The leader of 44,000 United Methodists in Arizona and southern Nevada has put out the challenge to "come walk with me" near the Mexican border to learn about ministering to undocumented workers who cross the border and face numerous dangers, including the possibility of death in the desert.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the first and only Hispanic clergywoman elected bishop in her 8.3 million-member denomination, will lead a group to water stations, a pauper’s cemetery, churches and a soup kitchen from Tucson to near the border.
Carcaño, 51, the oldest of seven children raised on a small farm in Texas near the Mexican border, speaks often about the challenges of border crossers. "She has always felt deeply for the immigrants in this country and is always interested in border ministries," said Wally Athey, conference director of communications.
The bishop, who began her six-year term Sept. 1, 2004, has largely made her introductory visits to the churches of the conference, and now feels this is an opportunity for her to get involved in ministry that she feels very strongly about, Athey said.
"Although some of the activities are still coming together, I am amazed at what has taken place since the annual conference," said the Rev. David Wilkinson of St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church in Tucson. "The Spirit is truly moving in our midst."
An orientation to migrant ministries will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at First Christian Church in Tucson.
At 7 a.m. Thursday, participants will hold a prayer service at First United Methodist Church in Tucson. Afterward they will hike three miles to Evergreen Cemetery. They will gather at an area with pauper graves, a place that has been described as the final stop for migrants who don’t survive the desert crossing.
The bishop and a caravan will travel to northwest Tucson for a stop at the Manville Road water station. It is one of many water stations established by Humane Borders ministry along common routes where migrants travel north through the desert. Fifty-gallon plastic drums are refilled regularly with water and are posted with 30-foot masts and blue flags. At the Manville station, Carcaño will lead a blessing, confession and prayers. A smaller group will go to the Ironwood water station deeper in the desert.
On Thursday afternoon, four border ministry groups, including Humane Borders and No More Deaths in the Desert, will give presentations on "Healing Our Borders." The groups have delivered their services in cooperation with U.S. Border Patrol authorities without violating immigration laws or national security, Wilkinson said.
Volunteers from many Arizona churches, including some from the Valley, have pledged to refill the desert tanks. Water tanks cost $150 to buy and $1,500 a year to keep filled and maintained.
During a June church conference, Carcaño pledged to provide maintenance for a year and called on congregations to explore how they might support ministries serving the border.
"There’s a lot of information that needs to be shared," Athey said of the trip. "But it is also a time for reflection and to see what role the United Methodist Church can play in ministry in southern Arizona, along the border and all across the country."
The U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector reported that as of Tuesday, 114 undocumented immigrants have died this fiscal year along the Arizona-Mexican border, the most active section for crossings.
Estimates of deaths along the Arizona border during fiscal 2004 range from 177 to 221.
For more information about United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s "Walk in the Desert," visit www.desertsw.org/ desertwalk.html.