Mark Adams - "Bordering"

“Bordering” with Mark Adams

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 20
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 20: “Bordering” with Mark Adams was released on May 16, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, host Allison Maus sits down with Mark Adams, US Coordinator for Frontera de Cristo, a borderland ministry based in the sister cities of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora. In our conversation with Mark, we learn about Frontera de Cristo mission – working to build relationships and understanding across borders. To learn more, or to schedule your own borderlands tour, please visit the Frontera de Cristo website.

Mark Adams, Ben Wideman, Allison Maus, Craig Greenfield

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus,

Mark Adams  00:08
One of the first things one of my colleagues said, when I got to the border was, “Mark living on the border is not about being flexible, but a bit about being fluid.” And so this notion of having to realize that there’s, there are lots of curves in life. And if you think there’s gonna be a direct route, in life, you’re wrong. And that that’s, that’s anywhere. And then on the border, it’s even more so. And so one of the things that Fontera has done over the years is just root ourselves in this kind of a hermeneutic welcome, rooted in God’s love.

Ben Wideman  00:46
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now, join us as we journey together.

Allison Maus  01:05
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of ~ing Podcast. Today is a little bit of a rare occasion here as I’m sitting through Zoom with Mark Adams who works with Frontera de Cristo, and it is rare because Mark and I have actually met in person before, so it’s nice to see a familiar face through the screen. Ben Weidman, our producer and I, traveled… When was that? 2019… Spring of 2019, down to Mark’s neck of the woods in the border community along Agua Prieta, and Douglas. And we took a pilgrimage down to their border community there, to learn more about it, and his work with Frontera de Cristo. So welcome, Mark. So good to see you.

Mark Adams  01:58
Good to see you, Allison. Thanks for having me.

Allison Maus  02:01
Yeah, would, you tell us a little bit more about Frontera de Cristo in general, I guess? And then also your role with the organization?

Mark Adams  02:10
Frontera de Cristo is is one of four Presbyterian by national ministries formed along the US Mexico border. It was formed in 1984. So it’s formed about 38 years ago. And it was formed out of a desire from from churches in Mexico and churches in the US to figure out how to be in ministry together – not as one church doing ministry to another but two churches coming together on a shared geopolitical border to to live as family and to discern what is God’s will for us together. And how can God form community on the US Mexico border. And how might we witness to God’s love and God’s peace and God’s justice together on our common border, I have been serving with Frontera de Cristo since 1998. Together with my spouse, Mira Maldonado Escobar, we are mission coworkers of the Presbyterian Church that are sent to serve together with Frontera de Cristo on the US/Mexico border. And both of us migrated 2000 miles to the border, me from South Carolina, and she from Chiapas, Mexico. And we encountered one another there and formed our family, and are real blessed to be a part of the dynamic community that Frontera de Cristo is a part of.

Allison Maus  03:33
I know for me, and a lot of our students we traveled with there is a huge impact of the visuals of your border community. Coming up and seeing the fence, the wall, whatever you want to call it. And because this is not a visual medium, we can’t show pictures in the same way that you have for presentations I’ve seen. But can you describe some of the things that you see on the daily in your community that might help paint a picture for our listeners of life on the border?

