Sunday, December 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 12-09-07
Jeff Gill

Christmas Across the Border; Many Borders

Jesus saved a nine year old boy in the Arizona desert a few days ago.

No, that’s not a religious remark. The man is named Jesus Cordova, and he saved a young man named Christopher whose mother had been driving down an unpaved, Forest Service road in desolate area just south of Tucson.

She took their van over a blind curve into a gully, where she barely survived while trapped in the crushed vehicle, as her son scrambled out and back onto the road. He wisely saw that it was beyond him to get mom out of the wreck below, so he set to lighting a fire, trying to attract attention. In t-shirt and shorts with no shoes (they were in the van), he needed the warmth to survive as well.

This is where Jesus comes in. A grown man, he was entering this country illegally from Mexico, and after two days of walking, was just a few hours from making it into Tuscon, work, and the underground economy.

What sheriff’s deputies from Santa Cruz County tell us, with admiration, is that Jesus tried to clamber down to where the woman was dying, and saw he could not help her, either, then sat down next to the boy and made sure he was warm and joined him in tending their watch fire until help did finally come.

Saving Christopher, trying to rescue his mother, who did die shortly after help arrived, and arresting Jesus, deporting him back to Mexico. That’s the law, as Jesus certainly knew. But he couldn’t leave that child and dying mother behind.

While the various candidates for President of the United States are posturing and posing for the cameras on immigration, I’m thinking about Jesus, now back in Mexico, but no doubt dreaming of America.

But I’m also thinking of the entire Cordova family, given that since 2000 we’ve had the highest number of immigrants in US history, with almost 11 million people estimated coming into this country, over half of which come illegally (hence the estimated part).

Today, one in eight residents of the US is an immigrant; in 1970, that number was one in 21, climbing to one in 16 with 1980 and one in 13 for 1990. With that one in eight, immigrants, legal and illegal together, have 31 percent of their adults without a high school diploma, compared to eight percent of the general population. Immigrant headed households have a one in three chance of using some major welfare program, compared to less than one in five for the native-born population.

And since 1989, 71 percent of the increase of uninsured households is connected to immigrants.

So there’s reason to wonder whether even this great country can afford to invite the whole Cordova family, cousins and all, to walk right in.

But then I wonder about Jesus: who wouldn’t want more immigrants like him? Even if he needed a little public support in education and health care to get started, isn’t the kind of family values and commitment to service beyond self that his choice represents the very embodiment of everything we want our county to stand for?

Or sit for, by the side of the road, as night falls, by a small frightened boy.

Tonight, in a ramshackle shack somewhere in Mexico’s dusty hills, a man named Jesus is helping his community prepare for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He may be telling a few kids about Juan Diego, and the miraculous appearance to one of the “first Mexicans” of the mother of the Christ Child, whose birth we will all celebrate two weeks later.

They may take out and shake and try on the costumes for Mary and Joseph, outfits that two lucky children will wear around the village for “Las Posadas,” asking from door to door for room, to which everyone, laughingly, will say “no mas, no mas,” until they reach the crèche scene in the central square.

And I suspect Jesus will think of Christopher, and of his Christmas, without his mother, and he will think of what Christmas might be like in America.

I just hope we can come to an immigration policy that finds room for Jesus.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of Christmas traditions kept and passed along to

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