Tijuana Ministry Reflections
Joanna and Martin Thurmann
Valley Catholic Article
Chris Sotherlin 2012
2012 was my fourth consecutive trip with Tijuana Ministry to Tijuana. Each trip, we as a group, and as individuals, seem to become more focused and committed to the families and friends of La Morita. I think all of us veterans enjoy watching the "newbies" go through the same transformation we did on our first trip, from builder or teacher, to friend, and finally to extended family. The expressions on faces, deep in thought on the long ride home, show just how much this trip has touched the hearts of us all.
Over the past four years we have developed bonds with all the families we have had the privilege to build for. Each year I look forward to not just building a new home for a deserving family, but also seeing the families from previous trips. This year in particular was special for me, because family members from previous homes helped us construct the new home, as well as help with the mother's program. To see them become involved, and also create ties among one another was inspiring.
More and more faces and streets become familiar as we make this annual trip. We have created a bond with the La Morita community that becomes more evident each time we return. On this trip, I was standing on top of the framed walls when I heard "hola Chris!" shouted from the street. I looked up and waved as Osvaldo, a boy from down the street, rode his bike by. We have become part of this community.
I know we cannot solve all the world's problems. What we do is difficult for some people to understand, when there are so many people in our own backyard that need help. But this is the corner of the world that I have decided to make a difference in. It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but to the families who shed tears of joy when they are handed keys to their new homes, it means the world to them. These homes not only give them a safe and secure place to live, but a sense of pride and hope for the future of their family, and generations to come.
Joanna Thurmann 2012
Tijuana Mission 2012. It was my 6th year. It was our 14th house built for poor and deserving families. And it was the first major non-residential project – to finish off a portion of a school for children with special needs so that 150+ of them can get the much needed attention and education they would otherwise not receive. We also built community with nearly fifty mothers who came each morning to share their stories, joys, hopes, sorrows and gifts with us and with each other. And we played games, worked on crafts, read stories and laughed with over two hundred children who attended our kids’ camp each day. But the physical labor we did in Tijuana was no match for the emotional and spiritual exercise that accompanied it.
To go to Tijuana means we need to take time to learn and reflect on the reasons we are there in the first place. Why is there such poverty just ten miles south of the US border? Why is US minimum hourly wage the equivalent of the Tijuana daily wage at a crowded, stuffy factory? How tall, how wide and how strong must we build walls along our borders to keep from noticing the social injustice or from smelling the ignorance and fear?
Each year we have shared a meal at Casa Migrante, a shelter for recently deported men or those on their way across the border in search of a better life for their families. This year, the recently deported came to find us instead, even before we left. Through the work of our leadership in Justice for Immigrants, we got intimately familiar and involved with the story of Reina and Cesar, a couple who was deported just a few days earlier, leaving behind 4 young children, all US citizens. They themselves had come to the US as undocumented children, and stayed to form the fabric of our schools, communities and parishes. What separates brother and sister sitting in the pews is one little green card and a lifetime of opportunity. Our needs and our hopes are the same.
For me personally, the Tijuana experience is also something more. It’s my gateway to the Divine. It heightens my senses, and deepens my awareness of the vastness of God’s glory and the expanse of his love. It generates an awareness of great need among his most vulnerable, and also of the opportunity for us to respond to that need, and therefore to give ourselves the most precious of gifts – peace of soul. What is asked of us in life is simple – to love freely and openly, without judgment, condition, reservation or fear of consequence. Love is boundless, it multiples when divided, additive when shared.
Tijuana is not a place of great sorrow, but a place of great joy – the joy of insight and understanding, comprehension and closeness to God. We are confronted with a way of life we have long forgotten; lives of reliance upon the earth to feed us, and water to quench our thirst, trees to provide shade, simple trusses to provide shelter. What more is there for us to gain in life, than assurance that we matter, that our lives are worthwhile, and that we are simply loved and accepted, as we are. The invitation to come to Tijuana to help others is a contradiction; for by our response, we help ourselves the most. We help ourselves to become free of our own trivial preoccupations, desires and concerns. We help ourselves to feel a deep gratitude for that which we already possess in great measure – freedom, security, love and life itself. We are invited to taste the sweet sensation of ache after a day of manual labor, and the ache of our hearts at the desire to do even more the next. We are invited to suffer, to pray, to accompany, to journey, to reflect, to simply be present to the mystery. I have learned that the Lord’s Prayer must be sung, repeatedly, in great joy and in great reverence, to feel the humility of its words upon our breath. I have learned that stewardship is a great responsibility in every thought, every action and every waking moment of our physical and spiritual lives.
