Mennonite Mission Network's alumni service-learning tour group visited the Hopi Reservation and the Peace Academic Center in Kykotsmovi, Arizona, during its trip to Arizona on Nov. 9-17. From left are Gloria Graber, Kay Neff, Dan Lapp, Shirley Lapp, Linda Van Loon, Lance Polingyouma, Jane Polingyouma, Abram Moyer, Judy Harder, Glenda Moyer, Michelle Schrag, Cheryl Lehmann, Keith Harder, Marcia Shantz, Dwight Mueller, Carl Shantz, Susan Nisly, Wesley Bisset Ncube, Arloa Bontrager, Eric Polingyouma, and Jason Boone. Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson.

Laurie Oswald Robinson
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) From the comfort of two vans, participants in Mennonite Mission Network's alumni service-learning tour traveled through Arizona to gain greater understanding of the perilous journeys that migrants and indigenous people take through the same terrain.

From Nov. 9-17, 16 people — mostly alumni of Mission Network's SOOP and Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) programs — encountered the desert, not as a vacation destination, but as a life-or-death ordeal. One of their trip guides, Katherine Smith, border and migration outreach coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, encouraged trip participants to humanize the border situation by perceiving hope amidst hopelessness.

"It's so easy to hear the words 'migrant' and 'border' and perceive only negativity," Smith said. "Yes, there are a lot of sad things, but my goal is to give you a different perspective. … I meet a lot of really resilient people who have come into the United States with a strength that empowers them to flourish despite all the obstacles they confront in our current immigration system."

During the first several days of the tour, Smith gave the participants an introduction to many of the issues they would engage with during their four major stops: Tucson, Phoenix, the border-wall city of Douglas far to the south, and the Hopi Reservation in Kykotsmovi far to the north.

Throughout the trip of nearly 2,000 miles, participants heard stories about migrants who had perished while trying to cross the desert. They participated in a vigil to honor them, served at SOOP sites and a migrant resource center, and visited Peace Academic Center. Center leaders are partnering with the local Hopi community in re-purposing the space that was formerly the Hopi Mission School (HMS). Many MVSers served at the former school. Currently, Peace Academic Center is a SOOP volunteer site.

At each location, participants were challenged to balance emotional burden with buoyancy. "This trip is inspirational and energizing in ways I didn't expect," Judy Harder of Hillsboro, Kansas, said. "Hearing about all the realities and suffering is challenging, but in a grace-filled way."

Defying the death-dealing desert

The first two stops in Tucson and Douglas exposed participants to the plight of people fleeing violence, persecution and poverty in Mexico and Central America and seeking U.S. asylum and economic opportunities.

As a result of tightening U.S. immigration policies, fewer people are legally admitted into the United States, Smith said. Correspondingly, more people are detained, deported, and separated from their families. Also, due to increased militarization of the border, migrants are put into situations where their lives are put at risk through attempting to enter the United States.

"There have been a lot of deaths here in the Sonoran desert," Smith said. "Up to 127 bodies have been found recently, as well as the remains of 3,000 people that have been uncovered since 2001."

Maria Padilla, a nurse and healer in a Tucson trauma center, said she strives to heal and comfort those who have survived the heat, snakes and dehydration of the desert. They risk dying while trying to find a new home rather than enduring the severe sufferings back home, she said.

"Women come in here hysterical after being violated in the desert," Padilla said. "Sometimes people come in with sanitary pads between their toes to soak up the blood on their feet torn up by stumbling across the hot sands."

Padilla is an indigenous woman from the Mayo tribe south of Tucson where border-wall construction is tearing apart her family and desecrating sacred tribal sites and grounds. "We have lived here for time immemorial and used to travel back and forth freely," she said. "Not anymore."

While in Tucson, the group also worshiped Sunday morning, Nov. 10, with the multiracial Shalom Mennonite Fellowship. Shalom is home to a large SOOP network and supports several migrant ministries, including the Casa Mariposa Detention Visitation Program (CMDVP). Rocio Calderon, a former migrant employed at CMDVP as its program coordinator, gave a presentation Sunday evening about her pilgrimage.

Traveling south to U.S.-Mexico border wall

From Tucson, the group traveled south to the border-entry cities of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico. That's where Douglas-based couple Jack and Linda Knox, members of Shalom and migrant advocacy workers, provide education, prayer, and visits to a migrant resource center and women's co-op in Mexico.

Even as he displays powerful compassion for the migrants, Jack Knox said he befriends border patrol agents who often, when faced with the responsibilities of doing their jobs, choose to become hardened to the human realities endured by migrants. "To help build friendships in the highly charged political climate, we sometimes invite the border patrol agents to our house for coffee or a meal," he said.

