a return trip to Miracle Ranch to reconnect with the children. “I enjoyed the journey of seeing my perspective change over the course of the trip,” said Senior Karen Langemo, “I was challenged in my faith, but I grew in more ways than I could have imagined.”
The students are grateful to have had this opportunity, and they look forward to sharing more of their experience with their faith communities.