What happens in Tijuana does not stay in Tijuana. It is viral and systemic. It wants to burst into our consciousness upon our return to remind us in our daily choices that 10 miles south of the border, we have left a part of ourselves. We await our own return, our own love and nurture. We cannot forget ourselves any longer. We cannot unsee or unhear. In our response to social injustice, we make our social outcry. All of us share all that all of us sow, for better or worse, here and in the ever after.
Tijuana 2013 awaits me, and you, as well.
Bob Malone 2012
I want to start out thanking you all for coming to Tijuana this summer and making the trip so successful. What you accomplished this year was incredible! The Mother and Children’s program were phenomenal and it spawned a teen program, out of thin air. Wow! The construction teams were again stupendous building two wonderful homes, and miraculously completing the electrical, installing all the doors, and painting a classroom for the children with special needs school. The classroom is being used regularly, and the children are thrilled to have a school of their own.
As I have been watching the Olympics I am inspired by the athletes motivation, skill, and success. Hearing about the daily disciplined workout routine that they all do reminds me of a quote that I heard, "I have never met a Christian who sat down and planned to live a mediocre life." I admit that I thought of you all when I read this. No one who has chosen to be apart of this ministry can be associated with the word “mediocre”. We are not all called to be Olympians, but we are all challenged to live a life that is pleasing to God, and this summer’s trip was just one step of this journey.
As we begin to plan next summer’s trip, we are reminded and challenged to live lives that glorify God. Doing this is not always easy, but it helps to be amongst such a group as ours, who encourage and support one another. I sense that God chose each of us to accomplish something new for Him this year. Where will you find opportunity: Beginning a new friendship? Serving the poor? Becoming more involved in your parish community? Whatever it is we hope you will stay involved in the Tijuana Ministry program and help it prosper and grow.
Let us open our ears and eyes to hear and see what God wants us to accomplish for Him this coming year. Luke 9:23 reminds us, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." May God protect us and give us energy, discernment and enjoyment as we navigate through what promises to be a wonderful year!
Deacon Bob Malone
Joanna Thurmann 2011
Reflection on Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
Joanna Thurmann| 03-08-11 (Mother’s Day)
Thank you, Fr Jon. I am excited to be able to share my Tijuana experiences today. You’ll figure out within 30 seconds that I am not a professional speaker. And I’m not a professional contractor, but this is our weekend to kick-off & promote the Tijuana Ministry, so I wanted to fit in.
This is one of my favorite scripture readings for several reasons. But one of the reasons is embarrassingly funny. My husband will testify that I have a peculiar issue with facial recognition. Most people have trouble remembering names. Me, too. But I also have trouble recognizing people’s faces even if I have known them for years. If they change their hair style or color, put on glasses, or if I see them in a different context or setting, I’m like a deer in headlights. But once they tell me who they are, then it all comes back to me. I do remember the details of their story. So anyway, because of this little handicap, I can really relate to these 2 disciples who couldn’t recognize Christ. I wouldn’t stand a chance. But now that you know my little embarrassing secret, please forgive me in advance if it happens to you J.
But spiritually speaking…. most of us have trouble recognizing the face of Christ. That’s because he often changes his hair style, his color, his gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, sexual orientation and social status. It’s only when we hear his story that our eyes are opened and we recognize Him or Her. Maybe to some extent, we all could benefit from some improvement in our spiritual recognition.
If Christ could be anyone, then we must be willing to be of service to anyone, to welcome anyone, to love anyone. But one way that we quickly recognize Christ’s presence is through our emotions. Just like the disciples whose ‘hearts were burning within them’, we also feel Christ’s powerful presence in key moments and experiences of our lives. Mothers especially know the ‘gift of tears’ – it’s that overwhelming desire to cry when we are extremely happy or sad, at weddings, births, deaths, our children’s first steps, first words or their recitals and sporting events. We even cry at touching movies (also known as ‘chick flicks’ J). I am especially moved to tears whenever I see my children being exceptionally caring and giving to others. We cry when we are touched by deep emotions of empathy, gratitude, love, forgiveness, compassion. Christ is revealed to us through them.
And he’s revealed in unexpected ways and in unexpected places – oftentimes outside of the traditional place of worship. Just like on the road to Emmaus, we can meet him standing in line at Nob Hill, or painting a wall in Tijuana. We can learn from ‘Christ’ through everyone we meet.
Emmaus is also about sharing. Strangers become friends and family through the simple act of sharing – sharing our stories, or sharing a meal. This is how the disciples recognized the ‘stranger’ as their beloved Jesus. In the same way, the strangers who go to Tijuana with us come back as close friends. And more importantly, the strangers who live there, become our extended family. Through sharing, we begin to see our interconnectivity in the web of human relationships.