Mark Adams  04:10
It has changed dramatically how we as a US have defined that part of God’s creation, that’s now called the US/Mexico border. It’s, it’s, it’s in the middle of a valley. And so there’s no river that divides the two countries it was kind of a line that was formed after the Gatson purchase. When Miriam migrated there in 1995. There was no steel barrier that divided the community of Douglas from our Prieta. When I arrived, and in 1998, there was a steel barrier. The first steel barrier to divide our communities was was erected in 1997 during the Clinton administration, and at the time, it was called the aesthetic fence and I thought that was a misnomer because it didn’t look Various Stetic but then it was a kind of a 12 foot steel picket fence that was kind of painted a cream color with a little bit of rust with tines going toward the United States. But then in 2012, during the President Obama’s administration, we tore it down, we tore down that wall. And we built a bigger wall, 18 foot steel bollard barrier that was there when y’all came down in 2019. And over the years, it’s even gotten uglier now. 2018, as folks were coming from Central America in what was called caravans to seek asylum at the US border, our response as a nation was not to kind of prepare and beef up our asylum program and be able to welcome folks who are coming to seek asylum and to be able to have a process that allowed for that. Instead of, instead of that we sent the National Guard and other agencies and put concertina wire, razor wire, to drape the the steel barrier and so we then had an 18 foot steel bollard bear that was rusted and ugly. And then it was draped with four strands of concertina wire. And then behind that you have towers with, with cameras on it that can see both have day vision and night vision. And then by me, right there as well, you have in Douglas are around 500 Border Patrol agents who are in the community to, to, quote, “secure the border.” And it actually makes the the border more dangerous for more vulnerable people. And then on top of that, you have signs that are on the border about every 50 yards that say, danger, do not enter illegal, no entry. Danger do not enter an illegal entry, whether you’re looking from the north to the south, or south and north, that’s the message you receive. And then as interesting, that’s that’s how we our government in the US has defined that space over the last three decades, both during Democratic and Republican administrations, it’s been defined in that way. But on the Mexican side, it is it’s the Mexican folks who have had this barrier imposed upon them have chosen to define it differently. And they’ve painted murals… murals of Monarch butterflies and wild geese and butterflies have say sister cities and butter murals that say, murals that have images of folks, homelands from where they’ve fled and the faces of, of the folks who who believe and, and that the American, the US is a place that can provide safety. And that in many ways people who believe more and who the US is then US citizens do. And so it’s a really interesting place. They’ve, they’ve also made walking paths and have exercise equipment and the big planet trees. And so it’s it’s a really fascinating space, to see how we as the US have defined the space and then also how our Mexican siblings have have taken that what really is a very ugly, daunting fence steel barrier and has have turned it into a mural to kind of reflect the hopes and the dreams of of something different for our communities.

Allison Maus  08:59
I appreciated that you shared a little bit how that has changed even in recent history. Besides that landscape, I’m curious if you could tell us a little bit about how the community has changed or been affected by US policy? How have the relationships evolved? Or changed since you’ve been in the area and since you migrated there? And how does fronteira decrease dough fit into that?

Mark Adams  09:29
Thank you. On the Douglas side, at least when I first got there after a lot of the infrastructure was being put up. There were folks who would say we used to go to our create all the time, but now we don’t go anymore or there was there was there was a heightened sense of like, oh, it used to be this but now it’s it’s this and so I think there was among some of the community the psychological impact of having a… um, this tremendous amount of infrastructure being placed to separate the communities I think had a psychological impact on on our community on the north side, and which people kind of had that fear ingrained in them about it might be dangerous on the other side, and I’m not going to go. And so I remember when people would would say that, and I said, What do you know, anybody that’s been harmed, or hurt, and, and they couldn’t come up with someone in their family or, or friends circle, but they knew that it was dangerous over there. And so they’d received that message. And so I think, part of the thing that’s happened is there has been kind of a separating of making it harder. And obviously, folks on the south side who have historically haven’t been able to go through a port of entry, because of the cost of getting a visa to go through the port of entry. Before the barriers folks would go across and shop in the United States and, and return or, or go and play sports with their family or the friends on the other side and come back. And so since the steel barrier has been that informal relationship that had existed between the local communities, not folks who are migrating for work or anything, but just people who are living there, and but folks who are living in all created to go for shopping or for religious, quinceaneras, or other celebrations, that informal kind of connection has been cut off as well. So so there’s there’s been kind of a further separation. And then there’s also been interesting because in the midst of this hardening, there’s also been a bringing together of community in ways that it had hadn’t been that way. And so we’ve seen, for instance, with Frontera de Cristo, when when we were founded, we were pretty much a Presbyterian organization. But But when, when Frontera, when our community became a primary crossing point for folks entering the US without documentation, in the late 90s. One of the things that happened is these kinds of strange relationships, strange and wonderful relationships started forming of different faith organizations who were responding and wanting to respond in faith and not fear to the realities of migration, started reaching out to one another in ways that they hadn’t before. And so, so now, you know, when I first got to the border, there was very little… Frontera did little work outside of the Presbyterian sphere. And now there’s very little that we do that’s not outside, connecting with other organizations and being part of other groups. And, and so it’s a that’s, that’s one of the real real beauties that have come out of this. What I think the tragic reality of our policy is brought together, not just faith communities, but other communities as well that want to see us live and in good relationship with our neighbors. And, and so that’s, that’s something that’s very different as well in the community. And you can see that through organizations that have come together, like the Migrant Resource Center, which is a partnership that Frontera began with the Catholic Parish, and it’s much broader than just that. Now, I mean, we have volunteers who are Mennonite, and who are obviously Presbyterian, Catholic… folks who have Methodist Church, from evangelical churches, from folks who are no particular religious organization, but folks who want to come together to, to provide places of welcome to vulnerable people. And so, so you know, that’s a that’s one of the beauties that have come from it. Cafe Justo is another organization… the founder was a Presbyterian and and he said, “You know, I want this to be for, for anybody in the community who wants to improve our community.” It doesn’t matter if they’re Presbyterian or Catholic or or Adventist or doesn’t matter if they’re from the PRI or the PAN or MRI, which are the three main political parties and Mexico at the time, and he’s I don’t I don’t care. I just want anybody who wants to work together to improve our community. And so Cafe Justo does, is, has done that, and and Frontera has partnered with them and in the… see on this, on the north side of the border. Churches from so many different backgrounds support Cafe Justo and bring people together, cross denominational and even political borders to respond to those root causes of migration. So, so those are a couple of the things that come to my mind in terms of changes.

