On Tuesday of this past week, Duke Divinity School was visited by one of God’s living saints.
Max Cisneros is an 80 year old retired United Methodist pastor from New Mexico who visited the Divinity School to tell us, in a Hispanic House of Studies Colloquium, of how he walks the deserts of the Southwest along the border with Mexico. In the killing desert heat, Max leaves jugs of water for desperate, dehydrated immigrants who have illegally crossed into the United States. God called him to such work, Max says, by telling him he needed to become the answer to his own prayers for justice.
Occasionally, Max is too late in his ministry of offering living water- sometimes all he finds are the dead bodies of those who have succumbed to the scorching temperatures. At each location where a body is found, Max will make a cross to mark the passing of one of God’s children. It is estimated that 7000 such immigrants have been found in the deserts of the Southwest over the past ten years — and Max estimates that thousands more have yet to be found.
Max says that there are those who object to his actions. Minutemen puncture holes his water jugs. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has tried to fine him for littering. Others have accused him of aiding and abetting criminals.
But Max sees the matter very simply: no one should suffer the death penalty for the crime of trying to find a better life for themselves and their families.
Max’s mantra is “No more deaths.”
Those of us who heard Max speak were profoundly moved. We were angry, heartbroken at the images of suffering we saw. To borrow a phrase from Jesus' beautitudes, we felt thirsty for justice.
And yet, you might say that Max’s example of love was, to us spiritually dehydrated people, like a pitcher of clear cool water stumbled upon amid the harsh desert of our world’s pain.