Around my neck hangs a rosary of wooden beads given to me by my friend Andrés the night of his departure for Mexico last November. “Ni modo, Jason,” I remember him telling me just minutes before their truck pulled away from our parking lot one last time. “Ni modo:” roughly, “No way.” It was a phrase often repeated between us. The friendship I have enjoyed with Andrés has left me with an acute awareness of the disjunction between the personal realities of friendship and family and the legislation that often works against such realities. In our friendship we feel the tension between the deep reality of a friendship forged across cultural boundaries and the borders that temporarily impose physical distance between us.
Like many others, Andrés had come to the United States in 2008 looking for work to support his family back home in Mexico. Shortly after his arrival, a horrific accident ended in the amputation of both of his legs at the thigh. Few would have found any hope in such a situation. “Ni modo,” one might say.
But God makes a way where others find none. Andrés lived in a neighborhood where several Christians had begun a Hispanic church plant to reach out to the immigrants in their community. Some began to visit Andrés and help him to get to the different appointments he needed for his legs. In time he began attending the Hispanic church services and came to know the reality of Christ’s redemptive power.
I still remember the night I received a call from one of my friends telling me of a Hispanic man in his neighborhood who I might consider taking to his wheelchair basketball games or prosthetic appointments. I had been looking for opportunities to get to know some of the people in the neighborhood and agreed to meet Andrés and take him to his basketball practice. We began teaching each other, bit by bit, to speak each others’ native language.
It began as a very different friendship than any I had known before. For one, the immediate circumstances of our friendship were need-based, although it very quickly grew deeper than this. In one sense, I was able to give something to Andrés and his family that they weren’t able to provide for themselves, especially transportation and knowledge of English. Still, the friendship was anything but one-sided. They gave generously in food and friendship and were always willing to host me at their place. I found in their friendship hospitality of such generosity and openness as I had never really known. I still recall one of their family members telling me less than a month after meeting them all that I was family to them.
A year and a half later, Andrés has prosthetic legs with which he is learning to walk with the support of crutches. Although it was very difficult for him to leave many of the friendships he has made here in the United States, we both know that it is best for him to be with his family in Mexico. We are both painfully aware of the senses in which there is no way, “Ni modo.” He remains unable to see many of his friends from the Chicago area. Still, one might say, the ways of God are not the ways of man. The superficial boundaries of national borderlines have attuned me to deeper bonds that can form across them and despite them. The wooden cross of the rosary still hangs around my neck to remind me of this: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” This is all towards the hope “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:13-16). This is the coming hope for which we yearn.
Jason Ahlenius is a recent graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. Upon graduation, he moved into the neighborhood where Andrés lived, where he continues to befriend and receive the hospitality of some of Andrés’ relatives. He is currently studying to be an English as a Second Language teacher.
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