Allison Maus  14:54
Yeah. When we traveled we had sounds like the startup of a joke a Mennonite, Presbyterian, a Lutheran and a Methodist leader, right. And students that fell into those groupings and beyond come to this pilgrimage to work with Frontier de Cristo. And I think as leaders, we all came in a little bit protective of like, “Alright, what’s the theology that’s going to be shared? What are what are the things that, you know, we might need to navigate. And it really was such a wonderful experience, because it felt so I don’t know, it felt safe and honest, and that we could all bring, we knew we were bringing lots of baggage about what we thought about the US/Mexico border with us?” And so thank you for being a place where all of these folks can can gather and feels like a really special thing to have a place of unity. Where differences are also present. I am curious, it feels like this is kind of a you know, if you could think of what are the life lessons of living in a border community that, that help us think about these other borders we’ve created in our lives around theology, politics, all sorts of different things. I’m curious, are there other things about life at the border that are kind of life lessons that you think have affected the way that you approach other borders that we create?

Mark Adams  16:52
One of the first things one of my colleagues said, when I got to the border was, “Mark, living on the border is not about being flexible, but a bit about being fluid.” And so this notion of, of being, having to realize that life, there’s there lots of curves in life. And if you think there’s gonna be a direct route, in life, you’re wrong. And that that’s, that’s anywhere. And then on the border, it’s even more so. And so one of the things that I think Frontera has done over the years is just is kind of rooted ourselves in this kind of a hermeneutical welcome, rooted in God’s love. And, and so recognizing that we’re all creating God’s image is kind of a base thing. Regardless of what background you come from, you are creating the God’s image and beloved by God. And so having that as kind of the primary identifier, of how we and lens through which we see other people, instead of seeing people primarily as from the US, or primarily as from Mexico, or primarily as Presbyterian or primarily as Catholic or primarily as conservative or primarily as progressive we are, we try to see folks through the lens that they’re creating God’s image. And beloved by God, there’s a lot of demonization that happens on the border. And a lot of dehumanization, that happens on the border, when we talk about issues of the border crisis. And, and regardless of you know, what part of the political or ideological ideological spectrum you stand on, you can blame somebody for the problem. And one of the things for folks who are more, you know, who are more connected to folks who are in transit and the suffering of folks who are in transit, oftentimes, we can kind of start blaming people in green uniforms and think, you know, it’s those people in the green uniforms, the Border Patrol, they’re the problem because they’re the ones who are making, you know, are the folks we love suffer. And one of my colleagues, Tommy Bassett would always say, “Well, you know, they have a mother too.” And it was his the way of reminding us that, that they’re human, and then reminding us to go back to the root of who we are to see is to see them not as, not as the enemy. But as someone who’s created an image of God, beloved God, by God as well, and also to remind ourselves that, that we are part of a system that is broken. You know, one of the big challenges I think, for us is to realize that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. And as long as we we situate the quote problem, or the suffering on like human groups, like, whether it be the border patrol or whether it be people who are in transit and coming into us without authorization, or whether it be folks that are smuggling folks or folks who are vigilantes, you know, whatever group we can blame, folks, as long as we blame other people, we can take our eye off of, of our own responsibility for a broken system, and that system will not change. And so, you know, that passage in scripture that says, you know, you know about the speck in your don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s sister’s eye, but the log in your own eye? And, and so, so yeah, one of the questions is, how are we connected? to what’s going on? And how can we repent or, or turn our backs on a broken system and work toward a world that God envisions that all God’s children can live in harmony with one another, and not be divided from one another?

