El miedo (Fear)

God says time and time again “do not be afraid.” That is the hardest commandment to follow here in the desert.

Before I came to Mexico (and I imagine even now) many people that I knew were concerned for my physical well-being. I have rarely ever felt unsafe in my very protected and limited routine between the apartments and el comedor. For migrants in Nogales, however, threats are everywhere.

There is fear of the mafia who controls this particular section of the border and charges every migrant a certain fee to try to cross. Non-payment carries dangerous consequences. Last week, we received information that a mafia member was eating at el comedor in order to survey the migrants. He was able to get past our security measures with very legitimate-seeming deportation paperwork (of course now that we are aware of his presence he is no longer admitted).

There is fear of coyotes who might turn into kidnappers. Yesterday, 15 migrants in total had been kidnapped at some point in their journeys. Some were held here in Nogales, others in the desert, and 4 were held for days in a house in Phoenix by coyotes demanding more money. Those in Phoenix were rescued by the police and then deported.

Then there is fear of bandits in the desert who will beat and rob groups of migrants. And to cap it all off the Mexican police who will pick up migrants off of the street and incarcerate them for days without food because they do not carry proper identification (or for no reason at all).

Living in fear produces mistrust. I register incoming migrants and a woman on Saturday refused to answer any questions. “But you are a gringa,” she said, “How do I know you won’t deport my husband?” Many migrants lie about their stories or refuse to give information because they have no reason to trust either gringos or their fellow Mexicans.

In an environment of fear and mistrust, God repeats: “do not be afraid.” Such a simple phrase. In the face of deep terror. It is almost impossible for me to tell migrants that they do not need to fear their fellow human beings. But I can start by telling them even when they cannot trust anyone, they can still trust in God. As I quoted in one of my first blogs in Nogales, “perfect love drives out fear.” Perhaps by first learning to love and trust God we can grow to realize that no one else has ultimate power over us. But in the interest of honesty I have to admit that this journey out of fear is a long one that I still don’t fully understand. Your insights and experiences are definitely welcome.

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2 Responses to El miedo (Fear)

  1. Carla says:

    whew – no simple way to choose courage and confidence in God over fear. As Americans I think we can confuse faith with a belief in the happy ending, that surely stories end with everything turning out in our favor. As a Christian, I am learning that real faith is leaning into God’s faithfulness, even when it isn’t clear that the story will end well. The only thing we can know in this broken world is that God is faithful and God loves us. Then we can pray with the prophet Habakkuk …”Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Hab. 3:17-19)

  2. Wow, big questions. The journey out of fear and into trusting God is a long and difficult journey. It is a journey for me that seems to have unending layers. Just as I move past one layer of fear another sits waiting to be dispelled. Whether we realize it or not it is the journey we undertake when we take that first step to become a disciple of Jesus. In John 16 Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for the fear they will face in the wake of his arrest and crucifixion. He tells them that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16.33). The degree to which I apprehend that truth (that Christ has already overcome whatever we’re afraid of) and live as if it were true has been the degree to which fear is dispelled in my life. But it seems that I must continually face new variations of my fear and believe that Christ has already overcome that. When I was single I lived in Kazakhstan for a while and faced some circumstances that challenged my own sense of personal safety and security. I had to really believe that God was bigger than those circumstances to even leave my apartment and function many days. As I leaned into God’s faithfulness and trusted him, regardless of the circumstances I found my fear faded. In the years since fear for personal safety has barely been a thought or concern. But then I got married…and had kids…and suddenly new fears arose. Fears that concerned my family, not just myself. God is still working on those, and I am still learning to put the people I love in God’s hands and believe that Christ has overcome my fear of what could happen to them. In my journey the tension of fear and faith is always present, but hopefully we all learn to trust God in each season and offer him the fears that inevitably rise. We cannot control the fear, it is a natural human reaction to circumstances. But we can choose how to respond. We can choose to give that fear to God and ask him to replace it with his peace – a peace that surpasses our own understanding.

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