Adventurous Faith at the Border

Preacher: Andre de Quadros, Halim Flowers and VOICES 21C
Date: February 2, 2020

Scripture: Selections from Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Ephesians and Hebrews


The land upon which we sit, stand, and live is the land that we have been accustomed to thinking as our land, “This Land is Your Land,” as the song goes, and as Jesse just played on the saxophone. However, we are all standing on the original unceded homelands of the Massachusett tribal nations. I begin by acknowledging the painful history of genocide and forced removal of indigenous people from this territory and the territories of all settler nations, and I honor and respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples who remain connected to their lands.


Human beings are fascinated by, indeed addicted to, stories. Stories of all kinds help us to make meanings about life, meanings about the world around us. Today, I would like to share some stories with you, particularly focusing on refugees, forced migrants, deportees, and asylum-seekers. To help me to tell these stories, I am joined by the artists of VOICES 21C who call out for justice and action, through music.


La Bestia (The Beast) trains also known as El tren de la muerte (The Death Train) are Mexican freight trains that refugees from Central America use to travel the length of Mexico. They sit atop these terrible cargo trains with limited access to water, to endure the hazardous and dangerous journey to come to safety, to refuge, to be harbored. These migrants risk mutilation, or death if they fall off. They also face rape, extortion or murder. In one of our workshops in Mexico, we heard from a young family who had just traveled on La Bestia. Helen, the mother, shared videos of her view of the desert from where she was nursing her baby. Gerson, the father, told of the brutal and violent life they lived in Guatemala, where there was little work, few resources, and no security. We cried with them as they remembered the family that they had left behind and felt emboldened by our encounter to hope with them for a better and more secure future. 


When I say “we,” I refer to Common Ground Voices / La Frontera, a project choir, founded with the mission of working on the US-Mexico border, consisting of community musicians from the US and Mexico, co-directed by my colleague, Emilie Amrein from the University of San Diego, and me. As musicians, we are educated to deliver music to mostly attentive audiences. We expect people to listen to us. We don’t generally go into communities to listen. The process of Common Ground Voices / La Frontera is different. We seek to listen for, to listen to, and to listen with. Let me explain.


When I say, “listen for,” I say that we are listening for the stories that people want to tell us, that we open our hearts and minds to understand the others. We listen actively and deeply. When I say “listen to,” we challenge ourselves to recognize the humanity of the other, and to understand dimensions of the person that transcend stereotypes and preconceptions. To “listen with” is to listen with more than our ears, to listen with our hearts, with our spirits, with our strengths, and with our brokenness. This process of listening has lit a spiritual and activist fire for most of us, to reflect on our own lives, our privilege, and most of all to call attention to the catastrophic conditions on the border, and the horrors that our government is perpetrating with our money and in our name. The artists of VOICES 21C calls your attention to injustice, and your action for social change.


My own life has combined privilege with displacement. When I was a child, I was smuggled in a boat to travel between countries, and my parents were desperately searching for people to hide us. My parents pleaded for refuge. People sheltered us, and we lived in hiding thanks to the generosity of people who took risks for us.


Shortly after, I was an immigrant in Australia during the White Australia Policy as the only brown boy that I could see in Melbourne, and a year later, we were refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe. These events had traumatic effects on my parents.  And this history gives me insight into understanding the diverse nature of borders and the silenced, and provokes me to reflect on my good fortune. My work in American prisons, in the Arab world, and with Israelis and Palestinians has given me a view of borders, segregation, injustice, and separation. We have walls everywhere. We have become used to walls. Walls for keeping people in, walls for keeping people out, for separating, for excluding.


Among my most heartbreaking experiences of walls was at the San Diego-Tijuana border wall, on the cover of your program, when Mexican and American singers from Common Ground Voices / La Frontera looked at each other through the wall, barely touching finger-tips.


In the words of one of our participants, Rebecca Bartel:

We sat around in a circle

And sang.

Can the border be a place of healing, and not only violence?

Can the shelter be a place to make art, and heal each other, not only a place of refuge?

Can we be agents of change?

For a moment, for a day, we were all in this together.

How do we carry this with us, in everyday life?

How do we empower? How do we use music? How does music use us?

And then we come together.

And sing. And dance. And laugh. And we can say:

Otro mundo es posible. Another world is possible.


One of VOICES 21C’s principal collaborators is Halim Flowers, who was released from prison a few months ago, after serving 24 years of wrongful conviction. He shares his insight into borders, and the colonial injustice that it perpetuates.



Is the audacity

To cross the borders freely in our mind



Is nonnative

To earthly land



Is nonnative

To those that stole land



Is just division

Created by colonizers



Is just another foreign word

To creatively serve as dividers



Is someone

That never sees the sun



Is someone

Brave enough to see us all as one



Is a nation

Of people interconnected by soul


Border is the means of land and people control.


Border is the means of land and people control.


Border is the means of land and people control.


And, I say to you, “Another world is not only possible,” but we must join hands and hearts together to work, struggle, and dream for another world.



Elvira Arellano, an activist in Chicago, was deported in 2007, and separated from her son. As she was being deported, she took Saulito's hands and said to him very calmly, 'They can't hurt us. God is protecting us. You just have to have faith and I will be fine and with you soon.’