As a part of the #EverydayPeacemaking campaign we are bringing you stories from Everyday Peacemakers around the world.
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Alejandra Ortiz was born in San Diego, CA and raised in Tijuana, Mexico. She works for Compa, a ministry that engages college students in bible study and Christian discipleship. She and her husband are on a year sabbatical in Vancouver, BC, completing their Masters programs and then will return to their hometown of Tijuana to be near family and friends and continue their daily work of everyday peacemaking.
Alejandra will be sharing with us how she learned to SEE the needs in her community.
QUESTION: Please tell us about your work with Compa and how it has made an impact in the town of Tijuana.
ANSWER: When I was at university, I discovered Compa through bible studies and saw the impact it made in my life. Working with Compa has allowed me to become a bridge for students to see how we might serve God in different places, meeting needs of our city with the resources of the church.
QUESTION: What was it you SAW that ultimately made you want to get actively involved in peacemaking?
ANSWER: Even before working for Compa I had seen people and heard stories of those who migrated north and of those being deported. I had also been intentional to make friends with people who lived in marginalized neighborhoods. I also saw in Scripture that God is not indifferent to the suffering in the world.
I felt invited to see even though it was painful. I did not know what to do but this led me to pray and question God, to see more and hear people, listen and learn, and then think creatively with others.
What I saw was an active God, inviting others to see what he saw, to see those who go unseen, to hear them, and to be an agent in their midst.
“The invitation was to see, not to do, because I think God wanted me to learn more of his heart for people, and to understand better what I was seeing, before I “did” anything.”
QUESTION: When did you first become aware of the conflicts of the people you work with now
ANSWER: I grew up in Tijuana and my parents did, too. Living in a border town, you’re always aware of migration and deportation. My father got his green card in the 1950’s and crossed the border everyday for 40 years to work, so it’s a border culture, on both sides of the border.
I was curious about societal problems from a young age, but when I became a Christian at 15, I sought answers as to what God was doing in the midst of all the wrongs I saw, particularly in my border city. I was part of a learning project in an urban slum in México City when I was 17, which caused me to be more intentional in my community, hearing stories of migrants and deportees.
From there, I got involved with my dad in a church project to serve the migrant and homeless community in Tijuana. This experience took me to the front lines of what was going on. However, it also made me aware of how some assistance measures were not contributing to a “real” solution, but perpetuating the conflict. The real problem is just giving out food or supplies without building relationships with the people and hearing their stories.
QUESTION: What are some specific ways you practice and train students to SEE into the lives of migrants and deportees?
ANSWER: We have a learning project about border issues every summer. Students learn to see immigration from both sides of the border, seeing the realities, hearing the stories, and getting to know people who are walking side by side with migrants and deportees. They share meals together and listen to their stories.
Personally, my husband and I intentionally seek friends and places where we come in contact with hard realities we could easily ignore. We are constantly walking with the church to help them not only see, but respond to what is going on around them. By developing these friendships in and outside the church walls, we are able to bridge some gaps.
QUESTION: As you work with diverse groups of students, how do you help them see the image of God in others beyond their narrative?
ANSWER: Because I understand my personal story within the framework of God’s big story, this is what I teach students.
“All Christians are called to SEE and love those around them; that will look different for everyone, but we are all called to love.”
I also think God’s story tells us that every human is made in his image; it does not matter where you come from, where you are going, or if you are not wanted or welcomed somewhere. We are all dignified human beings, and God created and sees us that way.
Not seeing people as God sees them is our first problem. For that to be a reality we need to be exposed to different people, and see those society or the church makes invisible. Loving can only come after we see and hear…that is what I help our students understand and experience.
QUESTION: How would you encourage readers to start seeing the brokenness around them, and then enter into it in practical ways?
- Take a walk around your city, in places where there might be conflict. Pray God will help you see what he sees; that he may open your eyes.
- Find groups and organizations already working in areas of conflict or who are serving communities different from yours who are in need.
- Befriend someone without wanting to do something, but just see and listen to their stories. Allow yourself to recognize yourself in the story of other people.
- Re-read the gospels and check out what Jesus saw, what moved him to compassion, how he loved people and approached ministry.
- Cherish the beauty in the midst of the brokenness, and allow yourself to be affected by the pain.
Want to support Alejandra and Compa?
- Subscribe to Alejandra’s Prayerletter here.
- Make a donation to the life-changing work of Copa here (choose the category of “individual staff” and then Ortiz, Alejandra-Mexico).
Take steps to becoming an #EverydayPeacemaker by downloading and starting the Month of Peacemaking Challenge here!
About the Author:
Adrienne has blogged haphazardly over the last 10 years at www.adriennegraves.com She and her family recently moved to Nashville where she talks to strangers, gathers stories, and writes them down to share. Adrienne founded Bevy, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create safe spaces for women to share their stories candidly.