Ministry on the border
by Sara Morano’13, Contributing Writer
“We cross borders all the time, sometimes consciously. But often we do it without much thought.”
The Rev. Mark Adams, who graduated from Furman in 1993, returned to campus Tuesday night to speak on “The Spiritual Discipline of Crossing Borders.” His presentation, sponsored by the Lilly Center for Vocational Reflection, reached an audience of about 70, mostly students. They came to Hartness Pavilion to hear about Adams’ work as coordinator of Frontera de Cristo, a binational Presbyterian ministry that spans the Arizona-Mexico border. Adams has also co-authored a book, Just Coffee: Caffeine with a Conscience, about creating coffee cooperatives in Mexico.
Adams, who is associated with the Presbyterian Church USA, studied history and Spanish at Furman before attending Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He opened Tuesday night’s lecture by telling the audience of the border he had crossed to return to Furman.
Adams crosses the United States-Mexico border about five to six times a day as part of the obligations of his ministry, in which he serves Mexican and American nationals as well as migrants. He is well-acquainted with the border patrol agents who ask him where he’s going each time he crosses.
No matter how familiar Adams is with the procedure, though, border-crossing at the national boundary, marked by a 15-foot steel fence and guarded by foot patrols, helicopters and drones, is still a brisk transaction.
The audience laughed when Adams described his last conversation with a border patrol agent he sees frequently on his way to and from Arizona. When he began to explain that he was traveling this time to South Carolina to give a lecture on the spiritual discipline of crossing borders, the patrol agent countered, “Open your trunk, sir.”
Adams explained to his more receptive audience at Furman how the national boundary was one he very consciously crossed. He went on to explain that divisions between classes, cliques, and socio-economic groups represent other kinds of boundaries, which, as a Christian, he believes in crossing purposefully. He called crossing borders a “spiritual discipline;” it is an exercise like praying or studying scriptures, designed to strengthen lives.
“For Jesus,” he said, “crossing borders was a primary discipline. He calls [Christians] to a life of crossing borders to create a peaceable kingdom.”
A native of Clover, S.C., Adams alternated between English and Spanish in relating stories of his own boundary crossings — between the “mill villages, middle-class and black neighborhoods” of his childhood, social groups congregated across the dining hall in his time at Furman, the national boundaries of his current ministry, and the multiplicity of people and cultures that make up his congregation.
“Our borders are permeable and not rigid,” said Adams, encouraging students to identify and cross borders as a way of strengthening their everyday lives.