One dictionary definition for immersion is “involve deeply.” That describes the experience for the 10 of us from Emanuel Lutheran Church, Manchester, Conn., who last year visited the Lutheran Center in Mexico City. For eight days we were “involved deeply” in study, discussion, prayer and another culture.
But some friends who weren’t going asked, “Why can’t you do that here?” Even when I described what we were going to be “involved deeply” with—poverty, globalization, militarism, free-trade—the response was the same.
Why? I’ve thought since I’ve been home. Why was the trip something that was irreplaceable, unique and unable to be duplicated here?
First, the stories. I heard about Salvadoran refugees whose relatives had been assassinated by the military. I met Mexican mothers who’d lived with their families on squatter land for decades, displaced by urban sprawl. I listened as a man described how his neighbor drowned in the Rio Grande, attempting to swim across in search of a job and better future. I learned from a political science professor how U.S. companies market goods like soft drinks that use up clean water supplies even as they add sugar to the diet of Mexicans, one-third of whom already have diabetes.
I wonder why I haven’t heard such stories here in the U.S. The media make decisions about whose stories are included—or excluded? Stories like these trigger our despair so we prefer silence? Possible explanations go on and on. Here’s another: We don’t hear them because they’re transformative?
That last, I know, is true. We who traveled together have changed. After listening to these stories, change for us was inevitable. And hard. It means that a part of us dies and isn’t ever the same again. In the hearing, in the listening, we are transformed ... reborn.
Perhaps these Mexican sisters and brothers understood that in telling their stories—of struggles with justice; of challenges to find water, food and work; of loss—we who listened were affected, profoundly affected. Perhaps we who listened knew, too, that we’d never be the same again. And that was redemptive for them and for us.
M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled wrote: “If your goal is to avoid pain and escape suffering, I would not advise you to seek higher levels of consciousness or spiritual evolution.” I would add: Do not go to the Lutheran Center in Mexico City for an immersion program.
For us Lutherans, living in the power of our baptism means dying and rising each day with Christ. Part of me died in Mexico City. A part died that is afraid to embrace the truth about the world around me and my role in that reality. Another part died that thought I’m like most people in the world, rather than one of the 20 percent who consume 80 percent of the world’s wealth. Another part died that believed I could do nothing to make a difference in the world.
My new life, my life after I “got immersion” in Mexico City, is a resurrected life. It is the life promised us when we die with Christ.
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