Immersion Experience to Central City Lutheran Mission

The three crosses on the side of the Chapel of St. Martin on CCLM's campus represent the burdens of sexual exploitation, drug addiction and incarceration.

I have just returned from a 5-day immersion experience to Central City Lutheran Mission (CCLM) in San Bernardino, California. This trip I helped to organize with an organization I work with on a part-time basis, the Lutheran AIDS Network. With so much new information and experiences I took from this trip, here are some of the things that stick out most in my mind:

One of the main programs of CCLM is a supportive housing program for HIV-positive homeless people that they operate in partnership with the U.S. Government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. 29 people participate in the program, and live in 11 houses in one of the poorest neighborhoods in California. As part of our immersion experience, we had homestays with the residents and ate most of our meals in a soup kitchen, where they also serve 65 homeless men for breakfast and dinner each day. During 6 months out of the year, these men sleep in the sanctuary pews of St. Martin’s Chapel on the CCLM campus.

The walls at CCLM change every few days, and the people from the community are invited in to contribute their artwork. This creates a space of their own for graffiti artists. Here, part of the wall is shown with a few of the immersion participants.

Although the trip was largely focused on learning more about HIV and homelessness in the United States, I feel I also learned a lot about immigration issues. Another of CCLM’s programs is the Plaza Communitaria, which is operated in partnership with the Mexican Consulate and is similar to the GED program in the United States. CCLM works with Mexican immigrants regardless of whether they have the paperwork to ‘legally’ be in the United States.

On Saturday evening we watched the film ‘800 Mile Wall,’ a documentary about the fence that has been constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to keep out immigrants from the south or force them to cross the border in harsh desert terrain. It is estimated that up to 1,000 people perish in these deserts each year while trying to reach U.S. cities, where they may be able to find work and earn enough money to feed their families. Many of these deaths occur on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, where there is a 75-mile break in the wall, land control is shifted and the U.S. government denies responsibility. This encourages immigrants from the south to cross into the reservation, where many die in some of the harshest terrain in the American southwest.  Hundreds of people have also perished while trying to swim across the All American Canal, thus contaminating drinking water for the city of San Diego with dead bodies.

Towards the end of the film, there is information about a guest worker program the Canadian government offers for Mexican workers, where they are flown into Canada for several months out of the year to work in the agricultural industry and fill an important gap in the Canadian work force. Too bad the U.S. government is slow to catch on that this is a humane way to handle the immigration issue, where they would profit from the Mexican workers as taxpayers and nobody loses.

On Sunday morning we had a guest speaker at mass whose son was killed in combat six days into the Iraq War. I learned that an estimated 17% of American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are undocumented immigrants, fighting for a country that promises them green cards. This man’s son, though he gave his life for the United States’ so-called freedom, never saw his citizenship achieved.

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