WES Blog — Leave of Absence

Dear WES community,
I’m writing this blog to share some big news with you: I have requested, and been granted, a leave of absence from my internship through January so that I can follow a call to immediate activism. This is an unusual step for an intern to take, especially an intern who has been having a successful and fulfilling internship, and I want to share more about why I am taking it.
Like many of you, I have been following the stories of the asylum seekers coming to the US southern border. It is heartbreaking to see the stories and struggles that these folk have gone through just to get here. It is infuriating to see the level of vitriol that they are being met with and is being perpetuated by many national leaders. I will spend at least the month of December to volunteer along the border, seeking to aid refugees and asylum seekers, and helping coordinate rallies and protests to hopefully change the narrative to how many Americans are seeking to welcome the stranger.
   Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a public The Let Our Families Go: Pilgrimage, Protest, and Witness along the Mexico/Texas border. It was organized primarily by a coalition of rabbis. It was an inspiring but eye-opening experience. The lived reality of seeing hundreds of displaced people trying to find shelter and seeing how dehumanizing the administration is has been difficult to hold. One of the key parts of the public witness was holding a vigil outside of the children’s detainment camp in Tornillo. I never thought that I’d see my country running a tent city for over 1300 kids; even now, they are expanding the operation to be able to house more people.
The communities on the ground in El Paso see extended families that have members in both the US and Mexico who now fear to visit one another, in case they won’t be let back across. Even the US citizens have concerns that they will be held simply because of their ethnic background. The border had been there before the administration that creates the crisis.  When a call comes from shelters for volunteers or supplies, the local communities on the border respond with love and dedication. One message that I’ve been asked to bring back from the border is that there is no border crisis, as in there is nothing inherent about a border that provokes a crisis. The crisis that we are seeing is all do to decisions by the government, it is a humanitarian crisis. Prior to the last few administrations, the border communities felt love and connections to both countries.  It is the current policies and harsh enforcement that are creating the crisis, not the border. We were told that the border is holy ground if we let it be.
While I was there, it was emphasized over and over that there is a desperate need for people to be involved. I’ve been connected to organizers and groups that need volunteers. I feel that I am in a place in my life where I can respond and having been asked I would always regret it if I said no. I’m currently in discernment about whether or not my calling is to full time parish/congregational ministry or if it is to devote my efforts to full time activism and community organizing. Having the chance to respond to this call will help me see what living and working in an entrenched struggle actually entails. Above all, I just continue to be haunted by seeing folks displaced and seeing the children’s detainment camp. I can’t shake those memories or forget those people. I’ve been invited to act now and help build the response while the media is watching and people are energized to act. So many people that I’ve spoken to that want to be on the front lines can’t be there because of family or financial concerns; I’m in a stage in my life where those aren’t pressing concerns. I feel that I have both the passion and the ability to say yes to the invitation to do justice work on the border. We won’t end anything over December; we hope to build strength and energy for immigration justice efforts to keep going even after the press leaves.
   WES is a wonderful community, and I’m grateful for your understanding as I make this unusual transition. It is not common for interns to decide to take a leave during their internship. In this stage, most interns have a stronger sense of calling and place to where they will end up. After the experiences protesting in support of women and survivors in the face of the Kavanaugh confirmation, I’ve found myself more and more called to front line activism. We are new territory as I explore the different manifestations of ministry- front line activism or in serving communities like WES. I’m especially grateful for Amanda’s guidance and support. She is a fantastic mentor that has helped inspire and encourage a sense of leadership and energy to my call to ministry. I’m not sure if it weren’t for my time at WES that I’d have the strength of my convictions to answer this call. Thank you all so much.
Zeb Green