Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2004

Students Discover Hope Amidst Hardship during Mexico City Cross-Cultural Trip

by Brian Ferguson, '04

Deb Hutterer learns to make tortillas with her host family.

Last January, through the Contextual Leadership Initiative, I spent two weeks in Mexico City at the Lutheran Center with 17 other students representing six of the eight ELCA seminaries. Our immersion began by visiting important historical and cultural sites. These experiences were built upon by guest lecturers and presentations that tied historical trends to the contemporary realities. Following this crash course in Mexican culture we were ready to spend a weekend living with a local family.

Witness to a struggle

I returned having witnessed firsthand the economic poverty in which a majority of Mexican people must live. My home stay put a real face on the lectures I had heard. In a city of 25 million, it is important to move from statistical facts to personal realities. Our group spent the last few days in Mexico struggling with the biblical and theological themes we had been working with.

How should we respond to the injustices we had seen and heard? We had seen with our eyes children working and begging on the streets trying to earn a few extra pesos for their family. We heard with our ears that 50 percent of working Mexicans earned less than two dollars per day. We heard mothers speak of how they worried each day where they might find enough food for their children to eat.

The root of all this suffering is complex. Corrupt politicians, billions of dollars of foreign debt, and unfair trade practices are just a few of the challenges. Compounding all of this is globalization. Some argue that globalization is the most effective way to bring about positive change. Yet from the perspective of those who are suffering, globalization is the 21st century's equivalent to colonization. They perceive it to be an economic, political, and cultural invasion by the industrialized countries.

Responding with Hope

How could we respond to this? The issue was so complex that we, as relatively well off Americans, had become part of the problem. It was tempting to consider the situation hopeless. But as people of faith, we can always find hope. We found hope in Mexico by seeking out the places where God's word in its truth and purity was proclaimed. These were not places that were affecting global economic policies. They were the neighborhoods where small grassroot organizations were living lives responsive to the true and pure word of God.

We found hope in organizations like Amextra, where affordable day care is offered so that mothers can work and children no longer have to beg on the streets, and where parenting classes are offered to help prevent abuse in the home.We found hope in Christian-based community groups that are working to create neighborhoods where people know the needs of their neighbor. Mexico showed me the power of the word that we have been called to faithfully proclaim to all people.