Over the past three years I have visited the CEE in Mexico City a number of times and have twice taken ESR students with me as part of the Theology in Context course. Thus, when I received the director’s invitation not only to attend, but to participate as well and to present some of my own work on the conference’s theme, I was honored and accepted immediately. I was one of a handful of non-Mexicans who gathered at the Comunidad Teológica Mexicana to work on topics at the intersection of theology and social engagement. We were assigned specific groups where we focused most of our energy: human rights, economics, environment, Church practice, and citizen participation. Based upon some of my recent work, I was assigned to a mesa de diálogo focused on theology and/of migration.
The reality in Mexico is of citizen movement to the US or to one of the country’s major urban centers, particularly Mexico City. Additionally, Mexico sees the movement of persons across its southern border as they make their way north. However, before reaching the boarder many are subjected to rape, robbery, human trafficking, hunger, or death. As one participant explained: many escape violence in their own country only to encounter it in the US and in the journey through Mexico. She recounted a saying: antes de llegar a sueño americano tienes que pasar por la pesadilla mexicana (before you arrive at the American dream you have to go through the Mexican nightmare).
In July 2008 I spent time with a couple from Honduras who were traveling to the United States without documents. They were spending a few days in Mexico City where she was waiting to have an abortion. She had been raped by a coyote who had beaten her husband into unconsciousness and stole the money and belongings they carried with them.
In addition to the working groups, we began each day with worship and had plenty of time for fellowship. I stayed on campus with the Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos staff and roomed with a priest from Oaxaca. We cooked together and had enough late-night conversations to keep me thinking for quite a while. Several plenary sessions helped direct our attention as well. We heard from Doris Garcia Mayor, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, Maria Pilar Aquino, and also from Enrique Dussel, who in the last year and a half has become an intellectual hero of mine.
Without a doubt there was tremendous energy among participants at the conference for exploring the social implications of being Church and it seemed no one hesitated to name concretely the challenges we face in our present context. Although we were surrounded constantly by an awareness of the crushing poverty and suffering of the human family, an underlying hope was present as well and it was repeated by many throughout the week—otro mundo es posible (another world is possible).
As I was saying my goodbyes, both to a city I dearly love and to people who are becoming very good friends, I said to one of the coordinators: “It’s been great to be here with all of you.” She responded: “Here there is no ‘all of you’ (ustedes); there is only ‘us’ (nosotros). This spirit of welcome extended also when I was accepted into the Mexican Ecumenical Theological Association. I’m not sure how many other non-Mexicans are members of this group, but there is no doubt that with these folks I feel right at home.
David Johns is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. He is an Associate Editor of Quaker Religious Thought, a member of First Friends Meeting, Richmond, and now a proud member of the Associación Teológica Ecuménica Mexicana.