Fasting for the First House of Mexico

Editor's Note: The following post originally appeared on March 5, 2014 on John Fanestil's Blog, Across the Lines, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.


This Lent I will join with people from across the nation in praying for an end to the U.S. practice of deportation.  

Beginning at sunrise on Saturday, April 5 I will fast in solidarity with the millions of families now suffering the consequences of our nation's cruel deportation policy.  I will break my fast the next day, during communion at Border Church  which begins  at Friendship Park at 1 pm on Sunday, April 6.

I will take the savings from my fast, and donate them to support the ministry of Guillermo Navarrete, my colleague from the Methodist Church of Mexico, who is developing programs of mercy and compassion with destitute deportees in Tijuana.  To learn more about Guillermo's ministry, please read the story below about the "first house" of Mexico.

Would you like to join me? Here is how you can help:

Our deportation policy is an affront to common sense, to human decency ... and to Jesus, who called us to embrace "the least of these." - John Fanestil


In the otherwise well-to-do beach community of Playas de Tijuana, a woman aptly named Esperanza (her name means "Hope") has converted a rundown house overlooking the Pacific Ocean into a flop-house shelter for destitute migrants.  Some 30 men and women, almost all recently deported from the United States, sleep in dugout corners and subdivided rooms, sharing the costs of shelter and food and supporting each other as best they can in a spirit of compañerismo.

Because of its location at the northwest-most corner of Mexico, the shelter's residents jokingly call their makeshift home "la primera casa de Mexico" ... the "first house of Mexico."  But their humor cannot exorcise the overwhelmingly difficult circumstances they face.  Almost all worked as day laborers during stays spanning many years, even decades, in the United States, but few have found regular employment in Tijuana.  With no viable prospects in their long-forgotten hometowns in Mexico, and with wives, children and grandchildren in the United States, they have determined to stay in Tijuana in hopes that their circumstances - God only knows how - might change.  Were it not for Esperanza's crazy sense of mission, most residents of la primera casa would have no roof over their head at night.  "It's not much," a man named Rogelio once told me, "but it is better than sleeping on the beach."

Esperanza's place sits in the shadow of Tijuana's famous lighthouse ("el faro"), where for several years a group of us have been meeting for Sunday worship.  We call our gathering El Faro: The Border Church, and each Sunday we stand in solidarity with people who come to this location to meet with families and friends through the border fence.  Locals call it Friendship Park and most families who visit the park are trapped in the byzantine world of U.S. immigration policy.  Many visitors are separated for extended periods - sometimes permanently - from their loved ones, and for many it is the only place they can see their family in the flesh.

Despite that I have been visiting Friendship Park for many years, I only recently have gotten to know the residents of la primera casa, and this thanks to the outreach efforts of my colleague, Guillermo Navarrete.  Guillermo, a lay pastor, has been appointed by Bishop Eduardo Carrillo of the Iglesia Metodista de Mexico as capillan ("chaplain") to El Faro.  Thanks to Guillermo's efforts, many residents of la primera casa now participate regularly with us at Sunday communion.  Guillermo has also launched a feeding program, providing a hot meal each Sunday to 50 migrants, and has dreams of initiating a program offering free legal counsel.

I have always counted it a privilege to celebrate communion through the border fence. But I find it all the more meaningful now that, thanks to Guillermo's ministry, I have sustained an ongoing relationships with some of the people from la primera casa de Mexico.   One, Damasio, is hoping that I can arrange for his wife and daughter to visit some Sunday - they are just 30 miles away, but he has not seen them in over two years, as they don't have a car and Friendship Park is almost impossible to reach by public transportation.  Another, Maria, is just now resigning herself that she may be permanently separated from her developmentally-disabled daughter, now a ward of the state and in a residential facility in far-away Fresno.

At Christmastime I shared a prayer with people from both nations at the closing of the annual La Posada Sin Fronteras, an annual event held at Friendship Park.   As I prepare to enter the season of Lent, it occurs to me the opening lines are appropriate also for a time of repentance and fasting, and so I invite you to join me as I pray it again:

 Here we are, God, one human family, separated. O God, help us.

Tear down the walls that keep us apart from you and from one another.

(Watch the prayer as prayed at the US-Mexico border) 

Thank you for joining me in supporting Guillermo Navarrete's ministry at El Faro: Donate Now.  Under "Designated Giving," select "Mission Projects," enter an amount, and designate your gift to the "Border Church."


Rev. John Fanestil

Rev. John Fanestil is an elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. For the last six years he has worked as the Executive Director of the Foundation for Change, a secular philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting emerging leadership in the immigrant and border communities of the San Diego/Tijuana region.  While working in the field of non-profits and social justice, John has remained active in pastoral ministry by serving communion weekly, in solidarity with families separated by immigration status, at Friendship Park, a historic meeting place on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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