Allison Maus  21:03
As you work toward that mission with your partners at Frontera de Cristo, I’m curious, what, what brings you hope for the future of the church? Universal, not just in your border community… But yeah, what about that work brings you help?

Mark Adams  21:23
One of one of the things that brings me hope is, is the hunger that I see when when folks from different parts of the US and other other places come to the border and see how, how this community works together. And the hunger that they have to see that in their own communities. And, you know, I remember there was a, there was a seminarian from Pittsburgh Seminary. And we had, he’d come down with his seminary class, and his name was Murray. And, and so he came in at the end, we had this party, where the community partners came, and he asked me to help interpret, as he talked to one of our partners, a row who was the director of the drug rehab center. And, and as he was talking to him, he talked about a lot of things. But one of the things he said was, to Terrell was how amazed he was at how so many different groups and churches work together in this community. And he mentioned, we don’t see that in the communities we come from, how people are working together in such integrated ways. And, and one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever heard given to Frontera de Cristo was from Ro who said, “That’s what Frontera de Cristo has modeled for us.” And, and to see that notion of, of being an organization that, that works together to connect and be connected with a broader group of our community. As we work toward a more healthy community, I think that gives me hope is one to have that recognize from folks on the outside, but also to see the hunger that people have to see that happening in their communities as well.

Allison Maus  23:27
That definitely feels true to my experience, and the way that our group that traveled there processed. It was definitely a trip where we went in thinking we were going to experience one thing, right maybe to have a little education and have some bigger questions. But I think that the relational way that you all did ministry and showed us hospitality and welcome was transformational, in our lives in ways that we didn’t imagine. And it was beautiful to be able to, yeah, take that little seed of hope that you will help this plant back to our other or other parts of our lives. Even though, you know, I’m up here in Pennsylvania, quite far from the US/Mexico border… It it helped to shape this idea or, or really, the idea that, you know, we all belong to each other. We’re all connected and there’s, there’s the heart of the gospel right there. If someone wanted to reach out, take a trip down to work with Frontera de Cristo, if you could share a little bit about what that would look like? Does it have to be in a group if there’s, you know, a group of just one or two people… What are the ways that that people might be able to come experience some of the work Frontera de Cristo offers?

Mark Adams  25:08
So in terms of the kinds of experiences that you all had in terms of the delegation, that when we we do when we invite folks, whether they be from universities, or seminaries or churches or high schools, who want to come and have a week long experience like that, we have folks that we do say, like five or six, kind of as a minimum, but if there’s an individual or a couple folks who want to come and just kind of plug in and formally, like, come to the prayer vigil, or just come to the Cafe Justo, and for the weekly, Wednesday, devotion, or want to come and volunteer for several weeks, you know, we have folks who come and do that, as well as individuals or, or couples or, you know, smaller groups that have done that. And so we’re very open to kind of like, connecting with folks that way, as well.

Allison Maus  26:10
Thank you so much for this conversation, Mark, it has been great to be reminded of my experience with Frontera de Cristo and the work that you all do. And to hear a little bit more. I’m curious, if you will share with us if people want to know more about Frontera de Cristo or your sister organizations? where might they find that? Or do you have a website you can share or contacts?

Mark Adams  26:36
Yeah, you can go to And you can, you can email me directly at [email protected]. And if you’d like to get coffee, you can go to And so we’d love to hear from you.

Allison Maus  26:55
Wonderful, thank you so much, again, for taking time to talk with me and to share a little bit of your story with our listeners. And for those listening. Thank you again for tuning in. I hope that this inspired something in you and that yeah, you explore all that Frontera de Christo and cafe Justo have to offer. Thanks for listening.

Ben Wideman  27:20
Next week, we’re sitting down with activist, author, and social entrepreneur, Craig Greenfield to talk about his new book, Subversive Mission: Serving as Outsiders in a World of Need.

Craig Greenfield  27:33
Look, I’ve made every mistake in the book, in the book, and we can learn from our mistakes. But you know, I think God’s grace is there with us. By God’s grace lives are still transformed. And we owe it to ourselves not to, you know, have allow the sense of perfectionism to stop us from from doing something.

Ben Wideman 28:01
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at