A Bridge to Hope

United Methodist Women member Ilka Vega calls us to act in faith to protect human dignity across all borders.

A Bridge to Hope
Ilka Vega stands in front of the bridge mural at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas.

I often cross the border between Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso, Texas. On a recent walk, I passed a Honduran family that was stopped by Customs and Border Protection waiting in the hot sun. I looked into their eyes to acknowledge their dignity and courage, and I left them with my blessings. I knew nobody would be able to tell me where they would end up that night, or what their journey was or would be like.

About 9 years ago, as a student, I started crossing the border every day to go to school at Lydia Patterson Institute. Like many migrants, I was seeking refuge from the violence in my community. Although I was born in El Paso, I was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, by my mom, Miriam, and my grandmother, Susana. In 2009, Ciudad Juarez became one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with one of the highest murder rates. The streets were empty at night and businesses closed. My mom was robbed at gunpoint, I experienced shootings and we lost people we loved. Even if it was just for a few hours a day, my mom wanted to know I was safe. So I crossed the border.

I waited in many lines with many others in order to be able to attend Lydia Patterson.

I learned about visas, high prices for migration and bureaucracy. I learned that having U.S. citizenship and being able to cross back and forth made me more privileged—not more moral.

Connecting with United Methodist Women

I received a partial scholarship at Lydia Patterson, so I worked after school. I was also involved with student council, National Honor Society and the lay ministry program, and I spent most of my afternoons volunteering at Bible school ministries with United Methodist Women at Trinity-First United Methodist Church in El Paso and at women and children’s shelters. I also was one of the founders of Celebrate Segundo Barrio, an annual health fair and community event hosted at Lydia Patterson that serves one of the poorest ZIP Codes in the United States. In my junior year I was invited to be part of the United Methodist Women teen unit and to participate at the Texas Conference United Methodist Women Legislative Event organized by Texas Impact. For the first time, I understood my faith as a call not only to serve but to create systemic change through policies and reimagine a more just and inclusive world.

I was honored to graduate as valedictorian from Lydia Patterson and get a full ride to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. During my college years, I continued my involvement with United Methodist Women and Texas Impact through the legislative event, and I was blessed to meet many bold and inspiring women who mentored me and invited me to attend my first Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2014, and other United Methodist Women events.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and developed my own independent major on sustainability, culture and social justice. I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Fribourg, Switzerland, where I focused on human rights and development. I also completed an internship in the congressional district office of Congressman Beto O’Rourke in El Paso, Texas, where I worked crafting immigration related congressional inquiries to the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security and learned about the complexity and endlessly long waiting times of different processes from visa requests to DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Charter for Racial Justice

Soon after my graduation, Cynthia Rives, who serves on the United Methodist Women Board of Directors, suggested, especially based on my experience in advocacy and working with border Latnix communities, that I apply to the Racial Justice Charter Support Team. The team consists of nine women, with the leadership of staff member Emily Jones and representing the different jurisdictions across the United States, who offer support to the members of the Charter for Racial Justice teams in conferences across the country. They are the most bold, courageous, inspiring and God-loving women I’ve ever met. I look up to them and feel honored to work with them.

The women on this team remind me that putting our faith into action means challenging ourselves to love boldly and fight alongside our brothers and sisters in struggle. They also help me multiply my gifts and share them with others, and they help me know that besides (or because of) our differences in color, race, nationality, language, politics or creed, there’s a living God inside of all of us.

The work I’ve done with them inspired me and gave me the tools to ground and reinforce this work in my community. I recently started working with the interfaith community in El Paso through Hope Border Institute, overseeing border issues such as migration and connecting people to resources and information. It is important that we pay attention to issues such as family separation and ending DACA, because families are still being separated and detained even for legally migrating, such as seeking asylum, and young people still live in fear of losing the only home they’ve ever known. These problems are not resolved simply because the media stops sharing the stories. It’s up to us to remember their stories and acknowledge them by seeking change.

I’ve also learned that we are much stronger when we bring our voices together. We live in dangerous, unfair and chaotic times, but so did the women who preceded us, the same ancestors who uphold us. We are being called into action, to mobilize and to provide services and sanctuaries, to vote and invite people to vote, to call Congress and demand fair and humane migration policies, to better inform ourselves and others about people’s stories and resources around us, financially supporting advocacy campaigns, church groups and nonprofits who are meeting a great demand of services, and taking the streets if we must.

Sisters in Christ, we are being called to protect human lives and dignity. Let us work together and put our faith into action.

Ilka Vega is a member of the United Methodist Women Racial Justice Charter Support Team. This article is an adaptation of her testimony shared at the South Central Jurisdiction Immigration Task Force gathering in 2018.

Posted or updated: 11/7/2018 12:00:00 AM

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