Charlotte Willenborg and Tim Sullivan of Shelby County have accompanied Sr. Joyce on several mission trips to Central America including a trip to visit the communities Sr. Joyce served in El Salvador which resulted in the book A Heart Exchange about her life. They were all in Douglas, AZ this month...
     DOUGLAS, AZ -- The desert is hot and a half dozen dust devils surround us as we travel from Tucson to Douglas, AZ. As you might expect, it has not rained recently. Charlotte and I are accompanying Sister Joyce Blum FSPA, back to a location she served in the early 2000s. As you might also expect things are not quite the same today in this border community across from Agua Prieta, Mexico, as when she served here...."
    We are visiting Frontera de Cristo ( a non-profit that has multiple ministries here. For 37 years, Frontera has worked with a variety of partners on both sides of the border to support their mission to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
    One of their early works was to help set up the coffee cooperative Café Justo. Café Justo coffee farmers own the farms, the processing, roasting, packaging, and delivery of their coffee. (
    The vision of the founding farmers was to address the root causes of migration, creating opportunities to allow coffee farmers to choose to stay home rather than being forced to migrate to the United States to find livable wage jobs.
    Another Frontera ministry is what they call ‘Mission Education.’ This education through immersion experience is really behind Joyce and our visit to the border. The border is always changing. All three of us had served along the border multiple times before, and we wanted to witness for ourselves what was really happening right now. We thought we might get a job with Frontera but we had no idea what it might be.
    As it turns out, Mark, Frontera’s Coordinator, had a job for us right in the thick of things.
    For 21 years, Frontera has held a Tuesday evening prayer vigil procession along the primary highway that leads from Douglas into Agua Prieta. Sr. Joyce was one of the early walkers in this event that prays for, honors, and calls attention to the people who died trying to cross the brutal Arizona desert.
    This is one thing that has not changed: they are still walking in the vigil and migrants are still dying in the desert. In fact, 2020 was a record year for deaths in the Arizona desert, with 227 bodies recovered. Tuesday evening, we joined the street procession along with another dozen online. As we walked, we laid out white crosses with the victim’s name (if known) on it.
    As we walked, each person calls out the name written on the cross they are holding, and we all respond ‘Presente.’ This is a Latino/Border way of remembering and honoring a person’s life. It was a very hot walk, but a very powerful experience.


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