“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:13-15 (NRSV)
“Don’t bring your child to the baptismal waters unless you’re willing to drink it yourself.”
Those were the words of Ann Cass, Executive Director of Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit self-help construction company that serves low-income families in colonias and other rural areas in Hidalgo County, Texas.
On the Bishop’s Journey to the US-Mexico border in February, we heard heartbreaking and inspiring stories on both sides of the border. One of the organizations working to proclaim dignity among the residents of these colonias is Proyecto Azteca.
According to Proyecto Azteca, colonias are isolated rural unincorporated communities characterized by third world living conditions. Generally, colonias lack basic amenities that most of us take for granted, such as water, sewer service, electricity, drainage, decent housing and paved roads.
After Ann shared with us the overwhelming hardships faced by poor and immigrant communities living in colonias as well as Proyecto Azteca’s hopeful work, we just had to ask: What draws her to this difficult work? Why hadn’t she retired yet? Why keep fighting what must feel like an uphill battle?
She responded instantly by saying that, though she considers herself a “recovering Catholic,” she’s always taken her baptism very seriously. In her younger days, she said, her parents would ask her why she chose this kind of work. Why not go into a line of work that promised more, say, financial security and less, say, heartache? Ann playfully remarked that she would simply remind her parents that it was their fault for presenting her for baptism. When Ann served as an administrative assistant at a Catholic parish, she would caution parents who sought to have their children baptized: “Don’t bring your child to the baptismal waters unless you’re willing to drink it yourself.”
We’re called in our baptisms to follow Jesus, to extend his ministry into the world, to reject all forces of evil and oppression.
We might also say that in our baptisms, we are called to drink from one well over against all other wells this world has to offer. Financial security, personal comfort and safety, superiority, status, celebrity—there are many wells from which to drink. But only one well never runs dry. Only one well becomes for us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
While the oppressive systems and structures continue their oppressive work, it would be easy to lose hope and to choose a less demanding way to spend her time. And yet, Ann takes her baptism seriously. Jesus proclaims dignity to the downtrodden and forgotten. Ann seeks to do the same. When things get discouraging, she drinks from that one well which provides for her living water. May we do the same.
A Prayer adapted from St Oscar Romero:
May we always remember:
we are a pilgrim church,
subject to misunderstanding,
but a church that walks serene
because it bears the force of love.
May those for whom love is a stranger
always find in us generous friends. Amen.
From the NC Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Immigration Alliance
To become educated this week:
Inform your legislators and local public officials about the practical problems families are facing.
To cultivate growth this week:
Host a listening session/forums and invite affected community members to share their stories.
To advocate this week:
Advocate with elected leaders for immigration reform that creates a legal pathway for our immigrant neighbors.
Garrett Rea is a provisional elder in the North Carolina Conference currently serving the Bethel-Center Charge in the Corridor District.