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Pilgrims to U.S./Mexico Border Observe Danger and Hope

Posted: June 20 2023 at 02:49 PM
Author: Hwa-Young Chong

Meeting and speaking with those who are crossing or live near the U.S./Mexico border, seven lay people and three clergy from the Northern Illinois Conference saw up close the hardship and courage of those who migrate between the two countries.

The group took a pilgrimage to Nogales from March 20 to 24 to learn about the migrant experience. Nogales—a city divided by the international border—is located 60 miles south of Tucson. Participants crossed the border several times, visiting churches, migrant shelters, and nonprofit organizations.

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NIC's Rev. Noemi Meza, who is bilingual, encourages migrants who gathered in the chapel of a shelter where they would spend the night. She also led them in prayer.

Migrants come to Nogales from all over Central and South America, fleeing from dangerous life situations. Casa Misericordia, a migrant shelter on the Mexico side of Nogales, hosted the group over one night. One pilgrim, Rev. Jonathan Crail says he was “inspired by the place and sanctuary and refuge created by this shelter for migrant families who have experienced incredible hardship and trauma on their journey to a better life.”

Rev. Noemi Mesa was especially touched by the resilience of migrant women. She prayed for and with them in her native tongue of Spanish who were staying at a shelter operated by two women, Hilda and Angelica.

The group also spent a significant time in the territories of the Tohono O’odham nation, near Tucson, learning about the life-threatening harm against Native American communities along the border.

Rev. Hwa-Young Chong, who at the time was pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Naperville, finds a painful parallel between border that divides Nogales and the one that divides North and South Korea. “These borders are in different continents, created by unrelated socio-political backgrounds.” she said. “Yet people's suffering from divided families, cities, and nations bear heartbreaking similarities.”

A life-transforming experience, the journey reminded pilgrims of biblical stories about migration, such as the experiences of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar; the Exodus, Exile, and Deportation experienced by the people of Israel; and the holy family's flight to Egypt.


The Northern Illinois pilgrims walked in "Ambos Nogales"--both the northern city, in the U.S., and the southern city, in Mexico.

“Christ's presence in the suffering of migrants was evident at every step of the journey,” Rev. Chong said. “Christ’s call for compassion will always empower and challenge them.”

The trip was organized by Community UMC and hosted by Border Community Alliance in Tucson. BCA aims to bridge the border and foster community through education, collaboration, and cultural exchange.

You can bring tangible compassion into the lives of migrants by donating generously to the 2023 Bishop's Appeal for Migrant Needs. The funds will benefit organizations that provide for immediate needs, such as hygiene kits, temporary shelter, and food; and longer-term needs like employment, housing, medical care, and legal assistance.  Learn more here.

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