And speaking of family… today is Mother’s Day. As mothers, we feel a powerful connection to the mothers in the Tijuana program – all of whom want the best for their own kids just like we want for ours, a safe home, an education, a chance for a good future. Even if we don’t speak Spanish, the universal language of a mother’s love is transcendent.
Think of our blessed mother – Mary, Jesus’ mother – her love, her pain, her sacrifice… Well, we see her face, everywhere in Tijuana, too.
If I could paint a mental collage of all the mothers I have met there over the years, it would be a portrait of love, courage, strength and determination. It would include Yolanda, who was working nights in a US factory for about $12/day while taking care of her 4 young children in the daytime. She slept little and worked tirelessly to take care of her family. Then there was a single mother who lived with her 5 young children in an abandoned boxcar. She came to cook meals for us while we stayed in Tijuana last year to earn a little wage. And Bertha, who dug a huge trench all by herself prior to our arrival so we could put in her septic tank. She and her children helped all day to clean, carry and fetch materials. Or Lavida, the widow with breast cancer. And Betty, who brought us refreshments and a delicious homecooked meal of Chile Relleno for all the workers last day of our build, even though their family’s daily earnings were only $10/day.
And we, the women who go to Tijuana, become the surrogates of the children we meet there. Mother’s of children like 5-year-old Guadalupe got her miraculous ‘pink room’ when a single can of pink paint showed up on the last day. She and her 3 siblings will have a safe home to live because their father has Huntington’s disease and is unable to work.
Back home, we have mothers among us today. All of you know the love, pain and sacrifice of Mary. My own mom is panicking right now, she’s sitting right there and she hasn’t heard this speech yet. Well, my mom is the modern embodiment of St Theresa of Lisieux and her name happens to be Teresa, too. She taught me the gift of love and service to others through ‘the little ways’ just like St Theresa who put holiness of life within the reach of ordinary people. St Therese wrote in her book “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love if great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” My mom’s little ways are always through generous hospitality, food, shelter… gifts and service to everyone, and esp. those less fortunate. That will always be what I remember most about her. Her little ways of being Christ are countless.
Going to Tijuana can be a great deed or a little deed – depending on your perspective. But even if you didn’t go, there are thousands of other little ways to get involved in the TJ mission or in any other social justice or outreach program. And today, even eating chocolate can be beneficial. Outside of mass today, you can buy free trade chocolate. You can learn what Free Trade means, why we should care and how your donations help that cause. It’s just another ‘little way’ to make great change possible. Mom – you will be getting some chocolate today.
And I am a mother, too. So when my own 2 kids grow up, I hope they’ll remember what I tried to teach them (and no, it’s not just “eat your vegetables” or “don’t hit your sister in church.”). What I hope they’ll say is that I taught them compassion. Compassion means ‘wearing someone else’s shoes’ – literally or emotionally. If we can feel empathy for each other, we can feel love. Love paves our way to action. Compassion moves us to act for the people of Tijuana – through prayer, donations or service.
Having seen and experienced Christ, the Tijuana missionaries, just like the disciples, feel compelled to come back and share the good news that Jesus is Alive. That’s what all of us are doing today. And that’s what gives the TJ ministry its wind beneath the wings. We tell others; we show them our burning hearts.
Our faith grows gradually; we can hasten it through action. Jesus told the disciples “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe.” The more we “LIVE” our faith, the stronger that faith becomes. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ or else ‘if faith is not working for you, it may be because you are not working it’. Putting faith in action is the best way to live faith.
Emmaus also shows us that we are ‘closer’ to our destination than we think. The distance from Emmaus to Jerusalem was 7 miles. Did you know that the Tijuana mission where we go is only 12 miles from the US border? We don’t need to go far outside our comfort zone to follow the path of discipleship. It begins just outside the front door, with a first step. It just takes saying “Here I am Lord. I come to do your will”
There are many faces I do recognize in the crowd who have said just that, and who have come with us to Tijuana in years past. I want to take the opportunity to recognize them, so could you please stand if you have gone to Tijuana in years past. Thank you.
But of course, the Tijuana Ministry is not just about going there. None of it would be possible (really NONE of it) without the support of all of you right here – taking each step along with us. Supporting us through fundraisers, donations, prayers and other ways. You can continue to do that by participating in our upcoming events -- the Parish Auction next Friday, the garage sale on the 21st, coffee/donut sale, carwash and even today by purchasing Free Trade chocolates.
So I hope the gospel story of the Road to Emmaus will inspire you to put on your walking shoes, fill up a backpack with bread and water, and hit the road. The journey itself is as worthwhile as the destination.
In our own spiritual journeys toward Tijuana or toward the kingdom of God, we are invited to befriend strangers, welcome them to dinner, and see the risen Christ revealed inside of them. And don’t forget to send post cards to your mother from along the way.
Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
Joanna Thurmann 2010
Your heart grows like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger and bigger it gets. It has limitless capacity. Here in Tijuana, we are building homes, communities and hearts of compassion. You can’t help but smile and cry, in succession, at the stories of struggle and triumph, hope and despair. It’s my fourth year coming down with St. Julie’s. I’m addicted to the feeling you get when you see people truly appreciative of the smallest gesture of kindness and goodwill. The people we meet leave a lasting impression on my soul – I see their kind eyes and warm smiles and I vow each year to come back and to do even more.
But above and beyond the tarring and roofing, nailing and painting, beyond the stories of deported men in Casa Migrante, beyond the families we help and the donations we bring.... is another miracle that happens in Tijuana. You get family. I’m surrounded by brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, motherly and fatherly figures. I feel like I’ve known them all my life. We laugh and cry and have deep and meaningful conversations about our lives. I find out why they came, and why many return, like me, year after year. I am humbled by the hearts and souls, dreams, talents and life experiences of others on the trip. I see the face of God in each of them. They are walking the walk, with grace and elegance, passion and conviction. So this time, I dedicate this trip to the parishioners of this year and years past, who I have come to know and love. It’s more than a formal “hi, how are you” in church. You, and you all know who you are…… are my family.
Joanna Thurmann 2009
Hi, my name is Joanna. And I have been a member of St Julie’s parish for many years. My husband Martin and I and our two kids attend the 9:30 am mass.
This is my third year going to Tijuana. And each year is different. You may have heard that Mexico is dangerous due to violence related to the drug wars, especially between rival groups and police. And I’m here to tell you. Yes, it’s extremely dangerous, but not in the way you think. The danger is that your heart may break and your soul may bleed.
One of the ladies in the car in which I was riding said that she read an inscription on a photo frame that said… when your heart is speaking, remember to take good notes. Well I couldn’t get my heart to stop talking in Tijuana. It was whispering, yelling, crying….
It’s impossible to go and not be changed. Especially when you see what the families have to contend with every day. No security. Lack of clean water. Waste. Debri. Dirt floors. Poverty. Children playing in dirt. Teen pregnancy. Drug dealers. Lack of adequate medical and dental care. While I was in Tijuana this year, my kids surprised me by remodeling their rooms. Meanwhile, I see a lady in Tijuana with 3 kids, one special needs child. All living in a tiny room. There is also a danger that you may fall in love. I fell in love with Guadalupe – the little girl who received her pink room. “I want to leave it pink all my life,” she had told me. Gabriela, her 15-year-old sister spoke about her father getting medication for his neurological condition – Huntington’s disease.
You may fall in love with their incredible spirit – their fight for survival, for the safety of their children, for preservation of faith life, for preservation of cultural tradition. The last danger is… you may come back richer than when you went. Rich in compassion. Rich in understanding for the complexity of the issue of illegal immigration and social injustice.
If you think you can withstand these dangers – then join us again next year. You can join us by traveling and working, pre-building, having your car washed, or holding us in prayer.
This is not a one-person mission. Like our T-shirt says, ‘doing together what we cannot do alone.” We are led by the Holy Spirit and we are guided by the collective spirit of St. Julie’s. The people down there expect us to come each year. They are given hope by us.
Like the scripture today says in the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians…”we are breaking down the walls of enmity and bringing peace.’ And in the message of the ‘good shepherd’, God gathered us sheep in Tijuana, where He began to teach *us* about opening our hearts, our minds and our eyes even wider. And he asked us to bring that message home.
“I’ll be back”.
Monica Rising 2009
What a FABULOSO week!!!!!!!!!!!
Two beautiful casas!!! Two bonita families!!!!!!!!! We leaped over hurdles one after another!!!!!!! We built walls and put up trusses with just a few tools when the supply trailer was stopped at the border until Monday!!! We survived illness and bug bites!!!! We celebrated Bola's birthday!!! We saw and talked to Alejandrina and family and the Zamarippa family . The kids are in school and doing well. Lupe is beautiful and loves her room. She says it will always be pink!!!
We had 34 mothers in our program and they missed Fr Jon!!!!!!!!! We had 83 children in the kids program and we all fell in love with each other. We definitely brought Tijuana home in our hearts.
Thank you to all for your part whether you traveled, donated, helped plan, fund-raised and especially for your prayers. God is with us always and with our brothers and sisters in Tijuana.
If you loaned us supplies please pick them up in the Sullivan Center this weekend. I have to have everything stored and out by by the end of the week as I'm going out of town and they are going to start re building the new Center soon. Call me 307-4871 if you need special arrangements. Thank you!!!
God Bless You