Patricia and I just listened to the last Teacher-Pupil Initiative call, in which Janet Wilson (who lives in Xalapa, Mexico, as we do) brought up the issue of violence in Mexico. She asked, “What good does God’s love do when I could walk out my door and get shot?!” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to be on the call, so Janet suggested that we share our thoughts here. I’ll do so now; Patricia, who is traveling to Colombia as I write this, will share her thoughts in the comments section.
In a nutshell (for those who weren’t on the call), the situation in Mexico is this: The country is experiencing increasing violence due to battles between rival drug cartels, and the government’s crackdown on the cartels. Some estimates say that up to 40,000 people have died in the past five years, often in gruesome ways. Many of these deaths have occurred among the poorest and most vulnerable people, who are ruthlessly exploited by the cartels. The police and the military, armed with fearsome-looking automatic weapons, are a regular presence on the streets. The whole country is in the grip of fear.
On the phone call, Janet shared some of the ways that this situation has affected our city of Xalapa. Young people have been kidnapped off the streets and held for ransom. People receive phone calls extorting money for ransom, claiming (truly or falsely) that relatives have been kidnapped. People have been tied up and beaten as their homes have been robbed. There are even rumors that some of the flyers people hand out on the streets are poisoned with a substance that causes people to pass out, so they can be robbed and/or kidnapped.
Janet also shared how this situation has touched her personally. In particular, she described an incident when she was in bed and heard explosions that turned out to be gunshots. She then heard the voices of men shouting. Later, she was told that five people were killed just around the corner from where she lives. The violence had come almost to her very doorstep.
So, during the call, the participants discussed the question of what good God’s Love does in a situation like this. Many ideas were put forth, but several ideas stood out most for me as I listened. One was the idea that there is no death, that whatever happens to our body, our spirit is completely invulnerable — an idea that seems to be confirmed by near-death experiences. Another was the idea that the Holy Spirit has a plan behind all events, so any situation, even a violent situation in which we might die, can be a vehicle to serve His plan for the world’s salvation. Another was the idea that He protects our bodies, especially when we commit to doing our part in His plan. Finally, there was the idea that even if death comes, it can be deeply meaningful if it comes in service to His plan.
This brings me to what I want to share here: To my great surprise, right now I honestly don’t have any fear of the violence in Xalapa and in Mexico as a whole. Why? Well, part of it may simply be naiveté. I have always lived in safe places before. I am new to Mexico. My poor Spanish means I don’t talk to people and hear the rumors very much. Other than the prominent police and military presence, things look pretty normal to me in Xalapa; when I’m downtown, I see lots of people walking the streets and enjoying themselves. And I have never had a direct encounter with violence. If I had a close brush with violence as Janet did that night, I might be singing a very different tune.
Yet having said that, I’m convinced that at least a significant part of my lack of fear stems from a higher source: my sense that Patricia and I have a God-inspired mission together here in Mexico, and we will be protected by God until that mission is complete. I’ll never forget the time that Patricia asked me if I was afraid of death. I said no, and when she asked why, what came out of my mouth was, “I won’t leave this life a day before our mission is complete.”
I hope this spirit of fearlessness will continue, because it looks like our mission might lead us right into the teeth of the violence in Mexico. The form of what we are here to do is still unclear to us, but its essence seems to be this: We are meant to help heal the violent situation in Mexico by bringing radical, nonviolent love to everyone involved. This includes the victims (especially the migrants whom Patricia has been called to serve); those trying to help the victims (like the humanitarian organizations Patricia works with); the perpetrators (including members of drug cartels); those ostensibly fighting the drug cartels (the government, the police, etc. — I say “ostensibly” fighting the drug cartels because there is a lot of corruption and it’s often difficult to tell what side someone is really on); and anyone else who is touched by the situation.
We are greatly inspired by a woman named Mother Antonia. She is an American who left a comfortable life in Beverly Hills to spend the last thirty years living as a Catholic nun in a squalid prison in Tijuana with her hundreds of “beloved hijos” (sons). (Here’s a link to a great book about her.) She has worked amazing miracles in that prison. She has provided food and medicine to prisoners, worked to get nonviolent prisoners released, helped those former prisoners find work and apartments on the outside, helped the families of murder victims to forgive the killers, inspired the guards to treat the prisoners more humanely and deal with their own problems like drug addiction, encouraged the warden and other officials to make the prison a better place, and even stopped riots by stepping into the middle of gunfire.
What impresses us most about her is that she extends unconditional love to absolutely everyone: prisoners, their families, drug lords (whom she has often inspired to change their ways), guards, judges, government officials, and everyone else. When told by a prisoner that “You love the unlovable,” she replied, “I love the people other people think are unlovable.” She seems to have a great gift for seeing the good in all people — in Course terms, she sees the face of Christ in them. She is not afraid to confront people with the awful things they’ve done, but always reminds them that they are still lovable, no matter what; uncannily echoing the Course, she says, “We are not our mistakes and our errors.” She sees everyone as both part of the problem and part of the solution, and tirelessly works to help them choose the solution: love.
Patricia and I strongly believe that, whatever forms it might take, this radical love is the real solution to the problem of violence in Mexico. We are in the process of discovering our own form of extending this love. And who knows where this might take us? It’s impossible to say, but given the volatile situation, it’s quite possible that we might find ourselves in situations where our lives are at risk. So, the topic of this phone call literally hit us right where we live. We are very grateful to our dear friend Janet for raising the topic, and for all the ideas and insights the participants in the call offered.
As we go forward, we are determined to walk the Course’s path day by day, trusting that God’s Love is our true protection as we walk out our door, that we really do have a God-given mission of love, and that we won’t leave this life a day before it is complete.