While in Douglas, the group also participated in a vigil held to honor migrants who died in the desert. As the vigil snaked along Pan American Highway, walkers shouted out the names of the deceased printed on the white crosses they carried. Some riders in passing vehicles looked kindly at them, while others stared woodenly ahead.

"I was so profoundly moved by helping to make known all the unknown people," said trip participant Glenda Moyer of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Traveling back north to Phoenix and Peace Academic Center

After experiencing two days absorbing information about border wall issues and ministries, the group traveled back north to Phoenix where they stayed at the SOOP house and served at partner food banks.

They also spent two days in Kykotsmovi, where Kay Neff and Lance Polingyouma served as guides. Neff chairs the Peace Academic School Foundation out of Newton, Kansas, and Polingyouma is the center's cultural liaison and host. Polingyouma grew up going to a church started by Mennonites on the Hopi Reservation and was a former Hopi Mission School student. The Hopi community also hosted a "makers' fair" of traditional crafts and foods as a way for their guests to connect more deeply with their indigenous background on the reservation.

Polingyouma said they are not trying to re-create the old paradigm of the school, begun by the former General Conference Mennonite Church in 1951 when there was only one other grade school on the reservation. "Now there are five grade schools," he said. "We are striving to make this more of a community center that provides such things as volleyball tournaments for families in the evenings and conferences on such topics as dry-land farming."

Peace Academic Center is currently offering pre-school and high-school equivalency programs. The center's leaders hope to add new grades and activities as funds increase.

Trip transformation

Arloa Bontrager, Mission Network's director of SOOP (Service Opportunities with our Partners) and Youth Venture (a summer learning-service experience for young adults), and Susan Nisly, director of Mission Network's gap-year Service Adventure program, led the Arizona tour. Their first alumni tour in March focused on race dynamics in Mississippi. They are planning a second Mississippi trip for March 2020. For more information, contact

"These tours integrate learning with service and awareness with prayer," Bontrager said. "It is a powerful way to work out, and walk out, one's desires for peace- and justice-making in our pain-filled world." 






Anabaptists begin online French-language theological education in 2021French-language anabaptism begin online French-language theological education in 2021GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mission Network relaunches "Stir Up Peace" video seriesNews ReleaseVideo Network relaunches "Stir Up Peace" video seriesGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mission Network publication celebrates two Latin America milestone anniversariesMissio Dei in Latin America Network publication celebrates two Latin America milestone anniversariesGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mennonite Mission Network acknowledges former employee's misconductNews Release's-misconduct-Mennonite Mission Network acknowledges former employee's misconductGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
MVS experience fuels peacemaking workMVS and Peacemaking experience fuels peacemaking workGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Robert Witmer, church planter and entrepreneur, leaves rich legacy in FranceObituary Witmer, church planter and entrepreneur, leaves rich legacy in FranceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Paris
Mission nurse, educator, mentor and church leader continued ministry in ‘retirement’Obituary,-educator,-mentor-and-church-leader-continued-ministry-in-‘retirement’Mission nurse, educator, mentor and church leader continued ministry in ‘retirement’GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Doing two-way mission more than one wayEcuador two-way mission more than one wayGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Ecuador
Mennonite Bible School in South Africa graduates 41 in 2021Graduation Bible School in South Africa graduates 41 in 2021GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Mthatha
Trailblazing and contemporary initiatives pave way for antiracist futureAntiracism efforts and contemporary initiatives pave way for antiracist futureGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Family to help sustain a home for people living in exileNew Ministry to help sustain a home for people living in exileGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais
Christ leads mission agency to sail for new seasAgency realignment leads mission agency to sail for new seasGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
New senior executive of Operations desires to be Christ’s servantSenior executive Operations’s-servantNew senior executive of Operations desires to be Christ’s servantGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Elkhart, Indiana
Generosity helps fire-ravaged Peru community rebuildRebuilding Peru community helps fire-ravaged Peru community rebuildGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Isla Iquitos
MVS in San Francisco invites participants to join a larger storyMVS Unit Series in San Francisco invites participants to join a larger storyGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476San Francisco, California

​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor for Mennonite Mission Network.



Mennonite women in Congo spread the gospel through literacy women in Congo spread the gospel through literacyLiteracy in Congo
Service illuminates good in the world illuminates good in the worldService Adventure
Service is a new adventure at 61 degrees north is a new adventure at 61 degrees northService Adventure
Understanding the world through the lens of Mississippi the world through the lens of MississippiService Adventure
Anabaptists begin online French-language theological education in 2021 begin online French-language theological education in 2021French-language anabaptism
Mission Network moves into the neighborhood in Paris, France Network moves into the neighborhood in Paris, FranceVideo